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Panic at the Washington Post
morning report #8 // blackrock ceo disavows esg, meta blocks canadians from sharing news, new uap bill, the wagner coup, wapo's ongoing embarrassment, and a+ links from the clown world
Welcome back to the Pirate Wires Morning Report.
THIS ISSUE: top venture deals, TikTok COO steps down, vv important cage match updates, grim signals in commercial real estate, the inscrutable coup in Russia, the Starbucks LGBTQ decoration ban that never happened part II, and Solana’s lead story, in which he is once again asking: what the hell is going on at the Washington Post?
Godspeed, enjoy, love you.
Nothing to see here. Friday morning, in a bombshell report from the Washington Post, journalist Drew Harwell revealed political censorship has never existed at Twitter, and there is absolutely nothing here to see. Long story short, the Post ‘broke’ details in which something we already knew was further evidenced: leading up to January 6th, Twitter leadership was concerned about violence and misinformation, but the team was divided on the question of how aggressively they should police speech. On one hand, many employees wanted draconian censorship of Trump supporters regardless of the company’s Terms of Service. On the other, many thought it prudent to wait for some actual violation of the rules. That the company chose to wait for an actual violation is proof Twitter was never really censorious, argues the Post concerning events that led directly to the historic deplatforming of a sitting president. Then, more importantly, this also proves the present owner of Twitter, who allowed many journalists to read and then accurately report on real emails that were really written by employees of the company, is full of it!
“Elon Musk,” Harwell writes, “commissioned a series of reports intended to reveal how the company had previously sought to squelch conservative speech.”
Then, a little later: “But the video and other newly obtained internal Twitter records show that, far from working to censor pro-Trump sentiment in the days before the Capitol riot, the company’s leaders were intent on leaving it up — despite internal warnings that trouble was brewing.”
The first quote above is — and I’m choosing my words carefully here — a lie. Elon didn’t “commission” anything. He allowed several journalists to petition a legal team for company emails. The emails were promptly delivered, and journalists chose what to write about. I know this to be true, because several of the journalists hit me up looking for advice on what dates and subjects to target.
The Post’s latest example of censorship denialism, a dangerous conspiracy theory growing in popularity among journalists, is especially interesting in light of another recent piece from their anti-tech team. Mark Zuckerberg is devolving into a second Elon Musk, argues Nitasha Tiku and Naomi Nix. The gist of this fresh, steaming pile: following appearances on Rogan and Lex Friedman (who Elon likes!), as well as a playful challenge to a public fight (which Elon accepted!), Zuck is trying to appeal to the tech’s “reactionary right wing.” For the whole thing to work, we’re led to believe Zuck has rapidly transformed from an upright, sane sort of normie CEO, to something cartoonish, alien, and vaguely dangerous. I found this position surprising, to say the least, given Nitasha has spent the bulk of her career arguing Zuck is a goofball, creepy weirdo who has singlehandedly placed American democracy on life support.
2011, here's Nitasha making fun of Mark’s intention to only eat animals he’s hunted himself. 2014, here she is making fun of Mark for ‘tricking’ people into thinking he’s “normal.” 2017, here she is making fun of Mark’s “awkward” tour across America (while accusing him of a litany of egregious crimes against the world). Takeaway: look at this freakshow who is also, by the way, destroying our country. A few years ago, in a piece for WIRED, Nitasha celebrated the work of a loser artist for juvenile mockery of both… Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Strange, this equivalency drawn between both men five years before the dangerous, burgeoning similarity between the pair. Why, it’s almost as if nothing has actually changed.
Obviously, Zuck is just a foil here for Elon. The Post has to argue Zuck is different so they can make the point they actually care about: Elon Musk is changing the industry, and by extension the country. Dangerous! Misinformation! Right wing! Elon’s gravity is so powerful that many men who used to be good and subservient to the press, who used to be respectable, normal CEOs we loved, are really bad now! Zuck? Doing something ‘weird’ like ‘jiu-jitsu’? An unthinkable corruption of his pristine, normie brand.
But the truth about Zuck challenging Elon to a literal fight (lol), as I wrote last week before Nitasha’s piece came out, is obvious: Mark is launching a Twitter competitor. Following his challenge, which Elon naturally and eagerly accepted, everybody on Twitter knows about the new product. In other words, the fight is a commercial, which the Post is now covering. Congratulations, you played yourself. But what is it about Elon that’s driving them insane?
