Oct 13, 2017

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good morning. It's Friday the 13th.

1 big thing: Facebook's next problem

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sent a clear message to Washington yesterday in her exclusive interview with Axios: She told me Facebook will help investigators looking into Russian election meddling on the platform, but it isn't changing the core values and business plan that have powered the company's growth.

The details, via our subject-matter experts Sara Fischer and David McCabe:

  • Sandberg held the company's longstanding hard line on free speech, saying the company would not remove the Russian-linked ads if they were posted by "legitimate people" and not fake accounts: "The thing about free expression is that when you you allow free expression, you allow free expression."
  • Facebook, she said, would have run an Senate campaign ad purchased by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) that was blocked on Twitter because of anti-abortion language the platform called inflammatory: "When you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for other people."
  • Asked whether the Trump campaign's ad targeting overlapped with targeting used by Russian pages, Sandberg dodged multiple times.
  • Sandberg said the company would not have removed the Russian-linked ads if they had been posted by real people, not fake accounts: "The thing about free expression is that when you you allow free expression, you allow free expression."

Facebook's problem: The company has said it will take actions to better monitor the platforms' automated ads business by manually reviewing ads that are targeted using political and social behavioral attributes. But those types of ads only make up a tiny fraction of Facebook's entire business, and the company has given no indication that it would make more sweeping changes.

  • What's next: Congress now will decide if Facebook's vision of inclusivity is a threat to democracy.

Go deeper ... Watch Eli Sinkus' Facebook video highlights of our interview ... Highlight video on Axios ... "How lawmakers responded to Sheryl Sandberg's pitch," by David McCabe.

Zeitgeist ... Catching on to the "Tech at war" theme we've been telling you about for months:

  • N.Y. Times front page, above fold, "Tech Giants Heralded as Saviors Are Now Seen as Threats," by David Streitfeld in S.F.: "Now tech companies are under fire for creating problems instead of solving them."
  • "Amazon determines how people shop, Google how they acquire knowledge, Facebook how they communicate."
  • "Their amount of concentrated authority resembles the divine right of kings, and is sparking a backlash that is still gathering force."
2. Inside Russia's divisive Facebook pages

One of the key Russian Facebook pages was colored with hot-button words and phrases like "illegal alien," ''Sharia law" and "welfare state," AP's Ryan Nakashima and Larry Fenn find:

  • "'Being Patriotic' was among 470 pages and accounts that Facebook shut down ... in response to a congressional probe into Russian meddling in last year's election."
  • "While Facebook says it deleted the posts this week, the AP was able to perform a content analysis based on the 500 most popular posts on the page, which was one of six Russia-influenced Facebook pages examined by Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University."
3. Wounding ACA as badly as possible

Much of the first 267 days of the Trump administration has been noise over action, but he's suddenly making consequential policy moves on three fronts:

  • "Takes a sledgehammer" to the Affordable Care Act ... Axios' Sam Baker: "The executive order Trump signed yesterday aims to undercut some of the ACA's core ideas about how insurance markets should work. His decision to halt the law's cost-sharing subsidies will blow up those markets in the short term. And his administration has taken a slew of other steps to undermine enrollment. There's one constant here — to wound the ACA as badly as possible."
  • "Harsh" speech today on Iran strategy (12:45, Diplomatic Reception Room) ... Axios' Jonathan Swan and Haley Britzky: "Trump will announce ... that he'll refuse to certify Iran's compliance with Congress' law overseeing the nuclear deal; but he will not withdraw America from the deal. ... [H]e's setting the Iran deal on a perilous course and giving a huge opening to Iran hawks on Capitol Hill to ultimately destroy this agreement."
  • "Dreamer" reprieve ... WashPost: "Trump will extend a March 5 deadline to end protections for young undocumented immigrants if Congress fails to act by then, according to ... Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) [who] said Trump told him he was willing to 'give it some more time'" for lawmakers to solve.
4. Battling a "once-in-a-career fire"

Northern California's wildfires have now killed 31 people — making this the deadliest week of wildfires in state history. (AP)

  • San Francisco Chronicle: "[T]he scorched ground began to finally cool and search-and-recovery teams with cadaver dogs headed into the burn zones of Santa Rosa to find the bodies buried under the ash and rubble."
  • "Of the 31 dead, 17 were found in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, four in Yuba County and two in Napa County."
  • "The advanced ages of many of the deceased corroborated the suspicions of several survivors who described harrowing escapes without prior warnings and were skeptical that their elderly neighbors could have made it out."
  • 400 people are still unaccounted for in Sonoma County.
5. 83% of Puerto Rico without power

Backlash on Trump's Puerto Rico tweets ("We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"), per WashPost:

