Today's Papers

Journalism’s Pellet Surprise

USA Today

and the Los Angeles Times lead with the latest U.S. economic news: surging growth but the slowest rate of inflation increase in 35 years. The top national story at the Washington Post is President Clinton’s hard-nosed self-defense at his first press conference in months. The New York Times metro edition goes with the Senate’s overwhelming approval of NATO expansion (the earlier, national edition goes with the tax evasion indictment of already-once-convicted Felon of Bill, Webster Hubbell).

The WP coverage of the presidential press conference–accompanied by a picture of a pugnacious double-fisted Clinton–reports that he dismissed allegations about his character as the work of organized foes “unable to counter his ideas or record,” but acknowledged that seven years of their attacks have diminished his personal standing with the American people. This used to distress him greatly, said Clinton, but not anymore. The paper observes that nearly half of the questions posed by the press concerned his still-unexplained relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but that despite his January promise to illuminate it, Clinton didn’t answer them.

The NYT wash-up of the NATO vote explains that all 16 current members of the alliance must approve the change in order for it to take effect. (USAT’s front page NATO story says that such total approval is expected by the alliance’s 50th anniversary summit in Washington next year.) The Times piece also includes a workmanlike exposition of the politics of the vote, including the observation that expansion was supported by the U.S. defense industry, which stands to “reap huge profits” from increased weapons sales to new NATO members.

The WP front features new federal statistics about teen birth rates (the story runs inside at the NYT) indicating that for the first time they are down among every racial and ethnic group. Oddly, neither story includes any data on teen out-of-wedlock birth rates. Highlights: The African-American teen birthrate is down 21 percent since 1990–its lowest level ever. Hispanic teens, while still the most prolific, have experienced a rate drop for the first time. Non-Hispanic white teens are still almost three times less likely to become mothers than either Hispanics or blacks.

Earlier this week, the WP took a front-page look at the Pentagon’s troubled and expensive history with anti-missile defense systems. Today, a new development in the arena gets covered by the Post, but is relegated to the business section. Curious, since yesterday’s award to Boeing of a contract to develop a missile shield could be worth up to $5.1 billion. The LAT whispers the story the same way. Which, is, of course, the way the defense contractors like it.

The Wall Street Journal front features an excellent story uncovering a little-known problem: racial discrimination in farm loans. The paper describes the attempts by some struggling black farmers to get restitution from the USDA. Thus far, despite a four-hour meeting with President Clinton and an admission by USDA secretary Dan Glickman that his department had swept the problem under the rug, as well as numerous specific findings of illegal denials of loans, the farmers are still waiting to be made whole. Scandalous.

The LAT front covers a sensational, disturbing story likely to be much discussed in the days ahead. Yesterday, during L.A.’s rush hour, near one of the city’s busiest intersections, a distraught man killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head–while many Angelenos watched on one or another of the local TV stations’ live broadcasts. Afterwards, most of the stations expressed regret for the coverage and some offered counseling to viewers.

The episode could have a number of important consequences: Before taking his life, the man had unfurled a banner reading: “HMOs are in it for the money!! Live Free. Love Safe or Die.” So perhaps the suicide will further crystallize the discussion of the impersonality of managed care. (Why, by the way, didn’t the LAT mention the sexual disease– probably AIDS–angle?) And perhaps it will break the back of the L.A. trend of automatically going with (invariably highly rated) live broadcasts of potentially violent freeway incidents.

The Hubbell indictment gets lots of ink and produces the day’s strangest quote. “The office of independent counsel could indict my dog. They can indict my cat. But I’m not going to lie about the president. I’m not going to lie about the first lady or anyone else.” Hubbell’s wife, who was indicted along with him, must have been thrilled with this disclosure of the true family pecking order.