Sep 9, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Sunday morning.

🍔 Situational awareness: "A man accused of kicking a seagull that tried to eat his cheeseburger at a New Hampshire beach has been fined $124." (AP)

1 big thing: How "senior" is Anonymous?

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The whodunit over the Trump administration's "anonymous" hinges on the word "senior."

  • The New York Times describes its mysterious Op-Ed contributor as "a senior official in the Trump administration."
  • But how senior is "senior"? Does the author meet what the "Morning Joe" hosts called the "household name" test? Or is this actually a swampier, murkier version of "senior"?

The guessing game raced across Washington and Wall Street:

  • "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration" had been viewed more than 13 million times through Friday, and remained atop the paper's "Most Popular" list into this morning.

In playing the game myself, I may have been wrong about one of the most essential assumptions:

  • I wrote in Axios AM, and speculated on the air, that based purely on what Times editors must have been thinking (or should have been thinking), the masked dissident probably is authentically "senior."
  • My logic: The paper has to assume the writer will be unmasked. And if the official turned out to be relatively obscure, The Times would have credibility issues. And normal readers don't understand the wall between the paper's newsroom and opinion section.

But in the few clues the paper has given, there are real questions about whether the "household name" test will be met:

  • Hmmm 1: Answering reader questions in a piece posted yesterday ("How the Anonymous Op-Ed Came to Be"), deputy editorial page editor (and Op-Ed Editor) Jim Dao said vetting included "direct communication with the author, some background checking and the testimony of [a] trusted intermediary." If the official were famous, how much testimony would you need?
  • Hmmm 2, pointed out by Jonathan Swan: The Op-Ed author writes that "a top official" had "complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier." Would an actual top official describe a peer as a "top official"?
  • Hmmm 3, and this is the biggest one of all: Dao told Michael Barbaro on The Times' podcast, "The Daily" that on the "senior administration official" terminology, "All I can say is I feel that we followed a definition that has been used by our newsroom in the past." Whoa! A former (actual) senior administration official instantly phoned me to say what a red flag that is: Journalists are notoriously liberal in their definition of who constitutes a "senior administration official."

Have fun with your guessing. And please gamble responsibly.

2. Hong Kong passes NYC as hotspot for ultra-rich
Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong is now the city with the highest number of residents with a net worth of $30 million or more, according to Wealth-X, a global intelligence service about ultra-high net worth individuals.

  • Why it matters, per CNBC: "[G]lobal wealth-creation is quickly moving to Asia from the U.S., as economies in the region grow faster and wealth becomes more concentrated."

The big picture, from Axios' Stef Kight: 86% of the 30 fastest growing high-wealth cities were in China.

  • But among countries, the U.S. remains firmly in first place as host to the most deca-millionaires and billionaires.

P.S. China is detaining Muslims in its most sweeping internment program since the Mao era, per the N.Y. Times' Chris Buckley:

  • "Ethnic Uighurs in vast numbers have been sent to camps as part of a campaign to remove any devotion to Islam."
3. Russian trolls exploit NFL kneeling

"The same Kremlin-linked group that posed as Americans on social media during the 2016 ... election has repeatedly exploited the [NFL's national anthem] controversy, ... playing both sides in an effort to exacerbate divides in American society," CNN reports.

  • "CNN worked with researchers at Clemson University that have archived millions of tweets sent by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll group that was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller."
  • The trolls repeatedly weighed "in on the [NFL] debate, using different accounts to take both sides. While they used some accounts to push petitions to fire the protesting players, they used others to hail them as heroes."

Be smart, from BBC: The goal of Russian state actors, bots and trolls "is no longer to deny or disprove an official version of events, it is to flood the zone with so many competing versions that nothing seems to make sense."

Bonus: Stat du jour

"During the first 18 months of the Trump administration, ... nearly 1,600 workers left the EPA, while fewer than 400 were hired," per the WashPost.

  • "The exodus has shrunk the agency’s workforce by 8 percent, to levels not seen since the Reagan administration."
4. Catholic faithful demand change
Pope Francis poses for a selfie during his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square in May. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Countless Catholics in the U.S. "are raising their voices in prayer and protest to demand change amid new revelations of sex abuse by priests and allegations of widespread cover-ups," AP's Amy Forliti reports:

  • Letter-writing campaigns, prayer vigils and listening sessions aim to bring about change from the pews.
  • Why it matters: Participants realize "it's up to them to confront the problem and save the church they love after years of empty promises from leadership."

One campaign, learning from the "Time's Up" and #MeToo movements, organized events across the country this weekend under #CatholicToo.

  • "Some of the efforts are calling for specific reforms, such as laity-led investigations and transparency."
  • Some are withholding donations in protest.
5. Fall classic: Trump v. Obama
Obama poses with Democratic congressional candidates at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)

President Trump has a sudden competitor for airtime: CNN and MSNBC covered President Obama's first 2018 campaign rally yesterday as if he were in a general-election race with his successor.

  • CNN ("ANY MOMENT") and MSNBC ("HAPPENING NOW") both went with empty-podium teases ahead of Obama's appearance in Anaheim, Calif.
  • Then both used "BREAKING NEWS" tabs during his live remarks.
  • Fox News was airing a taped show, but used soundbites later.

After calling out Trump and the Kochs in a speech the day before, Obama went with generic descriptions yesterday, but said:

  • "[W]hen you look at the arc of American history, there’s always been a push and pull ... between those who promote the politics of hope and those who exploit the politics of fear."

Be smart, from N.Y. Times' Adam Nagourney: "Obama’s decision to enter the fray ... could very well, as some Democrats acknowledge, energize Republican ... voters. ... But he made clear his main goal [yesterday] was getting Democrats and independents, who are a big bloc of voters [in Orange County], to turn out."

6. 1 🎾 thing
Courtesy N.Y. Post

In the middle of her U.S. Open final against Naomi Osaka at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York yesterday, "with a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title on the line, Serena Williams was standing on the court calling the chair umpire a thief," the N.Y. Times' Ben Rothenberg writes:

  • "For you to attack my character is something that’s wrong,” Williams said during a changeover.
  • "You’re attacking my character. Yes, you are. You owe me an apology. You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. ... You stole a point from me, you’re a thief, too."

"[I]nstead of trading blazing ground strokes with Osaka, a 20-year-old born in Japan who grew up idolizing her, Williams [age 36] was having a heated conversation with the tournament referee."

  • Williams: "There are men out here that do a lot worse ... but because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right."

"Williams did not recover ... Osaka won, 6-2, 6-4."

  • "But as the boos and whistles rained down on the court during the awards ceremony, Williams resumed her role as the sport’s leader, urging the fans to appreciate the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title."
Mike Allen

☕️ Thank you for reading. We'll have updates all day on Axios.com.