  • "Under withering criticism from Puerto Ricans for his administration's flawed response to the devastation there, Trump sought to hold the territory responsible for its own plight because of chronic mismanagement — prompting an immediate backlash from Puerto Ricans and mainland lawmakers in both parties."
  • "More than a month after Hurricane Irma swept ashore and three weeks after Hurricane ­Maria delivered a crushing blow, [83%] of Puerto Rico remains without power, and many of its 3.4 million residents still are struggling to find clean water, hospitals are short on medicine, commerce is slow, and basic services are unavailable."
6. Get smart fast: Don't skip this one

"Xi Jinping has more clout than Donald Trump," The Economist writes in its cover editorial. "The world should be wary Do not expect Mr Xi to change China, or the world, for the better":

  • "China's economy is still second in size to America's and its army, though rapidly gaining muscle, pales in comparison. But economic heft and military hardware are not everything."
  • "The leader of the free world has a narrow, transactional approach to foreigners and seems unable to enact his agenda at home."
  • "The United States is still the world's most powerful country, but its leader is weaker at home and less effective abroad than any of his recent predecessors, not least because he scorns the values and alliances that underpin American influence."
  • "The president of the world's largest authoritarian state, by contrast, walks with swagger abroad. His grip on China is tighter than any leader's since Mao. And whereas Mao's China was chaotic and miserably poor, Mr Xi's is a dominant engine of global growth."
  • "The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both."
7. Poll du jour
8. "A lot of abuse in this town"

"Hollywood's dirty secret gets exposed," the L.A. Times' Josh Rottenberg and Amy Kaufman write in a front-pager, saying Weinstein shows sexual harassment is a wider problem ignored too long":

  • "As painful as the Weinstein scandal has been for an industry that likes to project a loftier image of itself, some believe it could ultimately lead to a long-overdue shift in attitudes."
  • "[M]any are wondering which power player might be the next to face similar accusations."
  • "'Man in the High Castle' executive producer Isa Hackett went public [yesterday] with allegations that she had been harassed by Amazon Studios programming chief Roy Price ... Within hours of Hackett's statement, Amazon put Price on a leave of absence."
  • "That same day, actress Rose McGowan took to Twitter to accuse Amazon of canceling a script she had in development there after she 'told the head of your studio that [Weinstein] raped me.'"

P.S. NYPD, Scotland Yard probe Weinstein: "In London, the Metropolitan police are assessing a sexual abuse allegation made against Weinstein, while ... New York police are carrying out a 'review' looking for new complaints." (The Guardian)

9. Axios on the road

"Indianapolis bucks the trend to become a hotbed for startups," by Axios tech editor Kim Hart in Indy:

  • Four years ago, Salesforce bought the email marketing company ExactTarget for $2.5 billion — an enormous payout for the Indianapolis-based firm. Instead of moving it to its own headquarters in San Francisco, Salesforce committed to growing the business in Indianapolis. Since then, it has doubled its employee base, it has its name on the city's tallest tower, and its alums have invested in a new wave of startups.
  • Why it matters: While startup activity in the Midwest tends to be much lower than the rest of the country, Indianapolis is a star performer, ranking alongside Minneapolis and just below Chicago. The question is how to replicate that success in other struggling, manufacturing-dependent places.
  • Come along with Kim.
10. 1 fun thing

"The unlikeliest great drama of the fall ... 'Springsteen on Broadway' [opening night last night] Reveals the Artist, Real and Intense ... The intimacy of a small theater emphasizes the mournful power of Bruce Springsteen's voice and guitar," by N.Y. Times' Jesse Green, co-chief theater critic:

  • "[T]he audience, which had mostly restrained itself through the first 13 songs of the 15-song set, could no longer sit on its hands ... The show had been, to that point, quite solemn — and would continue to be."
  • "But now, entire swaths of the Walter Kerr Theater, apparently unmindful of downbeat lyrics like 'I ain't nothing but tired,' started clapping along to 'Dancing in the Dark,' Mr. Springsteen's biggest hit, from 1984."
  • "He stopped cold. 'I'll handle it myself,' he said, shutting them down with a small, sharky glint of a smile."
  • "'Springsteen on Broadway' ... is a solo act by a solo artist with an artist's steel. Even though Patti Scialfa, his wife, shows up to harmonize on two numbers, this is not a singalong arena show or a roadhouse rouser. Even less does it try to be a feel-good Broadway book musical."
  • Closing Date: Feb. 3.

It turns out ... The "handle it myself moment" was scripted, or has become so. The Times critic was writing about a preview, and Variety's critic says the same thing happened last night at the actual opener.

Mike Allen