In the first place, tech really has changed. The kind of left wing cultural authoritarianism popular among journalists is no longer de facto law in Silicon Valley. The concept of ‘politics in the workplace’ is increasingly unpopular, where not outright banned, and anyway people have more to worry about, these days, given the ongoing industry bear run. For political activists seeking to bully tech workers into de facto state censorship, I imagine this is all concerning. Then, the Twitter Files grievance is far more simple. Every journalist Elon granted access was independent, and opinionated. Here, I do think the Post is vulnerable.
After Trump lost his re-election, the New York Times silenced its most unhinged reporters, and clawed back for the center. Whether or not they live up to it, their brand is objective. But the Washington Post hired the crazies, then doubled and tripled down on overtly partisan bullshit. Today, the Times is thriving, and the Post is failing — not only as a business, but as a fount of cultural power. I don’t actually think the Times has anything to worry about from the Substack boom. But the Post? These days, they’re just selling their opinion, and it’s not even cleverly written. Good luck.
Canada f**ks around (with Meta), is about to find out. Canada’s newly passed Online News Act requires search and social sites to pay domestic media outlets a licensing fee for news links that appear on their platforms (insane, incoherent, impractical). Hailed as a win for Canadian newsrooms struggling to stay afloat amid falling ad revenue, Meta sees it as unworkable, saying in a statement that “content from news outlets, including news publishers and broadcasters, will no longer be available to people accessing our platforms in Canada.” Ironically, when Meta’s news block goes into full effect, struggling Canadian newsrooms will have one fewer source of referral traffic, thus hurting their ad revenue even more. (NYT)
House report says CISA, tech, and government-funded third parties censored Americans. From the report: “The Committee and Select Subcommittee have obtained previously undisclosed, nonpublic documents that reveal CISA expanded its mission to surveil Americans’ speech on social media, colluded with Big Tech and government-funded third parties to censor by proxy, and tried to hide its plainly unconstitutional activities from the public.” Wild, the WaPo article in Solana’s lead specifically said it had disproven a government link to censorship. (house.gov)
Microsoft-Activision deal saga drags on. Updates:
Microsoft says it may abandon Activision deal if judge delays it (NYT)
Microsoft lawyers: Sony, Microsoft’s top gaming rival, wasn’t concerned about Activision acquisition stifling competition (Bloomberg)
XBox chief exec swears under oath that Microsoft won’t pull Call of Duty from PlayStation (The Verge)
Judge’s increasingly testy attitude during FTC’s questioning of Microsoft exec seen as positive sign for Microsoft (The Verge)
TikTok ban looking less likely. According to Rep. Mike Gallagher and Sen. Marco Rubio, the Commerce Department has watered down key sections of proposed supply chain security regulations in a quiet effort to make it easier for Biden to approve TikTok’s “Project Texas.” (WaPo)
Tiktok COO Vanessa Pappas steps down after company confirms some user data stored in China, despite CEO Chew’s insistence to the contrary (Bloomberg)
Longtime Disney exec Zenia Mucha, “one of the most tenured and respected crisis communications professionals in the world,” hired as company’s comms chief (Axios)
TikTok ramps up e-commerce business by signing deals with US logistics firms (The Information)
Supreme Court rejects lawsuit accusing Google of stealing song lyrics that Genius put on its website. The lyrics aggregator alleged that Google violated copyright laws by featuring lyrics scraped from its site in searches without attribution (lol, nice try guys) (Bloomberg)
Palmer Luckey, American treasure. Here’s Anduril’s founder on the necessity for cooperation between the tech industry and the U.S. military, and the dangers of entanglement with China. Ah yes, and the media is full of sucky liars etc.
