Today's Papers

The Senate Stays Soft

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday’s procedural votes in the Senate that effectively ended any chance of passing campaign finance reform this year. USA Today runs the Senate results on Page 8, leading instead with the FBI’s quiet efforts to warn local police about the possibility that anti-government militias and hate groups will become increasingly dangerous in the coming year because of the apocalyptic significance some of them attribute to the new millennium.

What happened in the Senate, the papers report, is that in successive votes to force floor consideration of two campaign reform measures–one simply a ban of the unregulated campaign use of donations made to the national political parties (“soft money”), the other a broader bill that also would have tightened rules about “issue ads” that actually function in support of particular candidates–the pro forces achieved slim majorities, but fell short of the 60 votes required to cut off a filibuster against the measures. After these votes, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott quickly tried to move on to other business, prompting complaints from the pro-reform forces led by Sen. John McCain that Lott had broken his promise to allow extended floor debate. But the WP cites sources saying Lott will prevail this morning.

Everybody quotes President Clinton’s reaction: “Once again, a minority in the Senate has blocked bipartisan campaign finance reform.” Clinton called the Senate impasse “a victory for the politics of cynicism.” The LAT claims that despite these remarks, Clinton has not thrown his full weight behind the issue, although the paper provides no evidence of this, noting only that Clinton is a prodigious money raiser within the current rules. The NYT goes high with the observation that the outcome keeps the special interest money issue alive for next year’s presidential campaign. The LAT and WP emphasize that the campaign reform cause’s outcome was very similar to what happened last year, but only the NYT claims that actually this is the fourth straight year that campaign reform has died in the Senate.

The WP tarnishes McCain’s reformer star a bit with a companion piece (based on a Common Cause investigation) to the Senate vote lead reporting that earlier this year McCain’s Commerce committee backed off tough new regulations protecting airline passengers in favor of a much weaker bill after airline soft money flowed into Senate GOP coffers. Although McCain denied knowing about the rush of money, he admits in the story that “Big people have access to my office that ordinary Americans don’t have. That’s one reason we need reform.”

The WP, LAT, and NYT front the latest political news from Indonesia. And USAT runs it inside. But only the WP seems to get the emphasis in the story just right. True, President B.J. Habibie has apparently decided not to run to remain in office, but the bigger news that affects many people and concerns the U.N. and the countries currently supplying peacekeeping forces in East Timor is that Indonesia’s legislature has formally relinquished the nation’s claim to the region. The WP makes this the big print headline. The NYT relegates it to smaller type beneath a header about Habibie. And the LAT and USAT headlines are all about Habibie and don’t mention East Timor at all.

The LAT slugs a story about corruption in Russia thusly: GREASY PALMS ARE RAMPANT IN RUSSIA. Even if there were a widespread corruption scandal in Los Angeles, say, would the paper ever use GREASY PALMS ARE RAMPANT IN L.A.? Of course not.

The WP, NYT, and LAT front Tuesday’s federal indictment of McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, and a Chinese airline it did business with on charges of diverting high-tech manufacturing tools to China’s military. The NYT is alone in emphasizing that the case could complicate the current effort by the governments of China and the U.S. to complete a trade agreement that would bring China into the World Trade Organization.

Both the WP and NYT go inside about a study–based on redacted U.S. government documents–being published today in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that is the most elaborate accounting yet of the secret deployment by the U.S. during the Cold War of nuclear weapons in foreign countries, many of which have policies strictly banning a nuclear presence. The only real remaining mystery, say the study’s authors: What’s the blacked-out country alphabetically between Canada and Cuba that had U.S. nukes foisted on it between 1956 and 1965?

Both the Wall Street Journal’s “Heard on the Street” column and USAT’s front page “cover story” report on the whiz-bang first day for Martha Stewart’s IPO, which, USAT informs, made her “America’s Newest Billionaire.” Stewart was on hand at the NYSE to ring the opening bell for her big day, after, says the Journal, serving the money men a breakfast of scones, croissants and fresh-squeezed orange juice. A question: Who decides who gets to ring the opening bell? And shouldn’t IPOers be excluded from clanging since the decision is tantamount to pouring millions into their stock?