Today's Papers

Why Down’t You Lose Some Weight?

The Washington Post   and USA Today   front the incorporation of Intel and Microsoft into the Dow Jones industrial average starting next Monday, a story fronted (above the fold) by the Los Angeles Times   and reefered by the New York Times. The NYT leads with a White House scoop: Today President Clinton will propose sweeping privacy protections for medical records, stricter than those included in the recent bill deregulating the finance industry. Both Clinton’s proposal and the finance-industry bill would require insurance companies to share their privacy rules with customers, but Clinton’s proposal would bar these companies from sharing customer information with other insurance companies without the customer’s explicit permission.

The Post’s headline, “Dow Adds Microsoft, Gets Less Industrial,” encapsulates the thrust of the stock-index change: new money (tech stocks) is pushing out the old (“smokestack” stocks). Besides Intel and Microsoft, Dow is adding Home Depot and SBC Communications; it is booting Chevron, Sears, Union Carbide, and Goodyear. “Intel is to the economy what U.S. Steel was 50 years ago,” a stock analyst says in the Post. “It’s the producer of the product that’s ubiquitous in a lot of other products.” The NYT calculates that if the four new companies had been added in 1997, the index would have risen 71 percent since then–better than the 62 percent performance of its leading competitor, the more tech-rich S&P 500, over the same period. (The Dow actually rose 49 percent over that period.) The LAT notes that while the S&P 500 is more popular with investors–$700 billion is invested in portfolios mimicking the S&P, while only $165 million tracks the Dow–the Dow has a bigger influence on investor psychology. (Both get license fees for the tracked portfolios.) (For Moneybox’s take on the Dow change, click here.)

Yesterday’s special issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, on obesity, lands on the fronts of the Post, NYT, and LAT. Every paper spins it differently. The LAT story is the most comprehensive. Under the headline “As Obesity Rate Soars, Hormone Offers New Hope,” the paper lists JAMA’s sobering statistics: The percentage of obese Americans–those 30 percent heavier than their ideal body weight–has increased nearly 50 percent in the ‘90s, from 12 percent in 1991 to 17.9 percent in 1998. Obesity now kills at least 280,000 people a year, making it the highest preventable cause of death after smoking.  However, obese people given injections of the hormone leptin in a study lost weight proportionate to dosage and lost fat cells only (25 percent of weight loss from diet and exercise is bone and muscle).

But what the LAT does not report, the NYT seizes on: Under the headline “Hormone That Slimmed Fat Mice Disappoints as Panacea in People,” Gina Kolata (who last year came under fire for over-hyping a cancer study) gives a dour prognosis. Leptin patients lost a “moderate amount of weight at best” and many participants receiving the highest–and most effective–doses tired of the daily injections and dropped out of the study. The NYT does not mention the national obesity figures at all. The Post–“A Hormone Helps Obese Lose Weight: [But] Study Finds Leptin Has Drawbacks”– paints the leptin results more optimistically than the NYT; it, too, neglects to mention the obesity figures. USAT and the Journal, by contrast, mention the obesity figures but not the leptin study.

In an almost postmodern bit of media-criticism-cum-self-confirmation, the NYT runs an Associated Press story  in which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accuses the presidential campaign of George W. Bush of “planting” a story critical of McCain in … Monday’s NYT. The AP duly notes that in the original NYT story, the governor of Arizona, a Bush supporter, had argued that McCain was too sensitive to personal criticism. “It’s totally ridiculous to think that we control what the New York Times writes,” a Bush spokesman said. Question: Would the NYT run an AP story in which a government official claimed to identify an anonymous source for a NYT story?

Newt Gingrich may no longer be speaker of the House, but he still can’t escape the press. Yesterday’s Post reported that Gingrich–who is accusing his recently dumped wife, Marianne, of mishandling their money–spent $450 for a bottle 1983 Chateau Latour while dining with his new squeeze, a former House aide. Today, Marianne’s lawyer tells the Post that she is “delighted to hear that Newt is now making enough money to share with Marianne.”

In yesterday’s edition, Today’s Papers confused the bank associated with Russian money-laundering investigations with his own. The bank associated with the money-laundering investigations is the Bank of New York. TP regrets the error and has fixed it in the text.