Today's Papers

Taking a Bite

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times lead today with U.S. Middle East policy moves. The Los Angeles Times leads with the police chief-designee’s first meet-the-press, in which he said he should be judged by whether or not he cuts crime. And USA Today leads with the resumption of talks in the UPS strike.

The Times and the Post stories report that in the wake of last week’s Jerusalem bombing, President Clinton has abandoned his low-profile of recent months on Middle East matters and is ready to revive an upgraded pace of negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Authority. This will immediately mean a visit to the region by the U.S. special envoy and before too long, one by Madeleine Albright as well.

Another story that gets near-universal front-page treatment is the president’s news conference yesterday about things fiscal. The LAT and NYT emphasize Clinton’s announcement that the budget deficit for this fiscal year will be a 23-year low of $37 billion, while USAT chooses to stress his comment that he expects to exercise the line-item veto (a presidential first) on the budget and tax bills he just signed.

But from the standpoint of sheer front-page copy and photo space, the day’s top story is none of these–it’s yesterday’s surprise announcement that Microsoft is investing $150 million in its rival, Apple. The stunning news was delivered by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs at an Apple trade fair in Boston, while Bill Gates looked on and commented approvingly via a giant TV screen. USAT provides the most concise explanation: “The companies will share all patent rights. Microsoft guarantees it will develop software for Apple’s Macintosh computers. Apple will make Microsoft’s Internet Explorer the main Web browser on the Mac.”

Both the NYT and LAT make the point that the deal isn’t about the operating system competition between the two companies, which Microsoft won long ago, but is about Microsoft’s need to secure its business as the largest seller of programs for Macintosh computers (the NYT observes) and to bolster its position in Internet products (the LAT and Wall Street Journal observe.) All the majors report that the announcement was met by boos and catcalls from the audience of Macheads, as was the deal-sealing appearance by Gates.

In a story that was no doubt press-released to death, somehow only the WP managed to mention that the deal leaves Microsoft with a 7 percent stake in Apple. But the WSJ gets the nod for reporting the most intriguing singularity that otherwise went unnoticed: that as part of the deal, besides the $150 million investment, Microsoft will pay Apple an additional $100 million. Microsoft wouldn’t elaborate for the Journal except to say “any payments would be non-material.” (Does that mean spiritual?)

All the majors that carry photos (that is, everybody but the WSJ) accompany the Microsoft/Apple story with the same top-of-the-page shot: a giant televised Bill Gates looming over a tiny, merely human Steve Jobs. When editors made this choice, do you think they were at all aware how much this looks like that famous Super Bowl ad that first introduced the Macintosh? The only thing missing is the babe running up the aisle flinging a hammer at the screen.