Today's Papers

Mergers and Inquisitions

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with a big Wall St. merger. USA Today and the Los Angeles Times go with citizens’ revelations of IRS abuses.

The Wall St. news is that Travelers Group announced yesterday a $9 billion deal in which it will acquire Salomon Inc. and merge it with its Smith Barney unit, thereby creating the nation’s second-largest investment bank. The development, coming on the heels of February’s similarly-sized merger of Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter, is widely viewed as signaling the onset of even further combinations of banks, brokerages and insurance companies. In setting out the basics, both papers tend towards breathlessness. This deal, says the Post, gives Salomon “cachet” overseas and “brings together two of the liveliest personalities in finance today: Travelers Chairman Sanford I. Weill, respected as one of Wall Street’s savviest dealmakers, and billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett….” Also, the Post gets so caught up it quoted one Wall St. guru as saying the merged company has “all the ingredients to be competitive with the bulge-bracket firms,” but forgets to explain what that term means. And the NYT seems thrilled to relate that the deal was first broached over duck and oysters beside the pool at the Four Seasons Hotel. Leave it to USAT to be detached enough from the buzz of it all to wonder if the resultant dwindling number of competitors in the brokerage field will lead to higher costs for individual investors.

The LAT gives a lot of its top front to taxpayers’ testimony at a Senate hearing investigating the IRS. Besides a large headline over the story proper–“Taxpayers Tell of Mistreatment: IRS Issues Apology”–there’s also a large photo of one witness and thumbnails of others, all under the headline, “Taxpayer Horror Stories.” The paper calls the hearings “unprecedented” and includes details from witness accounts of being hounded by overzealous and incompetent agents. Perhaps the trump testimony was that of an 82-year-old priest telling of the IRS’ erroneous attempt to grab $18,000 from a trust fund for the poor set up by his dead mother. The LAT says the apology offered by the acting IRS commissioner leaves “little doubt about the veracity of the allegations.”

In its lead coverage of the IRS hearings, USAT emphasizes the testimony of an IRS agent, who said that her agency routinely pursues the poor for more taxes. She testified that she commonly finds herself going after taxpayers in her Texas territory whose homes lack air conditioning, forcing her to wonder why she is there. (She doesn’t mention noticing any oysters.)

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating front-page feature about a federal court case involving a rancher, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and CNN. It seems that when federal agents executed a search warrant at the Montana ranch of Paul Berger to look for signs of poisoned bald eagles (they didn’t find any), they included in their raiding party three CNN employees with video cameras, and the agents themselves were wearing wires that went to a CNN feed. None of this was disclosed to Berger. Berger and his wife are now suing the feds and the network for violating the couple’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The WP has a piece inside detailing serious trouble with a book on the Kennedys that My Lai-exposer Seymour Hersh is coming out with this fall. It seems that Hersh had based his project on a cache of secret papers that were said to provide the strongest evidence yet for such long-rumored Camelot dung as a prior JFK marriage, his relationship with the Mob and his agreement to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money to his lover Marilyn Monroe. Hersh’s publisher, Little, Brown, had been gearing up for a blockbuster, and ABC News was planning a documentary. But now, says, the WP, Hersh has concluded that the secret source materials are fakes. Hersh’s comment to the Post: “That’s journalism.”