Axios AM

An analog clock with only two symbols instead of twelve: the symbols read 'AM' and 'PM'.
February 23, 2017

1 big thing: explosion of right-wing news sites

Axios' Sara Fischer and Shannon Vavra mapped the launch date of 89 news websites over the past quarter century and found an explosion of right-leaning news sites, coinciding with the rise of the Tea Party and alt-right movements beginning in 2010. Many of these sites were instrumental in spreading pro-Trump news during the 2016 elections. Among the findings:

  • Why it matters: Digital technology has made it easier to exploit the political divisions that have always existed.
  • How they profit: Google and Facebook's algorithmically-driven news distribution platforms have created an environment in which: a) partisan news sites can easily reach fringe audiences, and b) news sites are financially incentivized to tilt one way or another.
  • Facebook, in particular, algorithmically favors content that appeals to user bias and interest. According to comScore Vice President Andrew Lipsman, to elicit high engagement and repeat visitation, "sites must usually speak to a very specific audience."
  • What to watch: The same profit motive that created and helped sustain ideological news sites led to the creation of fake news sites. As Google and Facebook figure out their response to being the conduit for ad dollars for fake news sites, it might change the business models for ideological sites as well.

2. Trump's 2018 play

The Capitol Hill calendar is way overstuffed -- a Supreme Court nomination, plus Obamacare repeal legislation; tax reform; and budget, spending and debt-ceiling fights, including a possible showdown over a government shutdown.

So Republican sources tell our Jonathan Swan that a backup plan is emerging for one of Trump's top priorities:

  • The plan: Push off until next year any consideration of the massive infrastructure plan Trump wants to push for roads, airports and other big projects, giving Republican lawmakers more breathing room amid a crowd of issues that'll require massive effort, time and political capital.
  • The politics: Republican strategists say that Democrats, who'll be reluctant to give Trump a win, will be in a jam as midterm elections close in: They'll be under huge pressure to support big projects that'll bring money and improvements to their districts. And blue-collar unions, including construction and building trades, can be expected to favor of the package, driving a wedge into the Democratic base.
  • What this shows: Trump officials, who originally wanted to flood the Capitol zone with their massive asks, are learning the rhythms of Washington -- playing what White House counselor Kellyanne Conway last night called on Fox News "long ball, long haul."

3. Ivanka spotlights human trafficking

President Trump this afternoon will hold a listening session on domestic and international human trafficking, including women and girls who are sexually exploited for profit.

We're told that the sudden West Wing attention to the issue was driven by Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and a huge West Wing force despite her decision not to take an official title at first.

  • Why it matters: White House support for legislation on the issue could emerge from the meeting; West Wing aides are already talking about how to work with three senators who're attending. The effects will also be immediate: Trump is bringing the biggest spotlight in the world to a vital issue that's too often given short shrift.
  • How the meeting came about: Ivanka Trump and Dina Powell, White House senior counselor for economic initiatives, had a few meetings with some of the groups attending today's 2:30 p.m. session in the Roosevelt Room. "Ivanka recommended the meeting to the president and he immediately agreed, given what a horrible issue it is in the U.S. and internationally," a source said.
  • Who's coming from the Hill: Three Republicans senators who have been longtime advocates on the issue: Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
  • Outside groups coming: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; International Justice Mission; Thorn: Tech Innovation to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation, co-founded by Ashton Kutcher (who'll be represented by someone else).
  • Who's coming from the administration: The meeting is likely to include Vice President Pence, who has had a longtime focus on the issue; representatives of the Justice Department; plus policy guru Stephen Miller, Dina Powell and Hope Hicks, director of strategic communications.

4. Article of the day

"I Ignored Trump News for a Week. Here's What I Learned," by N.Y. Times "State of the Art" columnist Farhad Manjoo:

  • "Coverage of Mr. Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever."
  • "He has taken up semipermanent residence on every outlet of any kind ... He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow."
  • "Even when I found non-Trump news, ... much of it was interleaved with Trump news, so the overall effect was something like trying to bite into a fruit-and-nut cake without getting any fruit or nuts."
  • "[I]t is likely that no living person in history has ever been as famous as Mr. Trump is right now."
  • Per mediaQuant, "Trump gets about $100 million more in coverage than the next 1,000 famous people put together."
  • "On most days, Mr. Trump is 90 percent of the news on my Twitter and Facebook feeds ... But he's not 90 percent of what's important in the world. ... ISIS is retreating across Iraq and Syria. Brazil seems on the verge of chaos. A large ice shelf in Antarctica is close to full break. Scientists may have discovered a new continent submerged under the ocean near Australia."

