Jan 7, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🎰 Happy Monday from Vegas, where I'm covering the Consumer Electronics Show, "the global stage for innovation," with Ina Fried and Sara Fischer. Live updates here.

Situational awareness: Trump tariffs bite U.S. factories, including in politically key Michigan, with layoffs likely as costs rise. (N.Y. Times' Peter Goodman) ... Joementum? Biden is under pressure to decide on 2020 by the end of January. (NYT's Jonathan Martin)

1 big thing: Big Tech's Trump problem

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The tech giants are facing a barrage of tough, negative coverage, with some of the same dynamics that drive saturation coverage of President Trump.

  • NBC's Dylan Byers reported Friday in his Byers Market newsletter: "Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives are fed up with The New York Times after weeks of what they see as overtly antagonistic coverage that betrays an anti-Facebook bias."
  • "The frustration was rekindled ... after the Times bought a sponsored post on Facebook to promote 'a step-by-step guide to breaking up with' Facebook."

Facebook better get used to it — and Twitter and Google's YouTube can see the increased scrutiny they're likely to get ahead of the 2020 presidential race.

  • Facebook is facing the sustained cycle of negative coverage that has been experienced by the likes of Monsanto, big oil and big banks.
  • Axios' Felix Salmon points out that Facebook now has an adversarial relationship with the press — a big change from even when "The Social Network" came out in 2010. The movie was critical, but in the context of general adulation.

Just like with Trump after his election, many news outlets feel guilty that they weren't tougher on Facebook sooner, and now are trying to compensate.

  • And like Trump, they brought a lot of this on themselves.
  • Now, much of the media looks at the company skeptically, critically and sometimes cynically. Despite protests, sharp scrutiny is well deserved. 
  • A Facebook official, pointing to new content policies and enforcement capabilities, told me: "We recognize our role and responsibility, and understand the scrutiny. We just want the reporting to be fair and accurate."

The barrage is likely to spread to some of Facebook's Bay Area neighbors: Many major news organizations — including The Washington Post, The Atlantic and CNN — are staffing up for greatly expanded tech coverage.

  • Tech is the new politics.
  • This is partly in reaction to the techlash of the past year, and partly in preparation for a post-Trump world, when websites can't count on politics to drive massive year-round traffic.
  • Just as in politics, there's going to be overwhelming coverage of the same few actors — in this case, Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon.

So Big Tech will be covered like a presidential candidate — everyone piling on the same story.

  • Some companies' problems will start to look bigger than they are.
  • Scandals and investigations will be what sells.

Be smart: The biggest platforms have the power and reach of nation-states — or greater — and increasingly will be treated as such. 

2. Coming attractions: smart toilets, showers

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, we'll see a preview of the battle to connect everything from refrigerators and cameras to toilets and showers, Axios' Ina Fried and Sara Fischer report.

  • Be smart: Just connecting devices to the internet doesn't make them smart. To be sensible and practical, such devices also have to be secure and easy to use, which means more than just adding some wireless technology.

What's next: Right now, consumers have a choice whether to allow Alexa-like voice assistants into their homes. But expect that choice to vanish over the next few years as more devices gain internet connections, and built-in voice assistants become routine add-ons.

What was once the rare "smart" fridge or speaker will soon be the norm:

  • HS Kim, CEO of Samsung's consumer electronics business, told Ina that he has been working on the "smart home" notion since he was an engineer at the Korean tech giant 20 years ago.
  • Samsung has announced plans for its TVs to work with assistants from Amazon and Google and content from Apple, and has pledged to make all of its devices intelligent and connected by 2020.
  • And more rivals are expected to embrace one another.

The bottom line: The time is now to set standards — not just the technical and legal ones that let these devices all talk to one another, but also the social ones that dictate what is and isn’t appropriate.

  • That would give consumers an altered but intact sense of privacy. 
  • But regulators are still struggling to manage privacy on the internet, even as microphones and cameras are added to more and more devices.
3. Day 17: Shutdown’s pain spreads widely
Ocean Beach in San Francisco, a National Park Service property adjacent to Golden Gate Park (Jeff Chiu/AP)

🚨 This is the week federal workers could miss a paycheck.

