Daniel Lippman discussed living in Washington during the Covid-19 crisis and how the pandemic could impact the city’s future with Charles F. McElwee, assistant editor of City Journal. Lippman is a reporter covering the White House and Washington for Politico and previously coauthored Politico Playbook for five years. Before joining Politico, he was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in New York and has also written for McClatchy Newspapers and Reuters. He regularly appears on CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets.
How would you describe Washington during the Covid-19 crisis?
During this wild time, Washington is a hub of (mostly virtual) activity while also being almost completely physically shut down. A number of White House staffers and senior leaders of Cabinet departments still go into work every day, or a few days a week, to deal with the pandemic. Some reporters have gone to Capitol Hill; they rotate in going to the White House for those famous daily briefings, though the New York Times and the Washington Post don’t attend them anymore. The odd thing is that, aside from bars, restaurants, and other service industries, the city’s political-media economy will be just fine, since government always stays in business. There’s a huge demand for political intelligence and lobbying work because companies are eager to get some of the trillions of dollars that the government is injecting into the economy.
Could the crisis change how Washington professionals socialize and network?
Personal relationships are how Washington works and how business gets done for politicians, reporters, and the lobbying and PR crowd. In the long run, I don’t think that the coronavirus will change much about how Washingtonians interact with one another—once we have more widespread testing, treatment, and ultimately a vaccine. D.C. people still want to meet at parties and in one-on-one settings to exchange information and gossip. A virus can’t stop that, though as I’ve chronicled, Washington’s social life shut down in early March and doesn’t show any sign of coming back for a while. Getting back to normal is contingent on a vaccine, and that probably won’t be available until 2021.
Could the crisis change how people work in Washington?
Fewer people will feel the obligation to go into work every day because the pandemic has shown that many employees can work from home. In the last few weeks, for example, I’ve never been busier, though I’m working from my apartment (with occasional trips to the White House for nightly briefings) instead of bopping around D.C. like I usually do. When people do go back to work, large meetings will be frowned upon for the time being because companies don’t want to risk having their employees get infected. A lot of work in Washington is done over meals and drinks, so there will be competition for reservations once D.C. reopens. Expectations are that those establishments will initially operate at only 50 percent capacity.
What could be the long-term impact of this crisis on local journalism?
Because of the economic downturn and loss of ad dollars, the pandemic has been devastating for local journalists. In a time when news is needed more than ever, especially in underserved communities, there have been many layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts for journalists. This means that reporters can’t be as effective in holding local politicians and leaders accountable for the response to Covid-19, which hurts everyone. It’s also hard to rebuild local journalism after it’s been sharply degraded.
What is an overlooked trend during the pandemic and lockdown?
I think the crisis has made Americans kinder to one another and more empathetic. We’re all going through this pandemic together and want what’s best for our country. I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve gotten where someone tells me: “hope you’re staying safe.” So hopefully the rebirth of kindness during a politically charged time will be a legacy that endures.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images