5. Conway hits "presumptive negativity"

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, after a hiatus following a rough bout of coverage, returned to TV last night to audience chants of "Kellyanne! Kellyanne!" She joined Sean Hannity on Fox News, before a live audience in suburban Maryland on the stage of CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Trump will speak tomorrow morning. One man held a "Socialism Sucks" sign.

Conway called her boss "President Action, President Impact, Donald J. Trump":

  • Conway said she's not being sidelined from TV, CNN's Dylan Byers reported: "Somebody's trying to stir up trouble ... There are people, I think, trying to get in my way. I've also gobbled up a lot of other people's TV opportunities, so there's some resentment on the outside, I believe, and folks just trying trying to use me as clickbait and a headline."
  • "I don't think I have to explain myself if I'm not going to go on TV for a week -- if I'm out with four kids for three days, looking at houses and schools. Lotta my colleagues aren't trying to figure out how to be a mother of four kids -- I assure you."
  • "I think there's something called 'presumptive negativity.' It's: What is he saying, what are his advisers saying, what are they doing today? There must be something wrong, or there must be something negative.
  • "About 5 percent of what I'm being asked to do in this White House counselor role is TV. And I think that's about right. Because he's the president now, and he's his own best messenger. ... We don't need to be out there all the time."

6. Tillerson "influence appears muted"

WashPost page 1, top of column 1, "State Dept. sidelined in Trump's 1st month," by Carol Morello and Anne Gearan:

  • "The Trump administration in its first month has largely benched the State Department from its long-standing role as the pre­eminent voice of U.S. foreign policy, curtailing public engagement and official travel and relegating Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a mostly offstage role.
  • "Decisions on hiring, policy and scheduling are being driven by a White House often wary of the foreign policy establishment."
  • "The most visible change at the State Department is the month-long lack of daily press briefings, a fixture since John Foster Dulles was secretary of state in the 1950s. The televised question-and-answer session is watched closely around the world."
  • "Tillerson has also been notably absent from White House meetings with foreign leaders."
  • "Tillerson has not taken the usual complement of beat reporters with him on either of his foreign trips so far, opting instead for small 'pools.'"
  • "The former ExxonMobil chief executive has made no speeches beyond a well-received address to State Department employees on his arrival and has held no news conferences."

7. The Wilderness

"Bernie Sanders Loyalists Are Taking Over the Democratic Party One County Office at a Time" -- Wall Street Journal front-pager by Reid Epstein and Janet Hook:

  • "The strategy of Mr. Sanders's followers is to infiltrate and transform the Democratic Party's power structure, starting with the lowest-level state and county committee posts that typically draw scant attention."
  • "[T]he broader goal is not only to pull the party to the left on policy, but also to fundamentally alter how it operates by eschewing corporate donors, shifting resources from television advertising to neighborhood organizing and stripping power from longtime party elders -- including ... 'superdelegates.'"
  • "Sanders said the mobilization efforts are a legacy of his presidential campaign. 'You have meetings where, in the old days, 20 people would show up. Now hundreds of people are showing up, in terms of competing for seats on Democratic state committees.'"

8. Juicy read of the day

From Vanity Fair's forthcoming issue ... "Megyn Kelly, Matt Lauer, and the battle for the future of NBC," by Sarah Ellison: "In his high-profile, high-priced hire of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, NBC News chief Andy Lack placed a major bet on star power. But Lack's biggest, priciest talent, Today's Matt Lauer, provides something of a cautionary tale. With morning news being one of the last mass television markets, its personalities can draw fire as well as ratings."

One industry insider: "The most dangerous seat in television news ... seems to be next to Matt Lauer."

9. Tweet du jour

The exoplanets ... NASA press release, "Largest batch of Earth-size, habitable zone planet": "NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed a new exoplanet discovery: the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water."

10. 1 fun thing

"What It's Like to Live in a Trump Building," by New York magazine's Nick Tabor ... "At Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the Protesters Have Made Some of the Ladies 'Very, Very Upset'":

Elaine Rigolosi, Columbia professor: "There are now Secret Service members all over the building. They sit in the stairwell. And now you have to drive to Madison Avenue to have your car sniffed before you can drive it in and drop off any packages. There's a scanner on 56th Street. If you're walking in there with packages, you have to put them through, like an airport. ...I've got five people with machine guns on one side of me while the protesters are screaming. It makes me feel very important. ...

"Plus, Trump has been really cool, like at one board meeting I attended: People were complaining about some expensive wallpaper he wanted to put in the hallways. He said, 'Look, I'm going to put wallpaper on one of the floors, and I want you to go and look at it, and next time tell me whether it's beautiful or not.' And, of course, now we have the wallpaper."