  • White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press": "If we don't have an agreement — I think by midnight on the 8th, which is Tuesday — then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night."

The administration is "scrambling to mitigate its effects on Americans expecting to get a tax refund next month, those who rely on federal assistance for their housing, and vulnerable national monuments," the WashPost reports on A1:

  • HUD "sent letters to 1,500 landlords ... as part of a last-minute effort to prevent the eviction of thousands of tenants. A lot of those tenants live in units covered by a HUD program that many agency officials didn’t realize had expired on Jan. 1 and that they are now unable to renew."
  • See the letter.
4. Exclusive: This year's single biggest global risk

Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, giving Axios an exclusive preview of his annual Top 10 global risks, says the #1 geopolitical danger of 2019 will be the crises we ignore, "setting ourselves up for trouble down the road. Big trouble."

Bremmer calls them "bad seeds."

  • "The geopolitical environment is the most dangerous it’s been in decades ... and at a moment when the global economy is faring well," Bremmer and Eurasia Group chairman Cliff Kupchan write.
  • "The world’s decision-makers are so consumed with addressing (or failing to address) the daily crises that arise from a world without leadership that they’re allowing a broad array of future risks to germinate, with serious consequences for our collective midterm future."

Among them: "The strength of political institutions in the US and other advanced industrial economies. The transatlantic relationship. US-China. The state of the EU. NATO. The G20. The G7. The WTO. Russia and the Kremlin. Russia and its neighbors. Regional power politics in the Middle East. Or in Asia."

  • Why it matters: "Every single one of these is trending negatively. Every single one. And most in a way that hasn’t been in evidence since World War II."

Check Eurasia Group later today for all 10 "Top Risks 2019."

5. Bolton contradicts Trump
National security adviser John Bolton (front row, second from right) joins a virtual reality demonstration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem yesterday. U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer sit alongside. (Zeke Miller/AP)

"White House national security adviser John Bolton ... outlined conditions for a U.S. troop departure from Syria that appeared to contradict President Trump’s insistence ... that the withdrawal would be immediate," the WashPost's Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian report:

  • "Speaking during a visit to Israel, Bolton said that certain 'objectives' must be achieved before a pullout could take place."

Be smart, from the N.Y. Times' David E. Sanger et al.: The conditions "could leave American forces there for months or even years."

6. Energy and climate issues to watch in '19

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Worldwide and in Washington, energy and climate are hotter topics this year than they have been in some time. Amy Harder's "Harder Line" column gives us a sneak peek:

Regulatory lawsuits: Last year, Trump proposed sweeping regulatory rollbacks of most of his predecessor’s aggressive environmental agenda — nearly 80 by this N.Y. Times count.

  • This year, we'll see many of these proposals go final — and a mountain of lawsuits swiftly filed by blue states, particularly California and New York, and other parties.

Ailing coal and nuclear: Trump’s promise to keep open economically struggling coal and nuclear plants hasn't translated into action after more than a year.

  • Unlike coal plants, which shut down at a near record rate in 2018, several states have subsidized nuclear plants. Expect more debate this year.
  • The iconic Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, site of America’s worst nuclear-energy accident 40 years ago, is slated to shut down this fall absent government support.

Carbon taxes: Canada, which implemented a nationwide carbon tax Jan. 1, will be an important test case for carbon taxes after opposition elsewhere, including Washington state.

7. 🏈 Prepare for points
Expand chart
Data: ESPN. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Axios Sports, our new daily newsletter by Kendall Baker and Michael Sykes, launches today. Sign up here to get the debut issue.

Although No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson meet tonight in their third college football championship in four years (they met in the semifinals the other year), this game is unpredictable, Kendall writes:

  • In their last three meetings, the highest Alabama ranked in points per game nationally was No. 15 (2017-18), while the highest Clemson ranked was No. 14 (2016-17). This season, Alabama ranked No. 2 (47.7 points per game) and Clemson ranked No. 4 (44.3 points per game), as both teams ascended to offensive juggernaut status.
  • They both allow very few points (Alabama ranked No. 5 in points allowed; Clemson ranked No. 1), but that was the case in all three of their previous playoff matchups, so the improved offenses are the key variable to watch.

