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Oct 20, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Saturday morning.

⚾️ Situational awareness: Brewers, Dodgers one win away from World Series. (Game 7 at Miller Park, 8:09 p.m. ET)

1 big thing: Why Trump is giving the Saudis a pass
Opening the door a crack: A man enters Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul yesterday. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Bulletin: A senior official in Turkey’s ruling party said Turkey would share its evidence of Khashoggi’s killing with the world. (AP)

A well-wired Republican texts me the reason President Trump is buying the Saudis' story: "Constraining Iran is the priority and Saudi is a critical ally in that effort. That 'trumps' the horrible human rights violation."

  • How's that for Smart Brevity?

Here's how the Saudis last night began trying to defuse the international crisis ... "The Saudi government acknowledged early Saturday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, saying he died during a fistfight," the WashPost reports from Riyadh:

  • "[T]he new account may do little to ease international demands for the kingdom to be held accountable."
  • "The Saudi government said it fired five top officials and arrested 18 other Saudis as a result of the initial investigation. Those fired included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri."

Reuters notes: "Saudi Arabia provided no evidence to support its account of the circumstances that led to Khashoggi’s death."

  • Be smart, from BBC: "There can only be one of two possible alternatives here: either — as many suspect — the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was to blame or he had lost control of his inner circle, something most observers find hard to believe."

In Arizona last night, Trump called Saudi Arabia's announcement a "good first step" and said he would work with Congress on a U.S. response, per AP:

  • Asked by a reporter whether he thought Saudi Arabia's explanation for Khashoggi's death was credible, Trump said, "I do. I do." But he said before he decided what to do next, he wanted to talk to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Washington Post

P.S. AP headline ... "Silenced forever: Saudi Arabia admits Khashoggi is dead."

2. Thousands of migrants pack bridge overnight
Honduran migrant caravan, heading to the U.S., is stopped at a border barrier on the Guatemala-Mexico border bridge in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

With President Trump promising "an election of the caravan," Honduran migrants "surged across a bridge leading to Mexico ... before they were halted in a chaotic confrontation with a phalanx of Mexican police in riot gear," CNN reports:

  • "Chanting and cheering migrants pushed through or climbed over a steel gate until police threw tear gas and smoke canisters and pushed the migrants back."
  • "Video showed coughing and weeping migrants collapsed on the bridge. Several police and an undetermined number of migrants were injured."

"As night fell, thousands of migrants remained packed together and exposed to the elements on the Suchiate River bridge connecting Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and Tapachula, Mexico, according to CNN crews on the ground."

  • Covering the coverage ... A "CNN Air" bug accompanies aerial footage from the Guatemala-Mexico border. ... With a Bill Weir phoner: "CNN WALKS ALONGSIDE CARAVAN AS MIGRANTS APPROACH MEXICO."
3. Can you spot fake pics?
An image sent from a "Rachell Edison" Facebook account on Dec. 5, 2016, was cited yesterday in federal charges against a Russian unsealed yesterday. (Justice Department)

The Justice Department announced that a Russian woman had been charged with interfering in the midterms as part of what her Putin-allied organization called "information warfare against the United States."

  • The posts the group circulated on Facebook were crude, like the one above.
  • But the dangerous fake news is the increasingly common kind: tough to spot, even by people who think they're good at it.

The cover of Sunday's Washington Post Business section has a tech column by Geoffrey Fowler with the headline, "I fell for Facebook fake news. Here's why millions of you did, too":

"The Facebook video is nuts, but I can’t tear my eyes away. A plane, struggling in a huge storm, does a 360-degree flip before safely landing and letting out terrified passengers.
"It turns out the video is totally bunk, spliced together from a computer-generated clip and unrelated real news footage. But that didn’t stop the Facebook post from arriving in my News Feed via a friend last month. I watched it. Maybe you did, too: It has nearly 14 million views."

Be smart, from Fowler: "Detecting what’s fake in images and video is only getting harder. Misinformation is part of an online economy that weaponizes social media to profit from our clicks and attention."

Fowler includes an online test from software maker Autodesk, "Fake or Foto":

  • "We often see images that are of such good quality we don't consider whether the picture is reality or if it was computer generated. Take our Fake or Foto challenge and see if you can tell the difference between our real photos and those which are computer generated."

For each of nine images, you're asked "CG" or "Photo?"

  • Fowler got 22% right. I got 33% the first time and 44% the second time.
  • Take the quiz.
Bonus: Trump style guide
4. Housing market falters

"The housing market is stumbling through its longest slump in four years," The Wall Street Journal's Laura Kusisto and Sharon Nunn report (subscription):

  • What's new: "[T]he divergence between a booming U.S. economy and weakening home sales that many had dismissed as temporary now looks poised to continue."
  • Why it's happening: "A combination of rising mortgage rates and high home prices, a dearth of inventory and a new tax law that reduces incentives for homeownership have weighed on the housing sector this year."

Read me: "Real-estate agents say power is shifting more toward buyers."

  • Buyers "now have a number of homes to choose from within their budget and feel they need to weigh their options, knowing their home may not appreciate nearly as quickly in the coming years."
5. N.Y. Times' first "comic strip to the editor"
Courtesy The New York Times
"To the Editor:
"Re 'If You’re Not Scared About Fascism in the U.S., You Should Be,' by Jason Stanley, Adam Westbrook and Japhet Weeks (Opinion video,, Oct. 15):
"Your video reminded me of a gentleman I met recently. He was born in Germany in 1934 and lived through World War II and its aftermath.
"Here’s my comic strip using his words.
"Stan Mack, New York."

See all eight frames of Mack's comic.

6. 1 🎰 thing
John Minchillo/AP

"Tuesday night's Mega Millions estimated grand prize has hit a staggering $1.6 billion, continuing a trend of giant jackpots. It ties the largest lottery prize in U.S. history — and is bound to continue growing — and joins five other top 10 drawings in the last three years," AP's Scott McFetridge writes:

  • Why it's happening: "Lottery officials changed the odds in recent years to lessen the chance of winning a jackpot, which in turn increased the opportunity for top prizes to reach stratospheric levels."
  • "The theory was that bigger jackpots would draw more attention, leading more players to plop down $2 for a Mega Millions or Powerball ticket."
  • It worked, with a quirk: "States have generally reported increased Mega Millions and Powerball sales since the change. But ... prizes that once seemed so immense now seem almost puny in comparison."

"It's hard to overstate how fast lottery tickets fly out of the mini marts when the top prizes get so large":

  • "In California, ... the lottery Thursday sold $5.7 million in Mega Millions tickets during the first half of the day. The height of sales came during the lunch hour, when people were buying 200 tickets per second."

Be smart: "Cornelius Nelan, a math professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, notes the odds [of winning Mega Millions] are about the same as rolling a die and getting a one, 11 times in a row."