Today's Papers

Tactical Strikes on South Jersey

The Washington Post leads with the Senate GOP’s proposal to make the biggest tax cuts since the Reagan era–$792 billion over 10 years, a story reefered by the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times leads with the whopping $4.9 billion personal-injury verdict against General Motors, the largest ever, a story fronted by the Post and reefered by the NYT. The money–$4.8 billion of which was punitive–was awarded by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury to six people severely burned when an allegedly preventable gas-tank defect caused their 1979 Chevrolet Malibu to explode upon collision. The NYT’s top non-local lead is the Russian Defense Minister’s announcement that Russia carried out a massive military exercise last month that included mock tactical nuclear strikes against an invading Western foe. The maneuvers included 50,000 troops, bombers, tanks, and warships from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. The story is not carried by the Post and is mentioned parenthetically in an unrelated Russian story in the LAT.

The tax cut, proposed by Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, R-Del., would cut the lowest income-tax rate from 15 percent to 14 percent, lift the cap on IRA contributions from $2,000 to $5,000, and make health insurance deductible for the self-employed. Unlike the $850 million House plan, Roth’s package would not cut capital gains or estate taxes. And by cutting taxes only at the lowest income bracket, both papers note, Roth’s plan would give less of a break to the wealthy than the House plan does–a provision designed to add bipartisan appeal (a necessity given White House opposition to the House version).

The General Motors verdict came after a trial in which plaintiffs’ attorneys presented documents purporting to show that GM executives had an internal cost-benefit debate over the gas-tank defect, but decided not to pay several dollars per vehicle to fix it. All three papers note that the bar for damages had been raised by recent verdicts against tobacco companies, and that the punitive damages–which are more than GM’s 1998 profits–will almost certainly be reduced. Strangely, the Post fails to mention, and the LAT underplays, the fact that GM was barred from presenting the jury with evidence of the Malibu’s safety record, its crash-test history, or that the driver of the vehicle causing the collision was drunk and later imprisoned.

All three papers front stories on new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria, in which Mubarak called Barak a “friend” and a “man of his word.” But only the Post and LAT mention Barak’s interview with Israeli television after the meeting, in which he outlined plans to delay implementation of last October’s land-for-security accords at Wye River and instead sweep all negotiations with the Palestinians into a “final status” agreement, which would, the Post says, include issues like the status of Jerusalem and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees abroad.

All three papers run stories, sourced to anonymous advisers, predicting that Republican presidential candidate Bob Smith, senator from New Hampshire, will run as a third-party candidate in the 2000 election. The NYT reporter, obviously catching the news right before deadline, has only one sentence on this amid a larger GOP story, but the Post is very specific: He will run under the banner of the U.S. Taxpayers’ Party and will discuss his plans Monday evening on–where else?–Larry King Live.

The NYT, LAT, and Post front the death of 79-year-old James Farmer, a founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and one of the last great civil rights leaders from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The NYT fronts the death of 69-year-old Charles “Pete” Conrad, the gap-toothed, puckish astronaut who was the third man to walk on the moon.

The LAT opinion page features a point-counterpoint on the light sentence recently given to Marie Noe, the 70-year-old Philadelphia mother who confessed to smothering eight of her babies in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. James Q. Wilson gives the conventional spin, that the sentence–20 years probation, 5 served under house arrest–is insufficient. But Stephen Fried–the crack Philadelphia magazine reporter whose 1998 story on the 30-year-old matricide case led police to reopen their investigation–notes that in exchange for her plea-bargain confession, Noe has agreed to submit to extensive psychiatric examination on the postpartum illnesses she may have suffered from at the time of the murders (she has a lifetime history of mental illness). The unprecedented testing will be funded by the money that would have gone to prosecuting and jailing her.

Writing in reaction to last week’s tongue-in-cheek Michael Kelly column on the cuisine of the Jersey shore, two painfully earnest Post readers take great, great offense. “Not only does Cape May County inspire the poetry of A.R. Aamons and the novels of William Wharton,” protests one reader, “but it also educates some very sophisticated palettes [sic].” Another reader complains that Kelly has been “insulting [to] almost all Americans, except perhaps Native Americans. In my case, since my four grandparents all immigrated from Norway, it concerns lutefisk. Kelly says, ‘Nobody eats lutefisk.’ I love to eat lutefisk and do not consider myself exceptional.”