Sep 11, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🇺🇸 It's a solemn Friday as we mark 9/11 — 19 years ago this morning.

  • Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,199 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: 6 of 20 largest California fires were in 2020
Heather Marshall stands by the destruction of her home at Coleman Creek Estates mobile home park in Phoenix, Ore., yesterday. Photo: Paula Bronstein

Six of the 20 largest wildfires in modern California history have been this year, the N.Y. Times reports (subscription) in "A Climate Reckoning in Fire-Stricken California."

  • "It's really shocking to see the number of fast-moving, extremely large and destructive fires simultaneously burning," Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, told The Times.
  • "I've spoken to maybe two dozen fire and climate experts over the last 48 hours and pretty much everyone is at a loss of words. There’s certainly been nothing in living memory on this scale."

The context: We can never remind you of this often enough: 18 of the warmest 19 years have occurred since 2001, according to NASA.

  • We just experienced the warmest decade ever.

The latest: 500,000 Oregonians — more than 10 percent of the state's 4.2 million people — have been told to evacuate as flames encroach, AP reports.

  • More than 1,400 square miles have burned in Oregon this week.
  • In Washington state, wildfires have scorched 937 square miles.
  • In a Northern California wildfire, 10 people are confirmed dead, as searchers look for 16 missing people.

Go deeper: Climate change affects what types of trees can be established after fires. (Alison Snyder/Axios)

2. We're numb to the virus

We're over COVID-19 even if it isn't over us. Virus fatigue is clear in a range of online data, Axios' Neal Rothschild reports.

  • Why it matters: Six months into the pandemic, online engagement around virus stories has dropped off markedly, according to NewsWhip data provided exclusively to Axios.

By the numbers: Interactions (likes, comments, shares) on COVID stories have fallen 88% since March, 62% since July and 36% even from August.

The big picture: Throughout the pandemic, partisan anger — not pertinent public health information — has fueled virus stories on social media.

  • The top term associated with "coronavirus" on social media in the last 3 months is "Trump," according to data from Keyhole.

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3. Biden resists full withdrawal

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photos by Win McNamee and Drew Angerer

Despite pressure from the left, Joe Biden is making it clear that if he wins, he won't pull up stakes from Afghanistan and the Middle East, Hans Nichols and Margaret Talev report.

  • Why it matters: Biden's stance provides assurance to centrist voters. But it unnerves progressives, who dearly want a Democrat back in the White House, but crave more of an anti-war figure.
  • Some progressives want nothing less than a clean break from Obama-Biden administration policies on targeted killings and foreign intervention.

Biden made news when he told Stars and Stripes yesterday that he supports a sustained U.S. military footprint of up to 1,500-2,000 in the Middle East.

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4. Pics du jour
Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP

This beam of light shines over the Pentagon as part of the "Towers of Light" tribute marking today's 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attack — part of a scaled back commemoration due to the pandemic.

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
5. Woodward in the Oval
Photo: White House via CNN

This fascinating photo — included in black and white in Bob Woodward's forthcoming "Rage" — shows the author in the Oval Office during a 1-hour, 14-minute interview on Dec. 19 — the first of Woodward's 18 Trump interviews.

  • "Trump tries to show off and impress Woodward — giving a tour of the Oval Office, discussing his preference for long neckties, and showing Woodward the hideaway office, which he smirked and called the 'Monica Room,'" CNN's Jamie Gangel reports.
  • "Trump even asked the White House photographer to take a picture of him and Woodward in the Oval Office."

From left: acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, counselor Kellyanne Conway, principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, Woodward and Mike Pence.

6. Inside TikTok's algorithm

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok took the unusual step of revealing some of the elusive workings of the prized algorithm that keeps hundreds of millions of users worldwide hooked on the viral video app, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

  • Why it matters: The code is in play as TikTok's Chinese parent prepares to sell its U.S. operation amid criticism of its relationship with China's government.

On a call with reporters, TikTok executives said they were revealing details of their algorithm and data practices to dispel myths and rumors.

  • "We're a 2-year-old company operating with the expectations of a 10-year-old company," said Michael Beckerman, TikTok's vice president in charge of U.S. public policy. "We didn't have the opportunity to grow up in the golden years of the internet, when tech companies could do no wrong. We grew up in the techlash age."

How it works: When you open TikTok for the first time, you're shown eight popular videos featuring different trends, music and topics.

  • The algorithm will continue to serve you new iterations of eight videos, based on which videos you engage with.
  • The algorithm identifies similar videos by using captions, hashtags and sounds. Recommendations also consider language, country and device type.
  • TikTok groups you into "clusters" like "basketball" or "bunnies."
  • TikTok's logic aims to avoid redundancies that could bore you, like multiple videos with the same music or from the same creator.

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7. Citi CEO "watershed moment"

Citigroup became the first major Wall Street bank to appoint a female chief executive, naming Jane Fraser — president of Citi, and CEO of global consumer banking — to succeed Mike Corbat, who'll retire in February after 37 years at Citi.

  • Why it matters: Fraser, 53 — who was born in Scotland and has been at Citi for 16 years — becomes the first woman to lead a major financial institution in the United States. (N.Y. Times)

Deutsche Bank's CEO of the Americas, Christiana Riley, told the Financial Times (subscription) that Fraser's appointment was a "watershed moment for meritocracy and equality that all women on Wall Street celebrate."

  • On his LinkedIn page, Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO David Solomon hailed Fraser as a "pioneer."
8. Data du jour: Steve Rattner's reality check
Courtesy Steve Rattner

The economy's comeback is slower and narrower than its second-quarter collapse, Steve Rattner, counselor to the Treasury secretary in the Obama administration, shows in these charts for MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Courtesy Steve Rattner

Go deeper.

9. Coming attractions: "Hemingway"
Ernest Hemingway on the fishing boat Anita, circa 1929. Courtesy of Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, via PBS

Ernest Hemingway — one of the greatest American writers, and among the first to live and work at the treacherous nexus of art and celebrity — is the subject of a three-part, six-hour documentary series directed by award-winning filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, coming to prime time on PBS, April 5 to 7.

PBS says in a release that the filmmakers "were granted unusually open access to the treasure trove of Hemingway’s manuscripts, correspondence, scrapbooks and photographs housed at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston":

[T]he series features an all-star cast of actors bringing Hemingway (voiced by Jeff Daniels), his friends and family vividly to life. Through letters to and from his four wives — voiced by Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary Louise Parker and Patricia Clarkson — the film reveals Hemingway at his most romantic and his most vulnerable, grappling at times with insecurity, anxiety and existential loneliness.

See a trailer.

10. Boos mar NFL moment of unity
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In the photo above, on NFL opening night, the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans unite in a moment of silence before kickoff.

  • The 17,000 Kansas City Chiefs fans who filed into Arrowhead Stadium were prohibited from wearing headdresses or war paint.

The Houston Texans remained in the locker room during the national anthem, and fans booed them when they emerged from the tunnel, AP reports.

  • The booing continued as the two teams walked to midfield and shook hands, their interlocked arms stretched from one end zone to the other during what was supposed to be a moment of silence.
Mike Allen

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