Today's Papers

Net Losses?

The Washington Post leads with the U.S. government’s latest documentation of the different degrees of Internet access experienced by various socioeconomic groups. The paper runs high with President Clinton’s claim yesterday that “There is a growing digital divide between those who have access to the digital economy and the Internet and those who don’t, and that divide exists along the lines of education, income, region and race….If we want to unlock the potential of our workers, we have to close that gap.” USA Today makes the digital divide its top hard news story (running it under a “cover story” about the upcoming U.S. vs. China soccer match). The New York Times runs its digital divide story inside and leads with a report that the electrical power system in the New York metropolitan area is, thanks to a booming economy’s proliferation of electronic devices, perilously close to its limits. The paper says new power plants are needed. The Los Angeles Times leads with the California legislature’s approval of a bill mandating overtime for employees who work more than eight hours in a day, thus restoring a labor provision lost under a Republican governor in 1997. According to the LAT, the current governor, a Democrat, says he will sign the bill.

The upshot of the government’s digital divide report is that black and Hispanic households are only 40 percent as likely as white households to be online, and households with annual incomes above $75,000 are more than 20 times as likely to be wired as the lowest income ones. The report also finds that overall, the access gap between white households and all others is growing, although it is narrowing among the wealthiest families. Also, the NYT points out that children in single-parent households have far less access to computers and the Internet than those in two-parent homes.

The reporting makes it clear that access data is quite complex. The WP says the differences “cannot be explained by income alone.” For instance, the paper notes, more than a third of white families earning between $15,000 and $35,000 per year owned computers, while only one in five black families in that same income range did. And the NYT quotes Donna L. Hoffman, a professor at Vanderbilt University as saying: “The big question is why African-Americans are not adopting this technology. … It is not just price, because they are buying cable and satellite systems in large numbers. So we have to look deeper to cultural and social factors. I think there is still a question of ‘What’s in it for me?’” (Good luck with your e-mail today, professor.) Today’s Papers would add that as long as folks who buy cable and satellite dishes instead of computers can benefit from government computer subsidies, then those subsidies are actually cable and satellite subsidies.

The LAT’s off-lead, covered inside elsewhere, is the Department of Justice’s announcement that it will be conducting an investigation of the Riverside, Calif., police department’s use of force and treatment of minorities–this prompted by the controversial police shooting there of a black teen-ager. The paper notes the inquiry is part of a trend in federal law enforcement, with similar ones currently being conducted of the New York City PD after a notorious police torture case and a questionable fatal police shooting, and of the New Jersey state police regarding its alleged practice of racial profiling.

The WP off-leads a new government report on the state of American young people. The news is mostly good–kids are smoking less, committing less crime, having fewer babies, more children are attending preschool and fewer are dying. Just about the only bad news is that there are more underweight babies and more undernourished kids. The economic boom is thought to be responsible for much of the improvement seen. Still, according to a Census Bureau study summarized inside by the Post, about one in five Americans lived in a household (in 1995) that was unable to satisfy at least one basic need, such as paying the rent or bills, seeing a doctor or getting sufficient food.

The NYT runs an overview of President Clinton’s “poverty tour,” which concedes that Clinton has “quietly assembled a long list of anti-poverty achievements.” Nevertheless, the story has no trouble finding experts to sniff at them. Most churlish is Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks, who tells the Times, “One of the ways I preserve my mental health is to read as little as possible about Bill Clinton.”

The Wall Street Journal “Washington Wire” traces some interesting connections between Microsoft and some presidential campaigns. Al Gore, says the column, benefits from delays in the trial outcome because he can duck for the moment the issue of what sort of constraints to impose on the company if it loses. Meanwhile, George W. Bush “cozies up to Microsoft”–his high-tech advisory council includes Bob Herbold, Microsoft’s chief operating officer. But, adds the paper, it also includes James Barksdale, former Netscape CEO.

The WP reports in an inside story that the Navy is considering resuming some sort of official connection to the Tailhook Association. The story says the Navy secretary and the Navy’s top admiral, as well as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee–all men–think important changes have occurred that makes this a good idea. But no Navy women are quoted. The Post might have at least tried getting a reaction from Paula Coughlin, the naval officer who provided the initial revelations about the 1991 pigfest.

Both the NYT and LAT run inside stories about how a convicted killer bled on Thursday as he was executed in Florida’s electric chair, prompting demands that that state suspend its use. As a result, the state Supreme Court issued a stay of the next scheduled felon fry. Incidentally, the headline over the NYT story is classic: AN EXECUTION CAUSES BLEEDING.