Can the cease-fire in Gaza hold? Plus, is remote work here to stay? More on 5 Things podcast
21st May 2021

On today’s episode of 5 Things: White House correspondent Courtney Subramanian looks at what happens next in Gaza. Plus, journalists cry foul after the Trump Justice Department secretly collected phone records, we look at how the return to the office might go, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot faces controversy after she announced she will only grant one-on-one interviews to journalists of color and the Asian American community bands together for a TV special.

Hit play on the podcast player above and read along with the transcript below. 

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning, I’m Taylor Wilson and this is Five Things you need to know, Friday the 21st of May, 2021. Today a ceasefire to violence in Israel and Gaza, plus the future of work from home and more.

Taylor Wilson:

Here are some of the top headlines: 

Taylor Wilson:

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire. The move brokered by Egyptian negotiators, brings an end to 11 days of deadly violence. Israel killed at least 230 Palestinians, including 65 children. Hamas militants killed 12 people in Israel, including two children. Fighting broke out on May 10th, when Hamas militants fired long range rockets at Jerusalem in response to aggressive Israeli police tactics at Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, and the threatened removal of dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem. Hamas and other militant groups fired some 4,000 rockets into Israel during recent fighting, and Israel fired hundreds of air strikes mostly on Gaza. Israel said it targeted the Hamas military structure but many of the attacks killed innocent children and others inside private family homes.

The attacks also damaged at least 18 hospitals in Gaza, and the territories only COVID-19 testing facility, as the virus continues to spread in the area. Medical supplies, fuel, water, and other resources are running dangerously low in the territory, that’s already been living with a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. And schools have also been destroyed. Celebrations marking the ceasefire rang out in Gaza City early Friday.

Taylor Wilson:

President Joe Biden had hesitated to nudge Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, toward a ceasefire until this week, when he pushed for de-escalation. Biden called the cease-fire Thursday, an opportunity.

Joe Biden:

The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas, and other Gaza-based terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel. These hostilities have resulted in the tragic deaths of so many civilians, including children, and I send my sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones, and my hope for a full recovery for the wounded. The United States is committed to working with the United Nations, and we remain committed to working with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance, and to marshal international support for the people of Gaza and the Gazan reconstruction efforts.

Joe Biden:

We will do this in full partnership of the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, the authority, in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal. I believe the Palestinians and Israelis, equally deserve to live safely and securely, and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy. My administration will continue our quiet relentless diplomacy toward that end. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I’ve committed to working for it. I want to thank you all, and may God bless you all and pray that this continues.

Taylor Wilson:

White House correspondent Courtney Subramanian has more on the ceasefire, and the Biden administration’s role in the conflict going forward.

Courtney Subramanian:

The whole region is basically a tinderbox at this point. Hostilities remain very high between Israel and Hamas. Even as the ceasefire was confirmed, Israel’s defense forces sent sirens alerting Israel residents of Hamas rocket fire, were sounding in the south of the country. So I think it’s important to keep in mind, this is considered the deadliest clashes since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, and it comes at a point when the Palestinian authorities standing has been severely weakened. Some experts I spoke to see this as a power vacuum and Hamas trying to sort of seize this as a power grab. It’s also not limited to Gaza, and I think that’s an important point to remember here, the violence is really multidimensional.

Courtney Subramanian:

We’ve seen communal violence unfold within Israel, which really raised alarm within the Arab world. So there’s a lot of complexity here on just how turbulent the situation is, and how hostile the situation is. So I would describe these cease-fires as very fragile at this point.

Courtney Subramanian:

President Biden has gone out of his way to avoid publicly commenting too much on the issue, despite facing a lot of pressure from Democrats to speak out on the matter, as the death toll continued to rise this week. Earlier this week we saw that sort of boil to the surface, when he went to Michigan and Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is a Palestinian American, confronted him on the tarmac and urged him to speak out against the Israeli air strikes. So there’s been a lot of pressure on him to step into the Middle East conflict, the President is known for his support for Israel, but is a skeptic of Netanyahu. And he’s gone out of his way to get tangled up in the Middle East conflict, especially as he looks to refocus his foreign policy on combating China.

Courtney Subramanian:

So there was a little bit of an element that time was running out and Israel needed to wind down. I spoke to sources earlier this week who said they were hopeful that this was going to be the case, and they were looking sort of to the end of the week as the possibility of when they could do this. As for what he said, he did not veer from the U.S. line that, the United States supports Israel and its right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other militants in the Gaza Strip. But he did offer condolences for Palestinian lives lost, and vowed to send humanitarian aid to the region, saying he would work with the Palestinian authority and not Hamas.

Courtney Subramanian:

The question I have is, it’s very unclear on how he plans to get that aid into Gaza, which remains under control of Hamas and not the Palestinian authority. He also said he sees this as a genuine opportunity to build lasting peace between Israelis and the Palestinians, and that his administration would continue what they’ve described as quiet relentless diplomacy toward that goal. But the latest spate of violence really dims any hope of peace talks in the near future. From my own reporting, I’ve spoken to sources who really emphasize that there is a lot of rebuilding here to do. The Trump Administration really issued full-throated support of Israel, and severed all diplomatic channels with the Palestinians, and the Biden administration has a lot of rebuilding there to do with the Palestinian Authority, and of course has to walk this diplomatic tightrope and strike the right balance, while also continuing to pursue Biden’s agenda of combating China.

