Today's Papers

Market Bull

The Dow’s big day leads at USA Today, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, and is the right-hand leader at the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post off-leads the story in deference to the opening of bidding on D.C.’s beloved Redskins.

The DJIA starts today at a record high and the papers’ consensus is that this is due to the three Federal Reserve interest rate cuts, increased merger and acquisition activities, and a general sense that the global economic crisis is on its way to being handled. The LAT throws in Bill Clinton’s renewed hold on his office, and says the list of causes are “the right reasons,” but never says why they are right or what would make for wrong ones. The NYT adds some more technical reasons to this list: the growth of the M-2 money supply (what we’ve got in checking accounts, savings accounts, and money market funds) and investors’ closing of short positions (buying stocks now to close out past sales of borrowed stocks that were bets the market was going south). The LAT and the WSJ note the quickness with which the market came back from its recent twenty percent drop, the LAT saying that it was “the shortest bear market in history.”

The Times and Journal say yesterday’s events are a kind of salute to raging bull quote-machine Abby Joseph Cohen. In these papers, Cohen redirects any suggestion of personal brilliance back to a cool, professional assessment of market conditions. But in the WP’s Cohen coverage, we see another side: there, she is said to gush that her prediction’s come true.

The LAT says that an overlooked theme of the market rebound is that “most individual investors never lost their nerve.” The same point is made on the NYT editorial page by Floyd Norris, who says that investors weren’t dissuaded by the overseas financial crisis nor the losses suffered by high-rollers in hedge funds. But the LAT goes on to say that investors are “much more brave” because among other things, the Fed has cut rates and Congress has funded the IMF and Japan has apparently advanced a good banking plan. It’s hard to reconcile these two points of view. Either investors care about such high-falutin’ matters or they don’t, right?

Similarly, the WSJ, the LAT and WP refer to a warning made two years by Alan Greenspan about the dangers of investors’ “irrational exuberance.” But it’s not clear from any of these stories whether the market’s gain of nearly 3,000 points (this upswing is noted by the LAT) since then is confirmation or refutation of Greenspan’s fears. And it’s hard to see what would make it clear, which is why these daily market move stories are different from many news stories. Daily market moves are radically underdetermined. And hence the papers shouldn’t spend so much space on their meaning. They really don’t have one.

The USAT front brings startling news for parents of infants: the government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission is recalling nearly ten million foldable playpens because their raised rivets can strangle toddlers by catching on their clothes or pacifiers. This has already happened to eight children since 1982. It’s not clear from the story why the recall is being done now.

The NYT and LAT fronts report on the jury’s acquittal on all charges yesterday of Susan McDougal in her California fraud and embezzlement trial. Although Whitewater and Ken Starr were banned topics in the courtroom, it’s apparent that some jurors thought the state case was an attempt to pressure McDougal to cooperate in that matter. According to the LAT, jurors never seriously contemplated guilty verdicts on any of the nine counts.

The USAT off-lead reports that the Georgia Supreme Court has thrown out the state’s anti-sodomy law, which was once upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The story is carried inside at the NYT. The decision is being heralded by gay activists. But since both papers point out that the case prompting this decision was one involving heterosexual contact and that there are plenty of other states that still likewise ban oral and anal contact between opposite sexes, it’s not clear why this isn’t a big deal to the general population too. Perhaps because such statutes aren’t often used to arrest heterosexuals? The stories don’t say.

The NYT provides some facts from a recent survey conducted last week by Le Figaro: Only 47 percent of French people bathe daily, only 60 percent change their underwear daily, and 6 percent never wash their hands. Although Today’s Papers once came to the same conclusions one July day on the Metro, this story cries out for context: How do Americans come out in a similar survey?

The last vehicle for truly unconstrained opinion in a newspaper is the photograph. If you doubt this, go get last Sunday’s NYT and turn to page 5 of the “Week in Review.” There, accompanying a story about politicians speaking their minds about other countries, you’ll find a looming picture of Al Gore, cropped so close that none of his hair is visible and you can see the sweat that’s bubbling out of every giant pore in his face. Note that the verbal equivalent: “Gore, looking like a crazed criminal with something to hide, said…” would never pass muster. What did Gore ever do to deserve this?