Today's Papers

Au My!

The au pair reversal of fortune leads USA Today–and takes lot of prime front-page space elsewhere. MCI’s decision to accept WorldCom’s merger bid leads at the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times goes with President Clinton’s retreat on fast track.

The USAT front features, besides the lead, a big picture of a smiling Louise Woodward and a cover story on the discretionary powers of judges. The WP front runs the same picture and another of Brits cheering the news. The NYT runs an almost-cherubic picture of Woodward in court and an editorial praising the judge’s action, under the headline “Justice Restored.” The LAT looks out of touch playing the story below the fold, below Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Disney settlement. (Wonder what his au pair pulls down a week.)

Both the NYT and the WP are struck by the difference between Woodward’s hysterical reaction to the original verdict and her poker-faced demeanor yesterday. In general the discussion of the legalities is informative, but there could have been a bit more in the coverage about the nature of the “malice” that the judge found crucially missing. In the relevant legal sense, it’s not ill will, nor even necessarily an intention to do harm, and it doesn’t have to be expressed or a conscious state of mind. It’s weaker: it’s doing something in disregard of the fact that it’s likely to be harmful. The upshot is that the absence of malice in the case is less obvious than ordinary language would suggest.

The NYT lead on the fast track fizzle calls it the most severe legislative setback for Clinton since his national health care plan died, and the paper reports that many on Capitol Hill are saying that it marks the beginning of Clinton’s lame-duck status. George Stephanopoulos says as much to the WSJ: “The last three years are going to be largely a rhetorical presidency….Legislatively, it’s over.”

The coverage makes it clear that MCI’s decision to accept WorldCom’s $37 billion buyout offer–the largest in American history–is great news for stockholders. But the papers don’t effectively explain why they think this is also potentially earth-shattering news for everyone else. For instance, the LAT’s lead sentence in its MCI story states that the deal could “redefine competition in the telecommunications industry,” but never really explains how this would be so. And some explanation is required, because to the uninitiated, mergers mean less competition, not more.

The NYT runs some excerpts from the Unabomber’s diary. Here’s one: “Experiment 97. Dec. 11, 1985. I planted bomb disguised to look like scrap of lumber behind Rentech Compute store in Sacramento…. The device was hidden inside a hollow piece of wood, so that when the wood were to be grabbed or picked up, the bolts in the trigger would come out. The device was deployed on December 11th, 1985.” That “deployment” was the murder of the man who picked up the bomb.

The NYT also has a stunning revelation about the way the Ivy League used to do business. Last Friday, the President of Darmouth used the occasion of dedicating a campus Jewish student center to haul out a 1934 letter between an alumnus of the school and the director of admissions. The alum complained that “the campus seems more Jewish each time I arrive in Hanover. And unfortunately many of them (on quick judgment) seem to be the ‘kike’ type.” And the Dartmouth admissions man wrote back, “I am glad to have your comments on the Jewish problem, and I shall appreciate your help along this line in the future. If we go beyond the 5 percent or 6 percent in the Class of 1938, I shall be grieved beyond words.” In reacting to the revelation, Elie Wiesel summons a simple fact that suggests how much times have changed: the current presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are Jewish.