So this idea that they’re going to tackle peace talks, is less clear of how that’s going to take shape, and I think there are still a lot of questions on the table of what the path forward looks like.

Taylor Wilson:

For all the latest from Gaza and Israel, stay with the world section on usatoday.com.

Taylor Wilson:

The Justice Department under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained 2017 phone and email records for a CNN reporter. CNN said Thursday that Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was informed last week that prosecutors had obtained two months of the records. It’s the latest example of the administration’s attempt to use journalist communications to pursue government leak investigations. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department obtained 2017 phone records for three of its journalists, who covered the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

Taylor Wilson:

CNN said that Justice did not say why it went after Barbara Starr’s communications, though the network said the correspondent was involved in reporting on North Korea and stories involving Syria and Afghanistan. CNN President Jeff Zucker condemned the Justice’s actions. He added that the organization wants an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation. Justice spokesperson Anthony Coley said that Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed under President Joe Biden, is strongly committed to a free and independent press. But those who fight for press freedoms are concerned. Bruce Brown, Executive Director of the Reporter’s Committee For Freedom Of The Press, said, “That a journalist from another news organization had communications records seized by the Trump Justice Department, suggests that the last administration’s efforts to intrude into reporter’s source relationships and chill news gathering, is more sweeping than we originally thought.”

Taylor Wilson:

Almost half the country is vaccinated. The CDC says vaccinated people can largely ditch their masks, and case and death numbers continue to fall. The COVID-19 pandemic is slowing down in the United States, so what does that mean for the future of work? Many Americans went from office commutes to working from home over the past 15 months, now companies are trying to decide how and when to bring workers back to the office, if at all. Senior video editor, Robert Lindemann, has more in this clip from Just The Faqs.

Robert Lindemann:

In the 1980s less than 1% of Americans primarily worked from home. In 2017, 3% did. Today that number is closer to 62%, and by many predictions, it’s here to stay. Studies show people in some ways are actually working better at home. In a recent survey of about 3,000 global workers, respondents said that they were distracted 78 minutes a day at the office, but just 43 minutes at home. Working from home is cheaper too. Full-time remote workers typically save around $4,000 a year on everything from commuting, to lunch, to dry cleaning. Businesses can save an estimated $11,000 a year per employee. That comes from savings in areas such as real estate, electricity and productivity. But there’s a big cost, loneliness, which has shown links to poor job performance.

Robert Lindemann:

Working from home dates as far back as the Medieval times, when workers set up craft and trade shops in their homes. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution of the late 1700s, that workers moved into factories. Eventually, the first commercial workspaces came to be thanks to the advent of items like the telephone, telegraph, electricity and public transportation. Today’s work-from-home models bring up new questions like, does the talent pool need to be local, and is business travel necessary anymore?

Taylor Wilson:

For more Just The Faqs videos, head to USA Today’s YouTube channel, or you can search Just The Faqs on usatoday.com.

Taylor Wilson:

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot announced this week that she will only grant one-on-one interviews to journalists of color. Lightfoot, who is Black, tweeted on Wednesday, “I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many. That isn’t just in City Hall. It’s a shame that in 2021 the City Hall Press Corp is overwhelmingly white in a city where more than half of the city identifies as Black, Latino, AAPI, or Native American.” The move is not completely unprecedented, but it’s facing strong backlash from the city’s press corp and members of the media nationwide. Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt is Latino and had a recent interview request granted. But Pratt said he asked the Mayor’s Office to lift its condition on others, and they said no, leading to the Tribune canceling the interview.

Taylor Wilson:

Pratt tweeted, “Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them.” But others, including The Tribe, a Chicago based digital Black-oriented media platform, found anger over the Mayor’s decision offensive. Tribe tweeted Wednesday, “With this outrage, you all are implying that Black and brown journalists aren’t capable of asking the hard questions.” Lightfoot’s time in office since taking over in 2019, has been marked by racial inequality issues, including city violence, a teacher strike, the pandemic and policing.

Taylor Wilson:

In her letter announcing the press decision, Lightfoot recalled being on the campaign trail and being stuck by what she called overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, and specifically the City Hall Press Corp. Journalism has long struggled with a lack of racial diversity. More than 75% of newsroom employees are white, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center analysis. To counter that, some public officials have been more intentional about giving interviews to journalists of color. That includes Vice President Kamala Harris, who gave her first sit-down interview to the 19th, an outlet aimed at elevating women’s voices, including those of color.

Taylor Wilson:

The Asian American community is banding together for a TV special Friday night. The special aims to show unity with ongoing violence and racism against people of Asian descent around the country, and it comes during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Actor Ken Jeong will host, and journalist Lisa Ling along with actor Daniel Dae Kim will make appearances. Plus performers of Asian descent, including R&B Singer Jhene Aiko, and Rapper Saweetie will take the stage. See Us Unite For Change, the Asian American foundation in service of the AAPI community, airs at 8:00 PM Eastern and Pacific on several channels, that includes Comedy Central and Facebook Watch.

Taylor Wilson:

And, you can find Five Things wherever you get your podcasts, including on Apple. There you can drop us five stars if you have a second. Thanks as always to Shannon Green and Claire Thornton for their work on the show. Five Things is part of the USA TODAY Network.

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