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News brief: Musk's Twitter takeover, Iran protests grow, World Series Game 1

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Elon Musk says he doesn't want Twitter to become a free-for-all hellscape, which I suppose is a good starting point.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An intriguing statement because Musk previously said he was a free speech absolutist. But now, as he takes ownership of Twitter, his first move was to reassure advertisers that the site should be warm and welcoming for people. Hard to say what the billionaire may do with the social media site, which most people do not use, but which has a huge influence over news coverage. His very first move was to fire top executives, including the CEO.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon with us this morning. Hey, Raquel.

RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So his first move - Elon Musk started out by clearing out the C-suite, huh?

DILLON: Yeah. He started with firing Twitter's CEO, Parag Agrawal, along with its chief financial officer and top lawyer. Also, the head of public policy, Vijaya Gadde, was dismissed. She called the shots on suspending Twitter accounts and has been criticized for that and called Twitter's chief censor. Elon Musk is showing that after all the flip-flopping and legal drama, it's his company now. And he's going to run it his way. Of course, he tweeted about it. On his Twitter bio page, he has renamed himself Chief Twit. Then he referenced the company's bird logo last night - the bird has been freed.

MARTIN: OK. So Twitter has struggled financially. We should just say this. It's not nearly as big as Facebook. Or it's not growing like TikTok is. This is obviously a priority for him. What's his plan?

DILLON: Yeah. It's not consistently profitable. But Musk says he can turn it around by slimming down the workforce. So Twitter employees are worried about layoffs and that the site will change for the worse, in their opinion. Musk is planning to hold an all-staff meeting today, so we could learn more after that.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, he sent out this message to advertisers on Twitter yesterday, right? What did we learn from that?

DILLON: Well, I think it's telling that his most substantial comments in months were not to Twitter users or staff, but to its advertisers.

MARTIN: Right.

DILLON: He wrote that he's buying Twitter because he wants, quote, "a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner." This was in response to advertisers wondering whether Twitter is a good place to showcase their brands going forward. Big brands don't want their carefully crafted ad campaigns to show up next to posts that spew hate and vitriol. Eighty-nine percent of Twitter's revenue is from ads.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DILLON: So Musk wrote that Twitter should be a respected advertising platform and warm and welcoming to all.

MARTIN: But let's get down to basics, Raquel. How is Twitter going to change for the people who use it?

DILLON: He's complained that Twitter does too much content moderation. He talks about being a free speech absolutist, as you noted.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DILLON: And that might not be compatible with warm and welcoming for all. He said he would reinstate former President Donald Trump's account. It was suspended after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The reaction to the deal from critics has been swift. The watchdog group Accountable Tech said Musk's erratic behavior and tweets about Ukraine and Russia make this acquisition a national security threat. It wants Congress to investigate. Look, Musk has a huge personality. He's divisive. He's also super successful in business and manufacturing. He has wrangled assembly lines at Tesla, designed rockets at SpaceX. But social media is different. Realizing his vision of Twitter could be a lot messier.

MARTIN: OK. We'll have to wait and see. NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon. Thank you.

DILLON: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: What is happening in Iran right now is historic - 40 days of public demonstrations, women marching in the streets without their headscarves, demanding a change to the regime's repressive rules.

INSKEEP: The demonstrations started after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody. Morality police, you may recall, accused her of dressing inappropriately somehow. But the protests have spread beyond women's rights, with social media posts showing people chanting things like death to the dictator, a line directed at the cleric, who holds ultimate power.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following all this from the beginning and joins us this morning from Istanbul. Hey, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: It's hard to get verifiable reporting from on the ground in Iran. But do you get the sense that the protests are growing?

KENYON: Well, there's certainly no sign of them dying down or being quelled by the security forces. Their efforts to suppress the unrest are increasing. Although, we haven't seen the type of all-out reaction that some hard-liners are demanding. The protesters, meanwhile, are finding more symbols to rally around as more people are killed in the anti-government demonstrations. One is 17-year-old Nika Shahkarami, who was killed during a street protest in Tehran. Videos posted online showed riot police opening fire on mourners at the cemetery where she's buried. Shahkarami's mother began reading a eulogy for her daughter but was interrupted. Here's a bit of what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NASRIN SHAHKARAMI: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: Now, she's saying, quote, "my dear child, during your short lifetime of 17 years, I watched you growing up. You grew up so fast. And you witnessed quite a lot." And then mourners started to chant, quote, "Khamenei is a killer. His leadership is annulled." That's a reference to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, whose leadership continues to be challenged in protests across Iran.

