March 27, 2024

🐫 Happy Wednesday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,287 words ... 5 mins. Thanks to Noah Bressner for orchestrating. Copy edited by Bryan McBournie.

📺 Situational awareness: NBC dropped former RNC chair Ronna McDaniel as a $300,000-a-year contributor after an internal revolt from some of the network's most prominent journalists.

  • She found out from media reports rather than NBC. She's exploring legal options. Keep reading.

1 big thing — Chatbot letdown

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Grumbles about generative AI's shortcomings are pushing the chatbots into a "trough of disillusionment" after two years of hype, Axios' Ina Fried writes.

  • Why it matters: AI is still changing the world. But hurdles range from embarrassing errors (extra fingers or Black founding fathers in generated images) to significant concerns about intellectual property infringement.

A year ago, every board was pressuring their CEO to find ways to adopt generative AI as quickly as possible.

  • Now many are finding that even promising early experiments are tough to scale.
  • Gary Marcus — a scientist who penned a blog post last year titled "What if Generative AI turned out to be a dud?" — tells Axios that, outside of a few areas such as coding, companies have found generative AI isn't the panacea they once imagined.
  • "Almost everybody seemed to come back with a report like, 'This is super cool, but I can't actually get it to work reliably enough to roll out to our customers,'" Marcus said.

Some leading startups of generative AI's first wave are falling by the wayside. Last week, leadership and top researchers from Inflection AI — a hot startup — decamped for Microsoft.

🥊 Reality check: This isn't the end of the road for generative AI, by any means. Every major new technology — even, or especially, a world-changing one — goes through this phase.

  • The "trough of disillusionment" was first named and defined by consulting firm Gartner in 1995 as part of its theory of hype cycles in tech.

Keep reading ... Get Axios AI+.

2. 📉 RIP "Bidenomics"

Data: Axios analysis. (Includes events, speeches and answers to reporters.) Chart: Stef W. Kight/Axios

For the first time in more than two months, President Biden publicly uttered a word yesterday that he and other Democrats have largely abandoned: "Bidenomics."

  • Why it matters: Republicans mockingly use the term far more than Democrats, even though the economy has improved under Biden, Axios' Alex Thompson and Hans Nichols write.

The intrigue: After Axios asked the White House yesterday why Biden wasn't saying "Bidenomics" — including in his State of the Union address this month — he used the term at an event in Raleigh in the afternoon.

  • It was the first time he'd done so since Jan. 25 — 61 days earlier.
  • "Folks, you notice the leading economists aren't making much fun of Bidenomics anymore," he said of his programs to boost the middle class through public spending. "They're thinking maybe it works to build from the middle out and the bottom up. The wealthy can still be very wealthy."

The president has had an off-and-on relationship with "Bidenomics."

  • Biden initially was reluctant to use the term. Last June, he decided to embrace it.
  • The goal was to co-opt Biden's Republican critics and do for "Bidenomics" what former President Obama did with "Obamacare" — take a word that seemed a political liability and turn it into an asset.
Data: Quorum. (Includes X posts, Facebook posts, press releases, floor statements and newsletters to constituents.) Chart: Axios Visuals

🧮 By the numbers: "Bidenomics" mentions by congressional Democrats dropped during the fall and now have nearly disappeared.

  • But Republicans in Congress can't stop saying it: They've used "Bidenomics" nearly 500 times this month in their public statements, according to Quorum.

Keep reading ... Stef W. Kight contributed reporting.

3. 💵 Charted: Truth Social's rough road

Monthly active users and market cap at IPO for select social media companies
Data: Company reports and SimilarWeb. (Truth Social reflects monthly website visits globally in February 2024, according to SimilarWeb. It doesn't reflect app users.) Table: Alice Feng/Axios

Truth Social — the Trump-owned social media platform that started trading yesterday — has far fewer users and less income than any social network that has gone public before, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.

  • Why it matters: While the app does sell some ads, its business is practically non-existent.

