Sep 9, 2020

Axios AM

☕ Happy Wednesday! Situational awareness: The Justice Department intervened in the defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll, who says President Trump raped her years ago, "moving the matter to federal court and signaling it wants to make the U.S. government — rather than Trump himself — the defendant," the WashPost reports.

  • 🚨As previously signaled, CENTCOM commander in Baghdad announces: "The United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September." (Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson)

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,480 words ... 5½ minutes.

1 big thing ... Zuckerberg to "Axios on HBO": "Just wrong" to say Facebook driven by conservatives

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

Mark Zuckerberg told me in an "Axios on HBO" interview that it's "just wrong" to consider Facebook a right-wing echo chamber, even though conservative voices top the platform's most-engaged content.

  • "It's true that partisan content often has kind of a higher percent of people ... engaging with it, commenting on it, liking it," Zuckerberg said from his home in Palo Alto.
  • "But I think it's important to differentiate that from, broadly, what people are seeing and reading and learning about on our service."

With social media feeding online rage across the political spectrum, Zuckerberg said there's a "meme" out there "that says ... our algorithm is just trying to find things that are going to kind of enrage people somehow, and that that's what we try to show people. And that's not actually how our systems work."

  • When I reminded Zuckerberg how much hate is on Facebook, he replied: "If you look in the country right now ... a lot of people ... are very exercised and I think, frankly, for a lot of good reasons. And we have real issues."
  • "I think sometimes there is a fine line between an important level of high energy around an important issue and something that can kind of tilt over into causing harm."

Reality check: The N.Y. Times' Kevin Roose writes that most days, the leaderboard of most-engaged U.S. Facebook links "looks roughly the same: conservative post after conservative post, with the occasional liberal interloper."

  • That's based on engagement (likes, shares, comments). Facebook cites the content we see, which is heavy on mainstream news.

Asked how worried he is that history will record Facebook as an accelerant of social destruction, Zuckerberg said: "I have a little more confidence in democracy than that. And I hope my confidence isn't misplaced."

  • "But what we do, and I think a lot of what the internet does overall, is gives individuals more power."

See the full episode now on all HBO platforms.

  • Clip 1: Zuckerberg on right wing.
  • Clip 2: Zuckerberg on anti-vaxxers.
  • Clip 3: Zuckerberg on Apple.
2. Biden's Hispanic worry

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden's support with Hispanic voters is softer than Hillary Clinton's in 2016, worrying key Biden supporters in the Hispanic community, Hans Nichols reports.

  • A Florida poll by Marist/NBC shows President Trump and Biden tied overall, and Trump up 50%-46% with Hispanics.
  • Trump leads "sizably among Latinos of Cuban descent, ... with Biden just slightly ahead among all other Latinos in the state," NBC reports.

Why it matters: Hispanic voters make up more than 20% of the electorate in Florida and Arizona — two swing states that Trump won in 2016, but now could deliver Biden the White House.

  • "For the campaign to win, I expect them to do more," said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Texas), who ran the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s PAC.
  • "It’s undeniable that there appears to be a lukewarm level of support," said Moe Vela, a Hispanic lawyer and political adviser who worked for Biden in the Obama administration.

What's going on: Trump's push for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and hardline immigration policies make him unpopular with many Hispanic voters.

  • But he has successfully courted evangelicals, those who are a generation removed from immigration, and those of Cuban and Venezuelan descent who respond to an anti-socialism message.

What the campaigns say:

  • Cristobal Alex, a senior Biden adviser, said: "We have dramatically scaled up our operations and brought on a number of Latino experts."
  • Giancarlo Sopo, the Trump campaign's director of rapid response for Spanish-language media, said the Trump campaign has focused on entrepreneurship and culturally conservative issues.

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3. Political football: New pressure on Big Ten to restore season

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

College football has become a key political issue as the 2020 election approaches, and the impending NFL season will only ratchet up the intensity around empty stadiums and player protests, Axios Sports author Kendall Baker reports.

  • Why it matters: Football is America's most popular sport. Considering 43 of the top 50 most-watched TV broadcasts last year were football games, it's arguably our most popular form of entertainment, period.

Now both parties are trying to tie the season postponement by the Big Ten conference — the Midwest powerhouse that includes Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska — to their own political narratives.

  • 10 elected officials from six states sent a letter yesterday to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, urging the conference to reconsider its postponement of the fall football season. All 10 lawmakers are Republicans.

Crazy stat: 69 of the 77 major schools playing football this fall (89.6%) are in states that supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, per Sportico.

