Axios AM

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

November 21, 2017

Good Tuesday morning. Situational awareness ... "Sexual harassment cases flood state legislatures," per USA Today lead story: "Since last year, at least 40 lawmakers – nearly all men – in 20 states have been publicly accused by more than 100 people of some form of sexual misconduct or harassment."

1 big thing: The Great Reckoning

In 12 short hours, elites lost their star anchorman, the New York Times benched a star Trump reporter, and Congress moved one step closer to losing a star Democratic senator — and possibly inheriting a Republican senator who may be booted. Plus the longest-serving Democratic congressman used money to hide harassment charges.

  • All from sexual impulses and actions, uncontrolled and unwanted.
  • Spoiler alert: Many more allegations are coming.

The morning began with a second accuser of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who had already been resisting calls to resign from "deeply disappointed supporters" and prominent party members back home.

  • At 10:30 a.m., during a weekly news meeting of the N.Y. Times Washington bureau, Vox published its long-rumored article on Glenn Thrush, who was suspended and says he "will soon begin outpatient treatment for alcoholism." His paper reported: "The meeting came to a halt as everyone stopped to read the article."
  • Then, the bookend ... At 4:45 p.m., a Washington Post news alert: "Eight women say longtime TV host Charlie Rose sexually harassed them — with nudity, groping and lewd calls." Rose has a uniquely broad empire, but instantly lost control: PBS and Bloomberg suspended distribution of his shows, and CBS suspended him as morning co-anchor. His 6 p.m. airing on Bloomberg TV was replaced by "Daybreak Asia."
  • A Roy Moore accuser went on air with the "Today" show — but Moore keeps tacit backing from the White House, which says the voters of Alabama should decide his fate.
  • And last night, BuzzFeed posted: "Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not 'succumb to [his] sexual advances.'"

Why it matters: The speed and sweep of this are unmatched in social history. What we're hearing: The tech world's dark secrets have been seeping out for months, and it's just under seven weeks since the N.Y. Times detonated its Harvey Weinstein exposé. So this may feel like a crest, but here's the amazing thing: Every sign is that for the East Coast, there's lots more to come.News organizations are looking into specific congressmen, some with years-old reputations for leering, infidelity and more.Reporters have been asking around about other well-known media figures. We hear one top name is the target of two media investigations. And consider this: The wave has yet to hit the New York corporate suites. I'm told they're hardly immune.P.S. The excuses ... "Franken and Trump, Hiding Behind Their 'Jokes,'" by N.Y. Times TV critic James Poniewozik: "[B]oth are examples of the collision of politics with the world of celebrity, where men have long felt entitled to indulge their ids, to play the grabby adolescent and then to laugh it off.""The entertainment defense is attractive because of the leeway our society has given performers. A politician's gaffe is a comic's laugh."

2. "Vast uncertainty": ripples from AT&T

The Justice Department's suit to block AT&T's proposed $85 billion bid for Time Warner puts on hold a slew of media and telecom transactions that may have been in the works, Axios tech editor Kim Hart writes:

  • It could upend the antitrust precedent that has created some of today's biggest media companies.
  • Why it matters: The lawsuit is not only a blow to AT&T, but also to other companies hoping that similarly structured deals that combine content producers and distributors have a shot with the current administration.
  • It could also bring new scrutiny to the size and power of Google and Facebook, which have become media powerhouses in their own right.
  • The lawsuit is also a surprise. Despite President Trump's campaign-trail criticism of the deal, it was widely expected to win government approval from a Republican Justice Department. Rumblings that regulators had serious concerns about the deal only surfaced in the past couple of weeks.
  • Mark Cuban, who testified in favor of the deal at a congressional hearing last year, tweeted that Facebook and Google will be the big losers of DoJ's suit to block the deal. "Their media advertising, content and distribution dominance will be a defense at trial. That could create bigger issues for them."

3. "Techlash" to lead new progressive era?