More storylines:

  • NFL scouts will be busy: Tonight's game could feature 20 or more 2019 NFL draft picks. For comparison, the LSU-Alabama "Game of the Century" in 2011 featured 13.
  • Empty seats: Mainly because of the game's location (Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, in Silicon Valley, is a trek for both fan bases), ticket prices are historically low and the game might not even sell out — even with over 400 members (!) of Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa's family in attendance.

8 p.m. ET, ESPN (with a variety of other ways to watch)

  • Lines: ALA -5.5 | O/U: 58 | Money: ALA -215 / CLEM: +180
8. New CBS News president
Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Longtime CBS News producer Susan Zirinsky "is replacing CBS News President David Rhodes in March, becoming the first woman to lead the storied division in the network’s history," the L.A. Times' Steve Battaglio writes:

  • "Zirinsky, 66, will be CBS News president and senior executive producer."
  • "Zirinsky’s hard-charging early years at CBS News inspired the Type A producer played by Holly Hunter in the 1987 film 'Broadcast News.' Zirinsky was a consultant on the film."

"Top female executives have been rare in network TV news."

  • "The executive upheaval comes during one of the most turbulent times in the history of CBS, which like other media entities has been rocked by the #MeToo movement."

Rhodes said in an email to his colleagues: "The world we cover is changing, how we cover it is changing — and it’s the right time for me to make a change too."

  • "I’ll be here through March 1, after which I’ll be a Senior Advisor to CBS Corp CEO, Joe Ianniello, and to the News Division."
  • "CBS News couldn’t have a better leader going forward than 'Z.'"
9. First look: "How We Lost the Global Information War"

Richard Stengel — MSNBC political analyst, and former Under Secretary of State in the Obama administration — tells me he has finished a book called "Info Wars: How We Lost the Global Information War."

  • Stengel, former editor of TIME and CEO of the National Constitution Center, has been working on the book since the end of the Obama administration, and will offer it to publishers this week.

Stengel calls the book "the first and only insider account exploring how the U.S. tried — and failed — to combat the global rise of disinformation that eventually spilled into the 2016 election."

  • "I tell that story in the first person through the work I did as an Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department."
  • As a longtime TIME writer and editor, "I knew a lot more about content than folks in government. But, alas, it didn’t make much of a difference."

"What I saw ... was the innovative use of disinformation by ISIS and Russia on social media through the weaponization of grievance."

  • "Then, in 2016, we saw Donald Trump use the same techniques in the presidential election, weaponizing the grievances of Americans who felt left out by modernism."
  • '"I take the reader to Saudi Arabia for a midnight meeting with Mohammed bin Salman; to Moscow for a meeting with Putin’s closest aide; and to Palo Alto for a private sitdown with Mark Zuckerberg."

Asked about Alex Jones' Infowars, Stengel said: "Titles are not copyrighted — plus we have a space between Info and Wars."

10. 1 Globe thing
Lady Gaga arrives at the Beverly Hilton. (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

Christian Bale, in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, points to the "charisma-free" demand of his role as Dick Cheney in "Vice":

  • "What do you think — Mitch McConnell next?"

The big picture ... "It was a mix of business as usual and overwhelming sea change at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, ... where the film and television industry gathered to ... be seen by one another at the crowded Beverly Hilton bar during commercial breaks," L.A. Times TV critic Lorraine Ali writes.

  • "The red carpet, which was more like a women’s march last year thanks to the #TimesUp movement and conversations about representation, sexism and sexual harassment, had reverted back to a nonpoliticized space, where Ryan Seacrest was safe once again to ask: 'Gaga, who are you wearing?'"
  • "But once inside, it was clear why Hollywood appeared to have taken a step back from the fervent social activism of the past few years: the race and gender equality they’d fought for was evident everywhere."

Winners list.

Mike Allen