America being urged to more openly share military tech with allies (lol) (NYT)
→ Important cage match updates
Regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s upcoming literal fight with Elon Musk:
Zuck is favorite with a 70 percent chance of winning according to Oddsopedia, a site I literally just found about today (Oddsopedia)
Big brain take from the Guardian: “Instead of cage-fighting, how about a tech-bro competition to pay the most tax?” (Context: Elon paid between $8bn and $15bn in taxes for FY 2021, potentially the largest federal tax bill in US history)
Jordan Peterson: but what if they were also naked? 🤔 (@jordanbpeterson)
→ More Musk
Australia gives Twitter 28 days to assure its lawmakers it’s taking appropriate steps to reign in “online hate,” or be slapped with nearly a half-million-dollar fine (Axios)
Twitter agrees to comply with EU disinformation laws after EU officials visited Twitter’s HQ on Thursday for a mock compliance test with tough new laws barring “fake news” and “Russian propaganda” (The Guardian)
Tesla scores big wins in Washington, Texas, as the states are set to require EV companies to adopt Tesla’s charging standard (TechCrunch); Tesla EV plug may be adopted by Hyundai, joining Ford, GM, and Rivian (The Verge)
SpaceX valued at $150b after tender offer (Bloomberg)
SpaceX hires child phenom software engineer who just graduated college at age 14 for Starlink division (WaPo)
Bitcoin rallies, touches $31,000 (Decrypt)
Crypto custodian firm Prime Trust unable to honor withdrawals, possibly near collapse (WSJ)
Tiny island nation Palau offering $248 “digital residency” for people who want to access banned crypto exchanges (WSJ)
Crypto scam artist who hacked high-profile Twitter accounts such as Joe Biden’s, Elon Musk’s, and Kanye West’s sentenced to five years (TechCrunch)
SEC approves first leveraged bitcoin futures ETF, but still no straightforward spot, showing very clearly that they obviously have consumer protection in mind (Decrypt)
Amazon to invest $100m in AI innovation center (ZeroHedge)
Cybersecurity report suggests over 100,000 ChatGPT account logins compromised, traded on dark web (The Independent)
YouTube tests AI dubbing tool for automatic language translation (TechCrunch)
OnlyFans model develops AI clone trained on over 10,000 conversations between her, her friends, and her romantic partners so that other men can enjoy “intimate” experiences with her (NY Post)
NY lawyers fined $5K for ChatGPT-generated brief riddled with fake case citations (Bloomberg)
Google invests $20m in university cybersecurity clinics (Axios)
Supreme Court declines to hear Apple/Broadcom appeal of Caltech’s multi-billion dollar patent lawsuit, setting “the stage for a damages-only jury trial to determine how much Apple and Broadcom should pay” the university (WSJ)
Nikola HQ hit with fire shortly after company announced layoffs, suspects foul play 👀 (Bloomberg)
Biden and India PM Modi meet top tech executives at White House to discuss bilateral cooperation on AI, space technology, semiconductor production; (AP) Amazon commits to investing $15b in India over next seven years (TechCrunch)
MosaicML, an SF-based startup, develops software infrastructure and artificial intelligence training algorithms designed to improve the efficiency of neural networks. The company has announced their acquisition by Databricks, for a rumored $1.3b.
Aledade, a Bethesda, Maryland-based startup, “uses data analytics to help independent doctors’ offices transition to value-based care models.” Raises a $260m Series F led by Lightspeed, with participation from Ventrock, OMERS Growth Equity, Fidelity Management and others in a round which values the company at $3.24 billion.
Turbine, a London-based startup, develops cancer therapies by simulating complex disease models which are used to create targeted drugs. Raises a $27.8m Series A led by MassMutual, with participation from Accel and others.
Captions, a Boston-based startup, develops AI software for creating and editing studio-grade video content. Raises a $25m Series B led by Kleiner Perkins, with participation from a16z, Sequoia, and SV Angel.
Apex, a Culver City, California-based startup, develops productized satellite solutions that reduce the time and cost for companies to launch spacecraft. Raises a $16m Series A led by a16z and Shield Capital, with other undisclosed investors participating.
Oso, a New York-based startup, develops backend infrastructure for integrating and managing authorization and authentication. Raises a $15m Series A led by Felicis, with participation from Sequoia, Harpoon Ventures, and a number of angels including Jack Altman, Dev Ittycheria, and Ryan Petersen.
Supercritical, a Sevenoaks, England-based startup, measures an organization's carbon footprint and offers carbon removal offsets in response. Raises a $13m Series A led by Lightspeed, with participation from RTP Global and others.
Beehiiv, a New York-based startup co-founded by several Morning Brew alumni, is building a newsletter platform with a strong focus on growth and monetization features. Raises a $12.5m Series A led by Lightspeed and others.
Rever, a Barcelona-based startup, is building software to streamline e-commerce returns to boost customer satisfaction while maximizing retained sales value. Raises an $8.18m Series A led by Global Founders Capital with participation from Sequoia, YC and others.
Other Notable Deals
Apptio | $5b | to be acquired by IBM
An acquisition of the Austin-based enterprise technology spend management company currently owned by Vista Equity Partners would represent a rare PE exit at a time when deals are down 40% YoY.
