Today's Papers

Self Serbice

The top news is divided between the upcoming midterm election and the situation in Kosovo. USA Today leads with its new poll finding the Republicans and Democrats in a virtual dead heat in their contest for Congress. The New York Times goes with the eruption of a financial squabble between Democrats campaigning for seats in the House and Senate on the one hand and the White House and the DNC on the other. The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with Slobodan Milosevic’s carefully conducted withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo province in the face of today’s NATO airstrike deadline.

The USAT lead states that the paper’s latest sampling gives the Republicans a 2 percent edge among likely voters, which is within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error. (And the margin of error is given in the second paragraph, although the number of adults in the sample is in the 13th paragraph.) According to the paper, 47 percent of those surveyed say policies proposed by the GOP Congress would lead the country in the right direction, while 70 percent say President Clinton’s policies would lead the country in the right direction. The paper takes this to mean voters like the balance of a Democrat in the White House alongside a Republican-controlled Congress. (Of course, there are two other possibilities left unmentioned: 1) a significant number of people think the two parties are leading the country in the same direction, and 2) voters are incoherent.) USAT provides further interpretation when it quotes a GOP pollster’s comment, “A few weeks ago, this election looked like a baked Alaska. Now it seems to be more like rice pudding,” and finds this to mean “Voter excitement has dimmed.”

The Times lead details “unusually bitter” feelings expressed by several Democratic candidates desirous of eleventh-hour cash that the party high command is instead putting money into erasing party debt and the launch of Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Candidates apparently also feel that party officials have discouraged donations by making dire predictions of a loss of as many as 25 Democratic House seats. The comment Rep. Charles Rangel is quoted as directing towards the Democratic party chairman, Roy Romer, sums up the mood: “Keep your money and shut up your mouth.”

The WP and LAT leads (and the NYT off-lead) say that over the weekend a detailed negotiating session between Milosevic and top NATO officials resulted in the Serbs’ pledge to withdraw 4,500 police troops and two-thirds of the Yugoslav army units. The paper says that as of early Tuesday, a U.S. diplomat reported up to 4,000 troops had left the area. The Post also says that at one point NATO caught some Serb tanks heading in the wrong direction. But once confronted, the Serbs turned them around. The LAT says Milosevic “has probably done enough to escape airstrikes for now….” In the wake of the pullback, the NYT notices a harbinger of the region’s next problem: the reemergence of Albanian freedom fighters.

The Wall Street Journal front-page news box and USAT’s “Money” front report that the government has sued Time Warner, charging that the company has misclassified hundreds of full-time employees (many of them writers and photographers) as freelancers, wrongly denying them benefits in the process. The Journal notes that the suit marks the first time the Clinton administration has officially weighed in on the increasingly contentious issue of holding down employment costs by outsourcing work to those not considered full-time. The paper says the government’s move could extend well beyond Time Warner, and mentions another company that might get cross-haired: Microsoft.

A week and a half into the Microsoft trial and a paper has finally done a piece on the oddity of Bill Gates not testifying in person. Even though he is the personification of the company, an inside WP story observes that defense lawyers might have viewed him as so “prickly and combustible” as to undermine his own case. The paper quotes one lawyer who once questioned the world’s richest man live: “At one point he just started screaming, saying that what the [FTC] staff was doing to his company was socialistic….[T]hen he got angrier and called it communistic.”

Several readers found yesterday’s mention of the LAT lead story about how California was lagging in its share of federal education funds a bit brisk. They were right. The piece posed a number of issues that cried out for further attention. It stated that ranking 31st in federal funds per pupil meant that somehow California was not getting its “fair share.” Well, ideally every state’s per pupil amount should be the same, and failing that, one should expect fair per pupil spending to follow something like a bell-curve distribution, with most of the states over time clustering around the middle of the pack. So 31st really isn’t that bad. And is it right for a paper to promote local interests that hard anyway? Shouldn’t the LAT ask first if for instance, the kids in Mississippi need the money more?

All the papers report that yesterday, a computer problem halted trading at the New York Stock Exchange for about an hour. The papers give precise accounts of the standstill with one glaring exception: none mentions the brand of computer that failed. Is this lazy reporting or a gentleman’s agreement not to hurt any computer company’s stock price?