Today's Papers

For You, Just 1999

On this day of all days of discretionary news, the papers revert to type. The New York Times leads with money–the Euro is here. The Washington Post leads with Beltway politics–Trent Lott is trying to hammer out a workable Republican consensus on impeachment strategy. And the Los Angeles Times goes with smog–the EPA rejects California’s smog control strategy as being too lax. Vexed items Washington wants in and California wants out include mandated ride-share programs, pollution controls on restaurant char-broilers, and tougher regs on aerospace plants.

The NYT lead and front-pagers at the LAT and WP all report that finance ministers from 11 countries yesterday celebrated the first technical step towards a common European currency–formally locking in the rate of exchange of their individual currencies with the euro, which provides the starting point for trade in the new currency come Monday. The rates mean that the euro will start out worth $1.17. As the papers explain, although actual euro notes and coins will not circulate until Jan. 1, 2002 (at which time national currencies will begin phasing out), the banks and stock exchanges of the 11 partners are henceforth required to carry out all non-cash transactions in euros.

An inside piece in the WP notes a euro-related problem U.S-based and other transnational businesses on the Continent haven’t quite gotten their minds around yet: wage transparency. That is, the advent of the new currency will make it suddenly easy to compare salaries earned in different countries for the same work. The story mentions a school of thought according to which the euro’s transparency effect will eventually tend to make salaries more comparable across borders, with the suggestion that the uniformity will be established at a level closer to the high salaries than the low ones. But it doesn’t explain why the reverse couldn’t turn out to be true instead.

It has always seemed a little odd for papers to insist on coming out on such dead news days as Christmas and New Years. A lot of it is just so much strutting–sure, spending the day with the family is alright for those weenies at the WSJ or USAT, but we’re a newspaper over here for chrissakes. And the result is that when the world predictably stops on its axis, the workaholic papers have to absolutely cram 2 inches of new information into 60 inches of space. The Post’s lead about Lott is a case in point: its narrative, about how Lott’s proposing a strategy for avoiding a full trial and an instant censure deal and how conservatives in the House and Senate are less than thrilled, was pretty much the Post’s lead yesterday too. The suck-it-up publication policy seems even less sensible given that the papers now have the ideal vehicle for transmitting what little holiday news there is: their web sites. Save the trees, guys.

In the spirit of 2000, marked down to 1999, the NYT editorial page hurries to a consideration of the millenium. In the Times grand manner, citing the likes of Dionysius Exiguus, Herod and the Islamic calendar, the page finally comes down in favor of getting blitzed next year. Thanks to its ever-more supple closing times, the paper also includes a ground-level account of the Times Square action last night, featuring the biggest and most orderly crowd in years. A crowd of students, tourists, and cops. And oh yes, at least one media critic, a man who “marked the passing of another year by vomiting discreetly against a corner of the Viacom Building….”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any wilder than that–it does and Al Gore decides to run for president! PARTAAAY!! At least, that’s what the WP front says he’s gone and done–with a headline stating “Gore Makes It Official: He Will Run in 2000/Filing Establishes Presidential Campaign.” Why then does the NYT say instead with its headline that what Gore is doing is “Forming Organization for 2000 Bid for President,” and with its body type that Gore “will take his first formal step toward running for president in 2000”? Which is it? Is he deciding to run or running to decide?

The NYT front and the WP inside feature stories about what’s being done to those two top Khmer Rouge officials who gave themselves up to the Cambodian government last week–they’re being sent on a beach holiday. Oh sure, according to the NYT, they have been so hounded by reporters that to avoid questions they’ve had to stay inside their beach hotels, but they’ve been provided with security guards to protect them from people whose lives they’ve ruined, and the Post says there are reports the government’s given them each $10,000 expense accounts for the trip. And nobody’s worked them to death or bashed their heads in with a shovel.

In the last week, the papers have tried every way possible to tie up this past year in a ribbon and present it to the ages. Finally, in today’s Post, a “Style” section writer finds the right words. They’re not his. They’re Hers. It turns out Monica Lewinsky’s adios to the grand jury is the fitting farewell to 1998: We’re really sorry for everything that’s happened. And we hate Linda Tripp.