Today's Papers

The Riady for Prime Time Players

GTE’s $28 billion bid for MCI leads the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today. The Los Angeles Times goes with Janet Reno’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee about her Clinton fund-raising probe.

USAT, the NYT and the WP note that GTE’s move is the biggest cash offer in corporate history and that it sets up a fight for MCI between GTE and WorldCom, which two weeks ago made a $30 billion all-stock offer. British Telecommunications, which had previously reached an agreement with MCI to take over the company for $19 billion in cash and stock, might make it a three-way bidding war, although the papers suggest the British concern will drop out. No matter the particular outcome, the NYT sees the dealing as indicative of the telecommunications industry’s trend towards increasing consolidation, noting that a combined GTE-MCI would be the first company since the breakup of AT&T to have a large presence in both local and long-distance markets. Indeed, the Times quotes one lawyer who says Justice will “give this thing a very, very hard look” precisely because the deal would produce a company like the old AT&T in its scope.

The WP sees the possibility here of “a 1980s-style hostile takeover battle.” The WSJ also sees a return to wild action, possibly to include one of the Baby Bells jumping in with a bid.

All the majors have front-page coverage of the Reno testimony, and all report the open hostility from the panel’s Republicans. But they vary in what aspect of her remarks they stress. The LAT’s Reno lead emphasizes her revelation to the committee that she has agreed not to close out any line of fund-raising inquiry unless FBI Director Freeh also agrees. USAT also stresses this, calling it an “extraordinary arrangement,” but then goes on to quote a Justice spokesman saying that Reno and Freeh have entered into such agreements before. But it’s the NYT that specifies two examples of when: Oklahoma City and TWA Flight 800. The WP highlights Reno’s admission that her fund-raising probe has had problems, including internal disputes about how to proceed.

More White House fundraising tapes were released yesterday and several of the majors suggest that they are damaging to Clinton. The LAT says the tapes show Clinton conferring easily, at times on a first-name basis, “with some of the most notorious figures of the 1996 campaign.” The papers note that in this batch of videos, the President can be seen in friendly banter, not just with John Huang and his boss James Riady, but also with Yah Lin Trie, and the recently convicted Teamster fund-raiser Martin Davis.

In his NYT op-ed column, Thomas Friedman explains how it can be that Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity is up since Israel’s bungled attempt to assassinate a top Hamas operative. “The silent majority in Israel stopped caring a long time ago about Nablus or Hebron or Gaza or a Palestinian state. As far as the Israeli silent majority is concerned, the Palestinians can have them all. But…if they can’t eat in peace at the Apropos Cafe, shop at the Jerusalem mall or ride the 18 bus, then no amount of serial bungling by Mr. Netanyahu will turn the Israeli silent majority against him.” That fear of suicide terrorism, says Friedman, is “the most important political fact in Israel today.”

The WP brings word that yesterday the CIA, acting under pressure from a federal lawsuit, broke a 50-year-old budgetary silence and confirmed for the first time ever the size of the government intelligence budget: $26.6 billion. When GTE spends that kind of money, it knows what it’s getting.