Today's Papers

No Bull, Nobel

The New York Times   , the Washington Post   and the Los Angeles Times all lead with Wall Street’s bad week. The Dow finished down 2.85% yesterday, and was down 5.9% for the week, its worst showing since 1991. All three papers also front the Nobel Peace Prize news: Doctors Without Borders won the cherished award.

Most analysts cite two reasons for the market’s downturn: an unexpectedly large increase in the product price index (generally a harbinger of inflation), and comments by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan warning banks to keep plenty of reserves. It is widely agreed that the Fed will raise interest rates when they meet in February. The NYT points to a third cause for the dive, superstition: many investors are selling because they know that the market has suffered horrible crashes in Octobers past. The LAT runs a related front page article explaining the product price index, which measures inflation “before it reaches the consumer.” The index rose by 1.1% in September, the largest one-month jump in a decade. The WP’s coverage is the most bearish, emphasizing that much of the Dow and NASDAQ’s impressive performances have been the result of a handful of bluechip stocks. This disparity, according to one analyst, creates a “stealth bear” market, where, despite a rosy overall appearance, most stocks are quietly tanking. The NYT dutifully reminds readers that it’s misleading to judge a dip’s severity by points rather than by percentages. Then, without missing a beat, it breathlessly reports that this week’s 630-point drop was the biggest ever!

A NYT editorial applauds the Nobel Committee’s choice of Doctors Without Borders. The organization sends medical personnel to troubled areas throughout the world. Rejecting the political neutrality of the Red Cross, the group is often outspoken about the injustices its members see; the organization was expelled from Ethiopia in 1985, and withdrew from Rwanda in 1994 because aid was being misused. The WP sees the group as emblematic of a new trend, where media-savvy non-governmental organizations use press coverage to broadcast their views and help shape the international diplomatic agenda. DWB, it notes, was the first organization to call the massacres in Rwanda “genocide.” This year’s Nobel also-rans included President Clinton, the President of Israel, and a pair of Chinese dissidents.

The NYT investigates the ascendancy of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, which it attributes to his “unabashed devotion to political money.” One of the GOP’s premier fundraisers, DeLay has raised an estimated $11 million dollars for House Republicans, and gives away as much as 90% of his own campaign funds. He’s also been involved in a $25 million fund drive for a group that’s “a mirror image of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.” This has proved controversial because the group, which rallies conservative voters to fight labor unions, is non-profit, and thus prohibited from “coordinating” with candidates.

Madeleine Albright’s upcoming African tour prompts a WP primer on strife in Sierra Leone, where Albright will stop Monday. The government in this diamond-rich country has battled insurgents since 1991, with mining conglomerates, mercenaries, and other outside interests supplying arms, money, and expertise to both sides. The ensuing clashes were particularly brutal, according to the WP, because the “sponsors” had little motive to limit the destruction. The warring factions signed a peace treaty this summer.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the WP reports, the Marine Corps is charging a commanding officer with negligence in a training death. An investigation discovered that the officer marched his troops faster than was recommended and ignored other safety procedures during a training exercise this summer. A reservist, who had begun vomiting early in the eight-mile hike, wandered off after the hike’s end, and expired of a “heat illness.” If convicted, the officer could receive a dishonorable discharge and almost four years in prison.

The WP Style section mourns the passing of a cultural icon. Loved by millions, this hero gave his life trying to protect the ones he loved, after a lifetime devoted to fighting tyranny in all its guises. In a novel released this week, Chewbacca, the lovable Star Wars Wookiee, perishes when a moon collides with a planet he was trying to save. The plot twist was approved by George Lucas, who created the Star Wars saga. Fans of the series have responded with characteristic level-headedness, clogging the Internet with eulogizes and declaring a fatwah on the book’s author.