  • In Big Ten markets, Joe Biden has been running ads featuring images of empty football stadiums. "Donald Trump put our nation on the sidelines. Let's get back in the game," Biden tweeted.
  • President Trump tweeted: "Disgraceful that Big Ten is not playing football. Let them PLAY!"

What's next: The NFL kicks off tomorrow night.

  • Sign up for Kendall Baker's daily newsletter, Axios Sports.
4. California fire grows 1,000 acres every 30 mins.
A firefighter battles the Creek Fire as it threatens homes in the Cascadel Woods neighborhood of Madera County, Calif. Photo: Noah Berger/AP

Wildfires raged unchecked throughout California this morning, and gusty winds could drive flames into new ferocity. (AP)

  • In Northern California, the North Complex fire burned parallel to the Middle Fork of the Feather River at a rate of 1,000 acres per half hour, tearing through steep terrain and rugged coniferous pine forest, the S.F. Chronicle reports.
  • 0% containment ... In Southern California, the Bobcat fire burned unchecked through Angeles National Forest. Santa Ana winds threatened homes in foothill communities, per the L.A. Times.
Smoke from the Creek Fire envelopes trees in the Cascadel Woods community of Madera County, Calif. Photo: Noah Berger
5. Small businesses losing confidence in survival
Data: Goldman Sachs. Chart: Axios Visuals

Small businesses have largely exhausted their federal funding and are starting to lay off workers, with many worried about having to close for good, Axios Markets Editor Dion Rabouin reports exclusively from Goldman Sachs data.

  • Why it matters: Business still hasn't returned to normal, six months after the pandemic first appeared in U.S. But small firms say the money they received from the Paycheck Protection Program has run dry.

In a survey of 860 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses alumni, conducted Sept. 1-2, 88% of the small business owners say they have used all of their PPP loan funding.

  • 32% of loan recipients have already been forced to lay off employees or cut wages.
  • About 95% of the companies surveyed by Goldman said they had been approved for PPP funding.

The good news: The pandemic has not been as bad as many businesses had feared and most are now up and running.

  • Nearly three-quarters of the businesses surveyed say they are fully open, up from just 39% in April and 53% in May.
  • And just 2% of businesses say they are temporarily closed, compared to 19% in April.

Between the lines: Data show Black-owned businesses face an even steeper climb.

  • 43% say they their business’s cash reserves will be depleted by year-end if Congress doesn't act this month, compared to 30% of respondents overall.

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6. "Mulan" filmed in Xinjiang amid cultural genocide
Screen grab from credits of Disney's "Mulan." Image: Jeannette Ng via Twitter

Disney revealed that some "Mulan" scenes were filmed in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is engaged in cultural and demographic genocide against indigenous minorities, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Sara Fischer write.

  • Why it matters: The riches promised by China's massive domestic film market are buying the silence — and even complicity — of one of America's most powerful entertainment empires.

In the credits for the film, which was released over the weekend on the streaming platform Disney+, the company thanks several Xinjiang entities directly involved in the operation or promotion of mass internment camps that analysts estimate are holding one million or more ethnic minorities.

7. The $12 billion motorcycle rally

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A coronavirus outbreak tied to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., ended up generating 250,000+ cases — and therefore more than $12 billion in public health costs, according to a new discussion paper, Caitlin Owens writes.

  • The rally led to 266,796 additional cases, or 19% of the new cases in the U.S. between Aug. 2 and Sept. 2, the paper found.
  • The report by IZA — a nonprofit research institute based in Bonn — used anonymized cellphone data.

The other side ... Devin Pope, a professor at the University of Chicago, tweeted: "Overall, I think the 'Sturgis Effect' that the authors document is in large part just a Midwest surge that took place during this time period."

8. Michael Cohen's "trifecta of truth"

Screenshot: MSNBC

Michael Cohen — whose "Disloyal," out yesterday, is the No. 1 Amazon bestseller — told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night in a show-long interview:

  • "If you look at just the books that have come out recently — Mary Trump's book, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's book, my book — it's kind of like the trifecta of truth."
  • "We all seem to be pointing to the same thing: [President Trump] is devoid of empathy."


9. Gallup: New civil-rights low
Graphic: Gallup

59% of U.S. adults believe Black civil rights have improved in their lifetime, down from 89% in 2011, during President Obama's first term, Gallup found.

10. Hope your day is like this
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images

French director, photographer and street artist JR jumps during a photocall for the film "Omelia Contadina" during the 77th Venice Film Festival.

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