Today's Papers

Pop Culture

The newest statistics on the spread and lethality of AIDS lead at the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. The New York Times fronts the story but goes instead with AT&T’s decision to respond to MCI’s and Sprint’s recent 5 cents a minute (plus monthly fee) plans with a 7 cents a minute (plus monthly fee) option. The phone news is on nobody else’s front page.

The multiple AIDS stories are prompted by the government’s release of new numbers at a national HIV conference in Atlanta. Every paper’s main takeaway is the same: The steep decline in new AIDs cases and in AIDS deaths that began three years ago, and which is associated with the emergence of the multiple-medication anti-AIDS “cocktails,” has leveled off appreciably. New AIDS cases declined 18 percent in 1997 but only 11 percent last year. AIDS deaths, which dropped 42 percent in 1997, declined just 20 percent last year.

This means that, in the words of the top HIV official at the CDC, quoted by USAT, “there is no magic bullet.” Prevention, she says, is turning out to be more important for controlling the spread of the disease than treatment.

The papers pass along the experts’ consensus for why anti-AIDS success is flattening out: There is a saturation effect in which most people who know they’re infected with HIV are already taking the more powerful cocktail therapies; HIV seems to be gaining some resistance to the therapies; and the strict regimen that optimizes their effectiveness is hard to stick to. Another factor that the WP emphasizes more than the others and high up to boot is that excessive confidence in the therapies may be prompting people to practice more unsafe sex. The Post, NYT, and Wall Street Journal note that drug users and black people account for higher rates of infection. In 1998, note the two Times, blacks, who represent 13 percent of the population, accounted for 49 percent of all AIDS deaths. The WSJ is alone in mentioning the strikingly good news about infantile AIDS–there were only 242 cases last year, down 73 percent from 1992.

The USAT off-lead reports that senior U.S. law enforcement officials now say that Bank of New York records that would have served as evidence of the laundering of billions in Russian mob money have been tampered with or destroyed. An inside story in the NYT reports that on Russian television Monday night, a Russian investigator said that he had evidence of bribes paid to Kremlin officials and members of Boris Yeltsin’s family by Mabetex, a Swiss-based construction company.

A NYT front-pager reviews the blooming of open “God talk” among presidential hopefuls, seeing in it an efficient way to flash distance from the squalor of the Clinton scandals. The story notes that the new public piety seems to have unwritten rules: It’s apparently a political plus for Protestants only. And just having opinions about religious matters isn’t enough–an atheist, no matter how earnest, would, says a historian quoted in the piece, still get slaughtered.

A story on Page 15 of the LAT reports that Al Gore has given an interview to the gay-oriented Advocate magazine in which he says the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules in the military governing the service of gays “aren’t working the way they were intended to work,” and that he would work with military leaders to bring about an implementation strategy that’s “fairer.” The story notes that the policy was a major headache for the Clinton administration in its earliest days. And that until now, Republican candidates have largely ignored it. In addition, the paper reports, Bill Bradley has responded to Gore’s interview by taking a position “aggressively to Gore’s left,” expressing grave doubts about the current policy, and saying that we ought to move toward a time “when gays can serve openly in the military.”

The NYT and WP go inside with a new survey of teen-agers indicating that low paternal involvement with a teen is a key determinant of adolescent substance abuse. A teen-ager with an excellent relationship with a single mom, the study says, has a far better chance of avoiding drug abuse than does one living in a two-parent household including a diffident father.

The WSJ reports on a new version of SAT scoring being developed by the ETS folks. The idea is to incorporate certain sociological background factors– such as English isn’t his/her first language, he/she went to a crappy high school, is from a poor family etc.–about the student, to come up with a likely score range for him or her, and if the person’s actual score exceeds the likely one by at least 200 points, then the applicant is identified by admissions personnel as in the valued category of “Striver.” The ETS is preparing race-blind and race-sensitive versions. The idea is that this would enable the identification of talented minority students in a way that will survive the recent negative rulings about affirmative action in admissions. But the piece isn’t too clear on why this would work. Doesn’t it just transfer the legally dubious extra-academic evaluations from the admissions committee to the test designers?

Sometimes you just know the editors are messin’ with ya. The WP’s “Names and Faces” column reports that Monica Lewinsky would like to launch her own lipstick line and recently tested the staying power of various lipsticks. She says, according to the Post, “the secret is opening your mouth ‘really wide’ when eating.”