Today's Papers

Russians to Judgment

The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the early returns from Russia’s parliamentary elections, surprising because they show that centrist and reform parties, including a brand-new Kremlin-based bloc, the Unity party, have made gains that significantly cut into the power long wielded in the legislature by the communists. The Wall Street Journal runs the Russian election at the top of its world-wide news box. USA Today puts it deep inside, leading instead with the U.S. government’s search for one to three accomplices of an alleged Algerian terrorist caught on Friday trying to cross into the U.S. from Canada with a bomb-kit in his car. The story describes a federal law enforcement establishment both practicing and urging heightened anti-terrorist awareness heading into the new year, a topic that is fronted by the LAT, reefered at the NYT and carried inside at the WP.

Both the WP and NYT say high up that the election results figure to be a boost to the presidential ambitions of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The LAT doesn’t mention Putin until the 17th paragraph. Everybody agrees that the election is something of a referendum on the Yeltsin-Putin aggressive stance against Chechen rebels–the parties that strongly support it did best. The LAT reminds of the volatility of Russian politics when it points out that all this comes seven months after Yeltsin was nearly impeached by parliament for starting a war in Chechnya.

The WP, LAT and USAT front the death toll in Venezuela from flooding and mudslides. The high estimate: 5,000 killed and 150,000 left homeless.

The NYT, WP and USAT front the biggest news from yesterday’s televised joint appearance of Bill Bradley and Al Gore: Gore’s challenge to Bradley to agree to stop all television and radio commercials and debate regularly instead. Bradley turned Gore down, refusing to shake Gore’s extended hand, the papers say, calling the idea “ridiculous.” (The debate was also covered in Slate’s “Pundit Central,” “Ballot Box,” and “Chatterbox.”)

USAT’s “Money” section front points to a Y2K-related panic point few have discussed before now: a possible year-end-driven gas crunch that could, in the paper’s words, “make lines at ATM machines and supermarket checkouts seem tame by comparison.” People can stock up on water, food, batteries, and cash over weeks, the story notes, but most people cannot store gasoline except in their cars, which means any rush to pump will take place mostly on Dec. 30th and 31st.

The WP inside serves up two dispatches from the bureaucracy front: 1) The government has ruled that the 1988 CIA budget–that’s right the 1988 budget, a budget spent almost entirely on combating a country that no longer exists–should remain secret; 2) The chairman of Exxon Mobil says that for the recent merger that created his company, government regulators required the production of more than 31.2 million pieces of paper.

The NYT business section cites a fact that puts much Internet hype into perspective while powerfully explaining the rationale of the recent spate of “clicks and mortar” business deals: Wal-Mart is expected to report nearly $143 billion in domestic revenue for fiscal 1999, roughly 7 percent of the United States retail market and seven times all Internet sales combined.

The WSJ reports that foreign investors now own about 40 percent of U.S. debt. This is double the percentage, says the paper, of five years ago. The reason: the flight of capital from slumping economies like Japan’s combined with the drawdown of the U.S. debt. The USAT front-page “Snapshot” presents a simple comparison between the cost of the federal debt per person in 1900:$16 and now:$20,800. Interesting, but a little too simple: It’s not (apparently) adjusted for inflation.

The LAT weighs in with its story on the paper’s Staples Center fiasco. The piece, by the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning media writer David Shaw, will fill 14 pages, complete with sidebars and graphics. In the preparation of the piece, Shaw had his own computer account that was not accessible by even senior executives and editors at the paper. And when the piece was completed, the negatives of it, ordinarily faxed to the printing plant several blocks away in downtown L.A., were hand-carried there instead. The result of all this security is that even LAT editor Michael Parks will have to wait for the thud in his driveway this morning before he can read Shaw’s opus de oops. (It will become available at the paper’s web site as of 6 a.m. PT.) Hmmm…wasn’t this whole imbroglio about the paper’s tendency to keep too many staffers in the dark?