Today's Papers

Merger and Settlement

It’s refreshing to be reminded every so often that there is still at least one thing that can put the brakes on our warp-drive news cycle–the three-day weekend. So what’s news today is whatever could get done with reporters and editors off barbecuing in droves. The Washington Post goes clear across its top with the news that the attorney general of Mississippi, Michael Moore, who pioneered the idea of suing the tobacco companies to recoup state health expenditures, has reached a $170 million settlement with them, one that goes into effect even if the proposed big national tobacco deal falls through. The Post reports that “Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice denounced the agreement as ‘a dangerous precedent’ that is ‘about big bucks and big publicity.’”

The New York Times puts the Mississippi tobacco story above the fold but leads instead with the announcement that Lockheed intends to buy a rival defense contractor, Northrup/Grumman. (The Post plays that story lower, but above its fold.) The Times describes the acquisition as part of a consolidation trend in the defense industry and says that the trend is encouraged by the Clinton administration, but never says why. The Los Angeles Times also leads with the story, and as might be expected, bemoans the likely closure of the L.A.-based Northrop/Grumman corporate headquarters, and possible local layoffs. The Post reviews the virtues of the various airplanes produced by Northrop, but can’t seem to recall any actual accomplishment of the company’s F-14 fighter, so instead merely describes it as “of ‘TopGun’ fame.” The AP story about the deal in USA TODAY makes it clear that consolidation is good for business in all kinds of ways, explaining that if it falls through, Lockheed nonetheless collects a $200 million breakup fee.

All these stories note that Northrop’s stock price went up nearly 25 percent on the news, but none delves into the question of whether any of the major players in or out of government who affect defense procurement are Northrop stockholders.

Yesterday’s surge in the Dow Jones, fueled by a slight rise in the latest unemployment figures, is dutifully reported by the majors. According to the NYT, the financial markets “reveled” and the White House’s chief economic advisor, Janet Yellen “exulted” in the news–that the ranks of the unemployed grew by 302,000. This is typical of the big papers: they usually report these jobs numbers as if it were perfectly obvious that the chief cause of inflation is full(er) employment. Is it?

The Post places its story about President Clinton’s first formal legal response to the substance of Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him–he “adamantly” denies the charges–on the bottom of its front page. The NYT doesn’t even put it on the front. Think how this story would have been played just ten years ago! Does the current relaxed treatment say something about Bill Clinton, or about us?

Today’s NYT lead editorial isn’t your usual Fourth of July clich,-fest–it calls for not erecting a World War II memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.