Today's Papers

Silicon Games

USA Today

, the New York Times and Washington Post all lead with Medicare stories. The Los Angeles Times goes its own way, leading with word that DreamWorks SKG, citing financing difficulties, abandoned its plan, four years in the making, to build the first major new studio in Hollywood since the Depression. The paper’s top-nonlocal story is also on nobody else’s front: the decision by the Mexico Senate to deny the right to vote by absentee ballot to Mexicans living overseas.

The USAT lead is based on an interview President Clinton gave the paper on Thursday–the main thrust is Clinton’s willingness to support some of the tax cuts congressional Republicans favor if they will first work with him starting right after the July 4th recess to shore up Medicare’s finances. The interview closes with Clinton saying he won’t run for Senate from Arkansas in 2002. “I have to go out and make a living for my family,” he tells the paper. “And I’m going to spend the first two years organizing my life, doing my memoirs and finishing my library.”

The NYT and WP leads are dig-ins of a new survey of the Medicare coverage trends of HMOs, compiled by a managed care trade association. The survey’s bottom line: HMOs will either increase the premiums they charge Medicare beneficiaries, or cut their benefits and will cut loose altogether some 250,000 Medicare subscribers. Also, many plans have said they intend to cut back on Medicare drug benefits. In other words, both papers point out, the trend in the field is exactly the opposite of what President Clinton’s Medicare proposal depends on: more competition among HMOs for Medicare billing, and enhanced drug coverage. Three-quarters in, the Times story has an important fact that elucidates the social impact of this trend, but which should have run much higher: about 55 percent of HMO Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes of less than $25,000. The Post points out that the HMO trend suggests to many that private insurance isn’t the right model for handling senior health care, and that the upshot should be to reinvigorate the original fee-for-service Medicare model.

A highly unusual bit of political maneuvering is flagged on the NYT front: Yesterday Hillary Clinton joined a group of New York pols at a White House meeting chaired by the president’s chief of staff to militate against the Medicare cuts her husband has proposed for New York. The paper calls this the first public indication of a policy difference between Hillary and Bill Clinton and quotes him saying he expects more of the same.

A front-page WP story says that new survey data indicates Americans are less likely to marry than ever before, and that fewer married people report being very happy in their marriages. The U.S. marriage rate has dipped 43 percent in the past 40 years, the story asserts, and is now at its lowest point ever. Provocative, but the story never says what the marriage rate is nor how it’s figured. An accompanying graphic compares the number of marriages per thousand unmarried women in 1960 and 1990, but this suggests that, for instance, getting married four times counts as shoring up the marriage rate, even though it would be taken by most to indicate a weakening of the institution. This then is an example of a paper reprinting a study rather than digesting and explaining it.

The NYT reports that shares of a small company called ABR Information Services more than tripled in price Wednesday on absolutely no underlying business news, apparently because of mistaken orders, possibly based on trades executed using the wrong symbol, followed by a day-trading-fueled bandwagon effect. The Times says the episode is a demonstration that financial markets now move faster than brain waves.

For the second time in recent weeks, the WP has picked up on an important San Jose Mercury News story about doings in the Silicon Valley. The first was about how the area’s United Way chapter almost spent itself out of existence, but this one has even more impact and more legs: the revelation that many of the Valley’s top firms are illegally farming out at-home piece-work projects to low-income families. (Illegally because minimum wage and overtime laws are being flouted.) The piece-workers, the Merc reveals, mostly Vietnamese immigrants, have been toiling at kitchen tables for the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and Cisco Systems. One family profiled spent two days installing more than 10,000 transistors on circuit boards and got for its troubles a total of $176.40. The Post, by the way, is to be commended for calling attention to another paper’s good work. This is not the norm. But the paper gets something out of it besides warmies–a new sensitivity to the kinds of stories to look for in its own burgeoning tech backyard.

A WP editorial about the nonsentence sentence handed down earlier in the week to a 70-year-old woman convicted of killing eight of her babies over nineteen years points out that it is the latest in a string of less than stringent resolutions of murder cases involving mothers. It seems, the editorial concludes, that the legal system tends to view babies as less than real people. It could be added that the system also gives women and old people a sentencing discount. None of this makes any sense.

The party line OK, this is the official deal on the Today’s Papers 2nd Anniversary Party. It’s Thursday, July 15th, 1999, 5-7 p.m., in Los Angeles, 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 (e-mail doesn’t count); 2) bring one especially loved or detested newspaper clip (no admission without one).

The WP features a headline that could serve as general anesthesia: CANADA’S POLITICAL LIFE ADRIFT AMID DOLDRUMS.