By Jay Jamison
I wrote about it during the last partial government shutdown, and I raise it again: The Statue of Liberty play. I’m not talking about the famous trick play in football, where the ball carrier takes the ball from the quarterback, while the quarterback acts as if he’s about to throw a forward pass. My Statue of Liberty play is about news coverage of government shutdowns. Television reporting almost always requires scenes of drama. The old saw about local television reporting, “if it bleeds, it leads,” pretty much encapsulates the idea. So how to cover a partial shutdown of the Federal government? Panoramic shots of empty parking lots outside the Federal Office of Redundancy Office, empty corridors, idle copy machines, the list of boring visuals seems endless, and they simply won’t do. Here’s where the Statue of Liberty play comes in. As we all know the Statue of Liberty is on an island in the outer harbor of New York City, hometown of the flagship stations of the legacy television networks. CNN, Fox, and the other cable services also have offices in Manhattan and environs. The play is about the fabulous (for news producers) visuals of children in tears, because the Statue of Liberty has been closed due to the partial government shutdown. Weeping children pulling at the heartstrings of viewers as a distraught school teacher movingly tells the TV news correspondent that they’d been saving and waiting for this field trip all year, only to have their hopes dashed by the evil shutdown. Children weeping is the compelling graphic that keeps viewers glued to their sets. And best of all, from a television perspective, all of this drama can be filmed without leaving New York. If TV had to cover the closing of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the longshot of caribou staring into the camera, hardly gives the impression of crisis, because no one would be able to tell that the government shutdown had changed anything. Also, such a scene could possibly inspire the wrong thinking among viewers, like pondering whether the concept of wilderness management is actually an oxymoron. The Statue of Liberty play was tried in the 2013 partial government shutdown. At the time it was the Congressional Republicans who were battling it out with President Obama. Pundits and other observers predicted political catastrophe for the Republicans. The outcome was just the opposite. In the elections that followed the shutdown, Republicans gained seats in Congress. I think the people most concerned with partial government shutdowns are neither members of Congress nor the president. The people most concerned are those who suspect that their offices, agencies, bureaus, or departments, are not as necessary as has been advertised. Each department and agency have their own public relations offices, preaching to all who will hear, that this or that agency is absolutely essential to preserve and improve our cherished way of life. If the American public issues a collective yawn in response to the supposed crisis of the shutdown, then president Trump may realize that closing some of these offices permanently may in fact be a viable option. So, from a bureaucrat’s point of view, it is essential to keep up the image of a country in crisis, and to employ wherever possible, various versions of the Statue of Liberty play.