Today's Papers

Stiff Warning

USA Today

and the Los Angeles Times lead with Janet Reno’s finding that there is no reason to continue looking into Al Gore’s 1996 election fundraising. The New York Times, which has hawked the story on its front and editorial pages harder than anybody else, off-leads the denouement. Earlier in the week, when the AOL/Netscape deal was in the works, the Times went with something else, but leads with it today now that there’s a fork in it. The Washington Post leads with word from GOP sources that a single charge of perjury against President Clinton might win a House floor vote, but additional charges such as obstruction of justice would not. The paper also says that the idea of a resolution censuring Clinton is gaining congressional momentum.

If the Gore decision seems familiar, that’s because Reno made it once before, but then reopened the investigation based on new evidence of Gore’s attendance at some meetings where ultimately illegal approaches to fund-raising may have been discussed. Both the LAT and NYT explain that the gist of Reno’s finding yesterday was that there was no compelling evidence from Gore’s remarks at these meetings that he was contemplating flouting the election finance laws. Some Republicans expressed strong emotion about Reno’s decision. “We need to take these matters out of the hands of the Attorney General…,” Sen. Orrin Hatch is quoted saying in the LAT, while Rep. Dan Burton is in the NYT saying, “Once again, the attorney general has failed to follow the law. For the past two years, the attorney general has made it clear she is committed to protecting the president.” The papers agree that Reno’s decision clears the deck for a much more trouble-free Gore run at the White House in 2000.

The NYT lead describes the AOL/Netscape tandem as a “corporate odd couple,” referring to the former’s pitch to the “technologically challenged” and the latter’s status as the epitome of leading edge siliconsciousness. Yet the story spells out the companies’ common vision of a not-distant world in which the Internet is accessed primarily by high tech but easy-to-use and low cost appliances that would be as ubiquitous as cell phones are today. However, the Times says many Netscape programmers may be reluctant to work for AOL because of its “middlebrow” (why not “middlebrowser”?) reputation, setting up a big run on Netscape by headhunters.

Both USAT and LAT run reefers to stories inside about increasing Viagra concerns (also noted inside by the WP). Both papers report that the FDA is adding stricter health warnings to Viagra labels. In addition to the current warning against taking the medication if a patient is already taking any heart drug containing nitrates, the labels will now also say that Viagra could be risky for men with heart problems or very high or low blood pressure. The LAT explains that this is based on a close look at the 130 cases of American men who’ve died–mostly from heart attacks–after popping the pills. The point is that when sex itself is risky because of underlying cardiological problems, then impotence remedies should be avoided. Also, both papers report that investigators are trying to determine if Viagra is implicated in a Maryland airplane crash last Saturday, which would be a first. A bottle of Viagra prescribed for the dead pilot was found in the wreckage. It’s known that in about 3 percent of users, the drug disturbs color vision, which could make reading cockpit instruments and runway lights problematic.

The Wall Street Journal “Tax Report” says more and more “not-so-wealthy” people are getting hit with the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to keep the wealthy from dodging federal tax entirely through the artful use of deductions, credits and the like. The paper cites the example of “one veteran Washington tax adviser” who was amazed to receive an IRS letter informing him that he owed $1,175 in AMT. This report would be a lot more compelling if the Journal had told the reader what the man’s income was. But absent this information, it’s a little hard to get worked up about this issue. Today’s Papers doubts that there are many veteran Washington tax advisers who aren’t well off.

The LAT front and the NYT op-ed page put forward a total of three pieces on the ethics of last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” Kevorkian broadcast. The Times anti-Dr. K. op-ed calls the broadcast a “snuff film” and wonders, in light of the shows big rating and attendant advertising revenues, “Shouldn’t the profit motive end where life and death become mere commodities for public consumption?” Frank Rich, in his Kevorkian column, is worried too, but decides that the show was justified by its prompting of honest debate on a topic now more shrouded than oral sex. And he quotes the show’s Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace appealing to the same principle. Messrs. Hewitt and Wallace make the same case in the LAT. It wasn’t sweeps numbers they were after, they claim, but important news. None of this coverage mentions a simple way CBS could have been much more convincing on this point: donate all ad revenues produced by the show to charity. How about to a hospice?