Truth Social earned $3.4 million in revenue for the first nine months of 2023 and lost around $49 million.

  • By comparison, Facebook (now Meta) earned $3.71 billion in revenue the year before it went public and was profitable.

Keep reading.

4. 🙏 Mapped: Worship-free America

Share of adults who say they never or rarely attend religious services
Data: Household Pulse Survey. (Adults who say they never attend a service or attend less than once a year.) Map: Alice Feng/Axios

Vermont (75%), New Hampshire (66%) and Maine (66%) have the highest share of adults who say they never or seldom attend church or religious services, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Alice Feng write from census data.

  • The national average: 49%.

Why it matters: More than three-quarters of Americans say religion's role in public life is shrinking, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey — the highest level since the group first started tracking such sentiment in 2001.

The other side: Mississippi (32%), Alabama (36%) and Louisiana (37%) have the lowest share of adults who say they never or seldom attend services.

5. 👀 Baltimore misinfo runs rampant

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Map: Alice Feng/Axios

The overnight collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge drove a surge in online conspiracy theories — many of them promoted by "verified" accounts with huge followings on X, Axios' Zachary Basu and Sara Fischer write.

  • Why it matters: Rampant misinformation during mass casualty events isn't a new phenomenon. But under Elon Musk's ownership of X, the platform has become a font of conspiracy theories.

🔎 Zoom in: Within hours, X accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers were promoting baseless claims that Dali, the container ship that hit the bridge, had been the victim of a cyberattack or had intentionally rammed the piers.

  • Much of the misinformation was being pushed by "verified" users who pay for a premium subscription that boosts their posts.

Keep reading.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore after yesterday's crash … and last Sunday, in all its glory.
Photos: Nathan Howard and Tom Brenner/Reuters

Above: The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore after yesterday's crash ... and last Sunday in all its glory, as it had stood since opening to traffic in 1977— 47 years ago.

6. 📖 Trump's new merch

Donald Trump holding the God Bless the USA bible
Screenshot: Truth Social

Former President Trump is promoting a Bible — $59.99, plus shipping and tax.

  • "We must make America pray again," Trump said in a Holy Week video posted to his Truth Social account yesterday, encouraging followers to buy the "God Bless the USA" Bible.

Zoom out: The sale is nothing new for the former president, whose $399 high-top sneaker sold out hours after its February launch, Axios' Shauneen Miranda writes.

  • Trump also released two low-top sneakers and a $99 bottle of "Victory47" perfume and cologne.

Keep reading.

7. 💰 Child care's ROI

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The cost of providing childcare benefits to employees — think stipends and onsite daycare — is an investment with outsized returns, Axios' Emily Peck writes from a new study by Boston Consulting Group and nonprofit Moms First.

  • For every dollar spent on childcare benefits, employers saw a net gain of between $0.90 and $4.25 through reduced absenteeism, less lateness and lower rates of attrition.

Get Axios Markets.

8. 🏈 NFL's radical rule change

A diagram of the NFL's new kickoff rule.
Image: NFL

NFL kickoffs — a play that has become irrelevant in recent years — will look dramatically different next season.

  • Just 22% of kickoffs were returned last season.

Why it matters: Owners approved a new set of "hybrid" kickoff rules that will try to boost the number of returns without increasing injury risk.

  • The change was inspired by the XFL's kickoff format.

💡 How it works: The kicking team's players will line up 25 yards away from the ball — on their opponent's 40-yard line (pictured above).

  • Nine blockers on the returning team will line up between the 30- and 35-yard line.
  • Two returners are allowed inside the 20-yard line.
  • Only the kicker and two returners are allowed to move until the ball hits the ground or is touched by a returner.
  • Fair catches aren't allowed. Any kick that lands between the 20-yard line and the end zone must be returned.

Between the lines: Say goodbye to the surprise onside kick. The team that's trailing can declare an onside kick using the old rules in the fourth quarter.

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