MARTIN: I understand the regime has also tried to organize counterdemonstrations. Is that working?

KENYON: Well, they have organized some counterdemonstrations, yes. And they have produced large crowds in some cases. Although, there also have been reports of people saying they felt compelled to go. They worried about things like repercussions at work if they didn't show up.

MARTIN: So as Steve noted, I mean, this all started after Mahsa Amini was detained and then died in police custody. And it was this rallying cry for women to be able to take off their hijab, to demand better human rights. But it has expanded. I mean, now there are all these calls for the end of the regime. Has this become existential for Iran's leaders?

KENYON: It is a very serious challenge to a government that many analysts have said has one overarching priority, and that's to stay in power. Much of Iran's wealth has for decades been channeled into the country's intelligence apparatus, its military, various security forces, including the morality police. They're the ones who arrested Mahsa Amini for wearing her hijab, by the way, in exactly the same way thousands of women in Tehran do every day, with more hair showing than strict Islamic dress codes for women permit.

MARTIN: So what about the international community's response, Peter? I mean, what are Iranians saying about that?

KENYON: Well, as has happened in past uprisings, there's a feeling of dismay about what's seen as a completely inadequate response. More sanctions have been imposed. But Iran's hard-liners point out their country has carried on under sanctions for decades and can continue to do so. So not for the first time, Iranian protesters out on the streets say they feel largely abandoned by the West.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon. We appreciate your reporting. Thanks, Peter.

KENYON: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: As baseball fans know, the World Series starts today.

MARTIN: The Houston Astros take on the Philadelphia Phillies as the series starts in Houston. Both teams are obviously on a roll, but there's a definite favorite.

INSKEEP: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is covering the series. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So the last time I checked in with baseball, it was clear to me that the Yankees and Dodgers were headed for a big matchup in the World Series. That's not happening?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Steve, you're only a few weeks behind, but that's OK.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: Stick with it.

INSKEEP: Keep going.

GOLDMAN: It's Houston and Philadelphia. And Houston, based on recent history - the Astros are in their fourth World Series since 2017, when they won the title. And based on right now, they're undefeated this postseason and winning games every which way. They are a red-hot team, so they should win. The Phillies, though, they're also playing well - started the postseason as a wildcard team. They're in their first World Series since 2009. So as I said, on paper, Houston, Steve, is your winner. But, Steve, here's some real sports wisdom for you, they don't play the games on paper.

INSKEEP: Well, how could the Phillies tear up the paper and win this series?

GOLDMAN: Well, their players who've been playing well keep it up, including three players whose contracts total more than a half a billion dollars altogether. They have been earning their crazy money. Sluggers like Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber have been slugging. Schwarber is built like a diesel battery. He launches homeruns called Schwarbombs. And they measure them, Steve, in terms of how far into outer space they travel. And the third player, pitcher Zack Wheeler, has been close to unhittable in the playoffs.

INSKEEP: So I should admit, I actually was following the playoffs. I did hope for the Yankees to do a little better than they did. And of course, they weren't even close. They lost all the games. What makes the Astros so good?

GOLDMAN: They are complete. They have a great system that, during this run since 2017, keeps replenishing and putting stellar players on the field. For instance, a breakout star this postseason, rookie Jeremy Pena, has been great defensively. He's hit three home runs, one of them against those Yankees, where he rounded third base during his home run trot, spread his arms and shrugged at his teammates - as in, what can I say? Steve, that's not bad for a rookie.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I guess we should acknowledge, some people hate the Astros, particularly because of that scandal a few years ago, sign-stealing by Houston. But a lot of people love their manager, Dusty Baker, who is talking not only about the games but the composition of the teams. What is he saying?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. He commented about this yesterday. There are no U.S.-born Black players on either active roster for this World Series. That's the first time that's happened since 1950, only three years after Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues. It's unfortunately been trending this way for years ever since youth baseball got more expensive and basketball and football became more popular for kids to play. Dusty Baker, a Black man, said yesterday the lack of Black players on the field at this series looks bad. But he thinks help's on the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUSTY BAKER: You can tell by the number of African American No. 1 draft choices, academies are producing players. So hopefully, in the near future, we won't have to talk about this anymore or even be in this situation.

INSKEEP: Dusty Baker, manager of the Astros. They're playing the Phillies in the World Series. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: Sure thing, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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