KoBold Metals | $195m Series B | Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, & others
The Berkeley, California-based company is building “the world's largest repository of geoscience information, and leveraging artificial intelligence to model the sub-surface and explore at depths beyond the reach of conventional techniques.” This latest raise values the company at $1b post-money.
X1 | $95m | acquired by Robinhood
The income-based credit card company has been acquired for $95m in cash after launching to the public in July 2022. The company has raised $62m to-date from investors such as Soma Capital, Craft Ventures, Spark Capital, and others.
Render | $50m Series B | Bessemer, Addition, General Catalyst & others
The SF-based company is developing a unified DevOps cloud platform that allows companies to host all apps, websites and databases in one place.
Acryl Data | $21m Series A | 8VC, Sherpalo Ventures, Guillermo Rauch
The Mountain View-based company is building a metadata management platform designed as an answer to a fragmented data landscape. The company’s product is built atop their open source framework DataHub.
Heard Technologies | $15m Series A | Headline, GGV, & others
The Seattle-based company is building tools to help therapists with their bookkeeping, budgeting, payroll, and tax preparation.
Parrot | $11m Series A | Amplify Partners, XYZ Venture Capital & others
The New York-based company is building a transcription platform that offers speech-to-text depositions for the legal and insurance industry.
BetterBrand | $6m Series A | Verso Holdings, Gaingels, & others
The Los Angeles-based company is known for their low-carb, protein-rich bagel, sold online and at retailers such as Whole Foods and Sprouts.
Adranos | undisclosed | to be acquired by Anduril
The acquisition of the Indiana-based solid rocket motor startup is a sign of Anduril expanding upmarket. “This is a game-changer,” Anduril founder Palmer Luckey tweeted on Sunday.
Senate Intelligence Committee approves UAP bill. On the heels of the DeBrief’s UAP ‘whistleblower’ report (catch up here), the legislation appears designed to reclaim any UAP-associated materials ever controlled by the federal government. If passed, it will require anyone in possession of “non-earth origin or exotic unidentified anomalous phenomena material” to turn them in to the Pentagon within six months. In other words, literal targeting of me specifically. (Senate.gov)
Newly declassified report: US intelligence agencies still divided about the origins of Covid-19. According to the ten-page Office of the Director of National Intelligence report, all agencies agree the virus was not developed as a bioweapon, but several take different stances on whether it was transferred from animals to humans, or leaked from the Wuhan Coronavirus Factory, whose employee was one of the first people to get Covid-19. (BBC)
Pete Buttigieg: expect 5G compliance-related flight delays. American airlines have until the end of the month to update equipment to prevent 5G signal interference; un-updated aircrafts will be barred from landing in certain weather conditions. (WSJ)
Woman kills Uber driver after thinking she was being kidnapped. After hopping in an Uber, a Kentucky woman visiting a Texas border town panicked after allegedly seeing signs for a Mexican town, thinking she was being kidnapped. She shot the driver in the head, and he later died. Surely, Fox News is to blame. (Huff Post)
→ Economy, business
Grim signals in commercial real estate. From the FT on Saturday:
$900b in commercial real estate debt coming due this year and next
Blackstone reduced US offices to less than 2 percent of its portfolio, down from over 60 percent in 2007
90 percent of NY office buildings may be distressed, and one building there just sold for 30 percent less than its 2006 sale price
BlackRock CEO: “I’m ashamed of being part of [the ESG] conversation.” Larry Fink said he’s uncomfortable with how “politicized” ESG has become, and acknowledged that Ron DeSantis’s Florida ESG boycott hurt BlackRock. (Axios)
Economists: US economy will narrowly avoid recession this year, but underlying inflation will grow faster than expected (Bloomberg)
Cowen argues two percent inflation target “still sounds about right” (Bloomberg)
Goldman Sachs lays off over 100 managing directors amid M&A slowdown (Bloomberg)
Anonymous sources claim CNN could be put up for sale, suggest ex-CEO Jeff Zucker as potential buyer (NY Post)
“They are doing it wrong here”: DeSantis films campaign ad in SF, slams Newsom (The Hill)
Former House Republican Will Hurd announces presidential bid (NYT)
Republican Senator Rick Scott weighing bid for presidency (NYT)
Democratic Party insiders want Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer to challenge Biden (The Atlantic)
NewsNation to host RFK Jr. town hall (NewsNation)
US Navy detected acoustic signals consistent with implosion the day Titanic sub launched, in its area of operation (CNN)
Faced with hundreds of claims from cities over contamination of water supplies by PFAS chemicals used in firefighting foam, 3M to pay $12.5b in “forever chemicals” lawsuit settlement (WSJ)
US population older than it’s ever been, with new census data showing median age is now 38 (up from 30 in 1980) (NYT)
The coup. Russian private military company Wagner Group, founded by Yevgeny Prighozin, had been fighting alongside the Russian military in the war against Ukraine until late last week, when Prighozin accused the Russian military of attacking a Wagner Group camp and issued a call for armed rebellion. Wagner seized control of Russian military facilities in Russian cities Voronezh and Rostov, then began marching toward Moscow. But before reaching Moscow, Prighozin stood down after being offered a peace deal that stations Wagner troops in Belarus, and lets everyone off without criminal charges. (Forbes)
“Prigozhin's rebellion wasn't a bid for power or an attempt to overtake the Kremlin. It arose from a sense of desperation” — intriguing coup thread here.