The editor of The Economist, Zanny Minton Beddoes, says in the magazine's prediction issue that three forces will help swing "the pendulum of power" back towards the state and away from markets:

  1. "Across the rich world, politicians will turn on the technology giants — Facebook, Google and Amazon in particular — saddling them with fines, regulation and a tougher interpretation of competition rules. It will be the 21st-century equivalent of the antitrust era, with the tech giants vilified as malevolent quasi-monopolists whose behavior is weakening democracy, suppres­sing competition and destroying jobs. ... The pace will be set by the European Union ... But it is in America that the techlash will seem most dramatic."
  2. "The second force of change will be [French President Emmanuel ] Macron, who, notwithstanding his incrementalist start, will emerge as a modern-day equivalent of Teddy Roosevelt, the American president most associated with the Progressive Era. ... [B]oth wrap a reform agenda in the rhetoric of national renewal and greatness. Like Roosevelt, Mr. Macron is pushing a new kind of social contract, one that boosts competition and entrepreneurship while protecting workers who lose out."
  3. "The third force will be changing attitudes to China, the rising power of the 21st century. Much as the fear of a rising Germany shaped European policymaking in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so worries about China's growing clout, and its intentions, form the backdrop today."

Her conclusion: "At worst, [this decisive shift in the West's balance between the state and the market] will be a back route to a more regulated, defensive and pro­tectionist kind of capitalism. But with luck, the new balance will be marked by a broader embrace of competition as the best way to counter the power of entrenched elites, and involve an imag­inative rethinking of the state's role in protecting the individual."

  • "That would make it a progressive era to be proud of."

4. Facebook's whistleblower wave

Facebook insiders with detailed knowledge of the company's operations are increasingly voicing concerns that the tech giant is putting profits ahead of its users' best interests, Axios' Sara Fischer reports:

  • Their accounts come as many Silicon Valley insiders are speaking out about the negative consequences of the world they helped create.
  • Why it matters: The accounts put more pressure on the company to quickly and publicly address tough philosophical questions that they may not have the answers to yet. And it gives more ammunition for other Facebook alumni to come forward with their perspectives while they work their issues out.
  • Facebook responds with a blog post by Justin Osofsky, V.P. of Global Operations, "Enforcing Our Policies and Protecting People's Data."
  • "Like" this.

Bonus: New life for long-delayed Keystone XL

5. Continent rattled by Merkel fail

"German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she would prefer new elections to leading a minority government, after a breakdown in coalition talks plunged the country into political crisis," BBC reports:

  • "She also said she did not see any reason to resign from her post despite the failed negotiations."
  • "Merkel faces her biggest challenge in 12 years as chancellor."
  • Why it matters: "[A]nalysts say the new elections would be likely to benefit the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD [the nationalist Alternative for Germany, which entered parliament for the first time], so other parties would probably try to avoid them."

6. 1 fun thing

"Yankees Are Crowdsourcing Their Manager Vetting Process: Most sports teams try to conduct coach or manager searches privately. The Yankees are parading their candidates in front of the news media, one by one," the N.Y. Times' Yankees beat writer, Billy Witz, writes:

  • "In professional sports, the search for a new coach or manager is typically done in the shadows, to protect a team's competitive advantage as well as the candidates' privacy. Private jets may be dispatched."
  • "So far, each of the five people the Yankees have interviewed [to replace fired manager Joe Girardi] ... has been placed on a conference call with the news organizations that regularly cover the team."
  • "General Manager Brian Cashman said there were two purposes for the highly unusual decision to publicize the list of candidates."
  • "First, the news media may dig up information on a candidate that the Yankees' own background search has not."
  • "The other benefit is to observe how the candidates might handle questions from the news media — a significant and often stressful part of a Yankees manager's duties. The manager is required to do it twice a day, 162 times a year in front of what is typically the largest media contingent in baseball."
  • Step up to the plate.