Today's Papers

Class Not Dismissed

USA Today

, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post lead with a Florida jury’s finding that the cigarette manufacturer defendants in an unprecedented class action suit are liable for illnesses suffered by the 500,000 current and former smokers in the class and that the tobacco companies conspired to conceal from smokers the addictive and lethal properties of their wares. The decision also exposes the companies to assessments of punitive damages in smokers’ class actions, thus exponentially raising the amount of money the firms stand to lose. The New York Times puts the decision below the fold and leads with the 19-hour heat-wave-induced partial blackout suffered by most of northern Manhattan. It’s not clear whether Mayor Rudy Giuliani, furious at Con Edison’s performance, was talking about policy or about his personal response when the Times quotes him saying, “You can’t have too many nights like the night we had Wednesday night and not expect that you are going to kill people.”

USAT and the NYT report that the smoking verdict came in a courtroom packed with ill plaintiffs, some requiring voice boxes to speak, with several bursting into tears. Next for the jurors is deciding whether the diseases suffered by the nine people serving as the class representatives were indeed caused by smoking. Very far down in their stories, the WP and the LAT mention that the lead plaintiff in the case is a retired doctor, but neither mentions whether his medical background is an obstacle to the deception side of the case. The LAT leavens the generally euphoric coverage by noting that “in 40 years of litigation, juries have awarded damages in smoking cases only five times,” and that three of those awards have been overturned, while the other two are still on appeal.

The WP fronts Hillary Clinton’s kick-off of her New York state “listening tour” alongside retiring Sen. Daniel Moynihan, whose seat she will probably run for. Surprisingly, the NYT reefers the story (albeit with a front-page photo), as do the LAT and USAT. The Wall Street Journal runs an op-ed on the development by former Reagan/Bush pen Peggy Noonan, who assesses the day as “spectacular” for Hillary. Noonan sees White House prep sessions last weekend clearly paying off as HRC deflected carpetbagging queries with the line, “I have some work to do to demonstrate that what I’m for is more important than where I’m from.”

USAT and LAT run front-page stories about a study to be published today in the journal Nature indicating that Web search engines aren’t keeping up with the Web’s expansion. The 11 leading search engines studied are revealed to access only 42 percent of the web, down from 60 percent in a December 1997 study. The LAT story mentions many search sites but gives out none of their URLs, while USAT, which also mentions many, only gives out one, that of Metacrawler.

The LAT’s front-page “Column One” runs under the headline: “B-2 DROPS ITS BAD PR IN AIR WAR.” And the story certainly does its part, praising the airplane’s apparently perfect fit with the air missions that seem likely in the post-Cold War world, and suggesting that the plane’s technical problems are behind it. But most of the story dwells on the plane’s satellite-guided bomb system, which could have been put on far less expensive, and therefore far more numerous, airplanes. And should the reader really have to wait until well after the jump to learn that the General Accounting Office recently issued its sixth negative report on the plane in five years?

Last Reminder: The Today’s Papers 2nd Anniversary Party will be held Thursday, July 15th, 1999, 5-7 PM, in Santa Monica, California at Il Grano Restaurant, 11359 Santa Monica Blvd. There’ll be wine and hors d’oeuvres, prizes and general merriment, perhaps even a celebrity guest or two. Price: Like the American press and especially Slate–ABSOLUTELY FREE. But attendees MUST do two things: 1) RSVP by July 9, to 323-654-6742 (email doesn’t count); 2) Bring one especially loved or detested newspaper clip (no admission without one).

The WP and NYT report that the government of Sierra Leone has signed a cease-fire with the country’s rebel movement, thus ending a brutal civil war, and that the combatants in Congo have agreed to a cease-fire plan, which makes an end to the year-old war there a real possibility. All these stories appear inside. Meanwhile, yesterday the Post fronted Israel’s Ehud Barak’s statements indicating his desire for peace with Arab neighbors, and today the NYT does the same with Barak’s first moves towards restarting Middle East talks. So the question is: Why does actual peace in Africa get so downplayed compared to possible peace in the Middle East? If, for instance, the Times is looking for a story on today’s front that might be deemed softer than the end of two wars, how about Disney’s settlement of its Katzenberg suit? And at the Post, how about that feature about New Year’s Eve 2000 party planners? Now, international news coverage shouldn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and there should be important stories inside the paper as well as on the front, but still, as Monica Lewinsky might say, “Who do you have to blow to get on the front page around here?”

The WP has the answer to that question: middle-school kids. The Post front features a story under the headline, “PARENTS ARE ALARMED BY AN UNSETTLING NEW FAD IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS: ORAL SEX.” The story notes that the trend will likely cause an upsurge in sexually transmitted diseases. It quotes one health official saying oral sex is now the “expected minimum behavior” for early teens, and the narrative dwells mostly on the role peer pressure plays. Incredibly, there is no mention of the Lewinsky scandal and the role it surely played.