The Weirdest Government News Stories of 2018

Throughout this past year, I read thousands of news stories while curating GovLoop’s monthly federal news recaps. While I was wading through the wonky and practical, I also encountered a lot of news stories that were notably weird. They happened at the local, county, state and federal levels and ranged from funny to perplexing, cringe-inducing and downright bizarre.

Here are some of the weirdest government news stories of 2018:

Chick or Treat

The CDC had to clarify that it “has not warned people against dressing chickens in Halloween costumes.” The agency chirped up after the news media went afoul by interpreting the CDC’s advice about safe hygiene while handling live chickens as an anti-costuming stance. Keep in mind that the CDC didn’t go as far as to say that you should dress poultry in costumes, and it chickened out of suggesting any costume ideas.

See the Gall

There were several unconventional political appointments this year. It is hard to top Russia naming action movie actor Steven Seagal as a diplomatic “special representative” to the U.S. Born in Lansing, Michigan, Seagal was granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin.

So Happy It’s Over

The midterm election was filled with so many surprises, it’s impossible to choose the weirdest story.

One candidate for the Virginia House accused another of being a “devotee of Bigfoot erotica.” An advocate for pedophilia, rape and incest ran for U.S. Congress in Virginia (Hey, Virginia, is everything okay?). A self-described pimp who was found dead by porn star Ron Jeremy a month before election day won the race for a Nevada Assembly seat. Voters re-elected a U.S. Representative who just months before had been indicted for misusing $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, including a plane ticket for a pet rabbit (several other accused criminals were elected to Congress). A candidate for the Texas House received more than half her campaign donations in the form of deer semen.

Gnashing of the Teeth

Woodchucks ate the wiring in Speaker Paul Ryan’s car. In case you’re worried that activist woodchucks are swamping D.C., the gnawing took place in Wisconsin.

Unsolved Mystery

This weird story is decidedly unfunny. Investigators still have no idea who or what has made dozens of U.S. and Canadian diplomatic personnel in Cuba and China sick with persistent symptoms similar to a brain injury or concussion. Theories range from a “sonic attack” to concentrated microwaves.

This is Only a Test

Government agencies leaned into sending emergency notifications to people’s phones. The results were mixed.

In January, a worker at Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency sent out a terrifying and thankfully false emergency alert that screamed in all caps, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Later in the year, everyone with a U.S. cell phone was on the receiving end of a message testing FEMA’s national Presidential Alert system, leading to jokes and memes. There’s even a website where you can make your own Presidential Alert meme.

Robots, Rejected

The City Council in Houston, Texas turned a cold shower on plans for the nation’s first sex robot brothel. The council unanimously amended a city ordinance to bar sexual contact with “anthropomorphic devices.” A few robot brothels have opened outside the United States. If you want to know where, you’re on your own.

What Are the Odds

Two police officers in Georgia used a coin flip phone app while deciding whether to arrest someone, with body cam footage documenting the bungled bust. Both officers were fired.

Oddly Demotivational

The National Security Agency (NSA) declassified a set of educational and motivational security-themed posters that hung in the agency’s offices from the 1950s onward. Many are very, very weird.

Keep the Safety On

An off-duty dancing FBI agent accidentally shot a person in the leg at a bar in Denver, Colorado. The agent, who continues to work and carry a gun, pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault.

Rolling in TP

The Sheriff’s Office in Marshall County, Alabama ordered 24,000 extra rolls of toilet paper by mistake. The sheriff’s office, county commissioners and the vendor are negotiating who will absorb the $22,000 in unexpected costs.

We Said WHA?

At a meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), the United States came out against a resolution to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding,” and allegedly made tit-for-tat threats against some of the countries that supported the resolution.

#RakeNews

President Trump suggested that people should rake the forest floor to prevent fires, just like they do in Finland. That is not a thing that Finland does. The internet was amused.

Hug of Death

An FCC inspector general investigation determined that it wasn’t hackers that crashed the FCC’s online comment system in 2017. It was comedian John Oliver, who encouraged people to give the FCC feedback about the repeal of net neutrality. In internet slang, a “hug of death” is when a website crashes because it gets a burst of attention. Here’s the influential hug-of-death causing segment.

Top Dollar

The highest earning employee on the New York City government payroll is, according to Bloomberg, a city marshal who acts as a “debt collector for predatory lenders.” The city marshal is a mayoral appointee who made $1.7 million in 2017—which is more than the next seven highest-paid officials combined.

Please Don’t Do This

A U.S. Border Patrol agent set off a gender reveal explosion on federal land, starting a wildfire that burned 47,000 acres in Arizona. The U.S. Forest Service released a video of the stunt (for the record, it’s a boy). A “gender reveal” is when expecting parents invite people to find out the biological sex of the expected birth through an activity. Miss Manners is against gender reveal parties. When he pleaded guilty, the agent agreed to pay back the more than $8 million in damages and expenses he caused through the fire.

Worth the Wait

Never say government doesn’t get things done. New York State passed a bill that will fix a misspelling of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, adding a missing Z to official road signs, documents, websites and other materials. The name has been misspelled since before the bridge opened in 1964.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, freelance writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations, foundations, and companies with a conscience engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

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