Today's Papers

House Doesn’t Go Soft

USA Today

and the Washington Post lead with the imminent landfall of Hurricane Floyd somewhere along the southeastern U.S. coast. The storm is also the top non-local story at the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times runs Floyd top-front, but leads instead with the House’s passage last night of a campaign reform bill that would ban “soft money” and tightly regulate “issues” ads in the two months preceding an election, to prevent these two items from becoming vehicles for flouting contribution limits that are supposed to apply to individual candidates. The other papers front the bill.

The dailies compare Floyd to Hugo (1989, 29 killed, $5.9 billion damage, says the LAT) and Andrew (1992, 26 killed, $25 billion damage, says the LAT). The WP calls it “one of the most dangerous storms of the century.” The prospects are grim enough that President Clinton took the unprecedented step of declaring Florida and Georgia disaster areas even before the storm arrived. The coverage ticks off some of the other Cassandra factors: several million people fleeing their homes (with all the fronts that run pictures showing the resultant traffic jams); the mass cancellation of airline flights; and the first-time-ever shutdown of Disney World.

The coverage notes that last year the House passed a nearly identical campaign reform bill, which, despite drawing a majority in the Senate, was filibustered to death there. The NYT reports one reason for the extent of Republican antipathy to such measures: In a recent closed-door meeting, House Republicans were told that for the 1997-98 election cycle, their party held a nearly $40 million advantage over the Democrats in soft money. There actually is one important new feature of this year’s reform bill: It contains a provision requiring “a candidate for election for Federal office (other than a candidate who holds Federal office)” to reimburse the government for federally provided transportation used for campaign purposes. Can you say “Hillary”? Apparently, the nation’s lawmakers cannot. And by the way, why should incumbents be able to fly Uncle Sugar Airlines without paying?

David Ignatius, in his WP column, identifies what he calls our tendency toward “sequential hysteria,” the phenomenon in which a problem is well recognized long before it reaches a critical stage, then for a few brief days it becomes Topic A, but then before long it’s back to inattention, all without anything ever really being done about it. Ignatius gives as examples the Russian corruption scandal, Chinese atomic espionage, the FBI at Waco, the North Korean nuclear threat, and genocide in Africa. A good point, but marred when Ignatius, trying to tie up his column too neatly with a bow made from the day’s news, adds Hurricane Floyd to his list. The problem is Floyd hasn’t been known about for a long time and things are really being done in reaction to it.

The Wall Street Journal “Tax Report” depends a little too much on IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti, judging from how frequently the good commissioner appears in the column being a … well, good commissioner. Today’s effort, for instance, includes mention of how Rossotti “always enjoyed solving problems when he was in business. ‘And now,’ he says, ‘I have an unlimited supply of problems to solve.’ ” This is called “greasing the source,” and is a major source of skewed coverage. Homework assignment: find an example where the “Tax Report” said something truly tough about the IRS’s top man.

The LAT reports that the Los Angeles Fire Department is caught up in a controversy stemming from the revelation this week that for the neighborhoods of Bel-Air, Westwood, Pacific Palisades, and Brentwood, it has introduced maps that identify the houses with the highest risk of burning: those with wood shingle roofs. The city councilman for the area involved has called for a full public debate about whether or not the LAFD is in fact writing off certain homes in case of fire. Fairly far in, the story mentions that maps of other parts of the city also indicate areas of risky homes, apparently without controversy. But the LAT utterly ignores the impact of this fact, which is the real explanation for why the maps are now “news.” The story never mentions that Bel-Air, etc., are the city’s lushest neighborhoods, housing the city’s most influential people.

Tucked away on Page 23 of the WP is a Pentagon story that bears watching. The Department of Defense is conducting a comprehensive review of the battle damage inflicted by NATO during the war in Kosovo, and it’s already past due. A delay like this is sometimes a sign that unwelcome figures are being “massaged” into the most favorable shape possible. So it will be interesting to see if the Kosovo scorecard goes the way of the Gulf War’s Patriot missile totting up, which went from a mid-war near-100 percent intercept rate to a morning-after count much closer to 5 percent, if that. Of course, the Building stands ready to make an argument either way. If the numbers are good, then the refrain will be, “See, this stuff works, give us more stuff.” And if not, it’ll be, “This stuff didn’t work as well as we’d like, we need better stuff.”