US intelligence knew about Prigozhin’s coup attempt in advance (NYT)
Russian ISPs cut off access to Google News amid the coup (The Verge)
Putin-Prigozhin negotiations: “Very difficult... [Lukashenko — the Belarusian dictator who brokered the conversation — and Prigozhin] immediately blurted out such vulgar things it would make any mother cry. The conversation was hard, and as I was told, masculine.” (NYT)
Mario Nawfal broke coup-related news in advance of cable networks and presented a relatively balanced perspective on the chaos in a round-the-clock Twitter Space that ended up with a total viewership of roughly 17m (Twitter)
→ More in world news
Renewables use grows at record pace, but fossil fuels still account for 82% of world energy supply (Reuters)
EU draft legislation would allow national governments to put spyware on journalists’ phones. Seems fine. (The Guardian)
Starbucks employees to strike over LGBT decoration ban company says never happened. The very serious union, Starbucks United, says baristas will strike at over 150 stores. Unions usually strike for concessions, and since Starbucks has already said that stores can have Pride decorations if they want, this is quite literally a pointless gesture. The state of the American labor movement, ladies and gentlemen. Hoffa is turning underneath the Giants stadium. (Bloomberg)
Dicks dangling at Seattle Pride. As Solana points out, parents who don’t want their kids to see stuff like this shouldn’t bring their kids to places where this stuff can be seen. That said, it can barely be seen. I mean, I know it’s cold in Seattle, but good lord. (Twitter)
George Takei: Even if the cocks weren’t out, people would still be offended (Twitter)
NYC LGBTQ marchers chant “we’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children.” Maybe now isn’t the best time for sarcasm? (Twitter)
Jacked woman caught stomping windshield in traffic: it was “road rage” not “roid rage.” Apparently her boyfriend cheated on her, and she saw her best friend driving her boyfriend’s car… hence the road rage (NOT roid rage). She shouldn’t have a hard time finding a new man: a bunch of dudes on the internet are super turned on by her fit of rage. (Twitter)
People on internet uncomfortable at sight of white TikToker married to significantly hotter Asian TikToker. They’re claiming it’s about “respect” or something, but they’re clearly just upset that an unfortunate looking white dude has an attractive foreign wife. (Twitter)
Virgin Atlantic tells cabin crews they can only wear opposite sex uniforms in two countries. Last September, the UK airline made headlines after launching a new policy allowing employees to “express themselves” by choosing between a “red” (female) uniform and a “burgundy” (male) uniform. Now the airline says that for safety reasons, this will only be allowed in flights headed to the United States and Israel. Additionally, employees must keep a uniform corresponding to the sex on their passport on hand in case the plane needs to make an emergency landing. (PYOK)
New ADL-GLAAD anti-LGBTQ incident report. The organizations claim there have been over 350 incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault against LGBTQ people in the past year. FYI, 305 of these incidents were harassment, which included online harassment reported directly to the NGOs by aggrieved parties. TRANS!!! GENOCIDE!!! (NYT)
EPA seeking new Greta Thunberg. “We can’t tackle the environmental challenges of our time without input from our younger communities,” said an EPA administrator of its newly created ‘youth council’ to a breathless reporter who nodded along instead of asking the obvious follow up: “what the fuck are you talking about?” (The Verge)
NYC Department of Environmental Protection proposes new rules to limit use of wood, coal-fired restaurant ovens, because cracking down on wood-fired pizza will definitely solve climate change (NY Post)
Harvard professor who studies honesty accused of fabricating data in widely cited paper (NYT)
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