Today's Papers

Hooked on Debate

The Washington Post leads with yesterday’s announcement by House Republican leaders that they would support a tax cut only one-seventh the size of the $792 billion cuts package they put forward last year that was vetoed by President Clinton. The paper quotes Speaker Dennis Hastert opining that there is a tax agreement with the White House in the offing. USA Today goes with the feds’ new anti-terror measures, including tighter performance standards for the companies that do airport security screenings and a plan to be announced today by Clinton to make government computers safer from attack. Its most novel aspect: a college scholarship program that would give students graduate and undergraduate tuition subsidies in return for postgraduate government service as information technology specialists. The New York Times goes with the SEC’s report stating that PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world’s largest accounting firm, violated the rule prohibiting the firm’s partners from having investments in companies it audits. As a result, says the paper, the government will check out the other major accounting firms’ compliance. The story seems oversold (by the SEC and by the NYT): The paper reports that nearly half the violations resulted from complications relating to the merger that created the firm, and no examples are given of firm audits that were in any way rendered dubious by prima facie investment conflicts. The Los Angeles Times leads with the White House decision to continue to delay implementation of the NAFTA provision opening U.S. highways to Mexican trucks. The paper quotes unnamed senior trade and State Department officials explaining that the plan is to ensure that the matter is not resolved while Al Gore is running for president, thus keeping the Teamsters, who vehemently oppose the opening, from abandoning him. With the exception of the WP’s fronting of the SEC story, none of the leads makes the others’ fronts.

The WP and LAT front last night’s GOP presidential candidate debate, which also tops the Wall Street Journal front-page news box, but the late metro edition of the NYT stuffs it. According to the coverage, the debates were highlighted by 1) George W. Bush’s declaration going his father’s famous pledge one better: “This is not only no new taxes. This is tax cuts, so help me God”; and 2) Bush and John McCain arguing about campaign-finance reform, with McCain defending the compatibility of his reform stance with his recently exposed letter writing to the FCC to force a decision concerning a TV station that one of his major contributors wanted to purchase, and Bush claiming that McCain’s reform would “hurt the Republican cause.” All six of the GOP debaters came out against open service of gays in the military, contradicting the stance favored the night before by Al Gore and Bill Bradley in their debate.

The papers report that when asked if he would take the mantra “What would Jesus do?” into the Oval Office, Bush replied, “I would take an expression into the Oval Office of, ‘Dear God, help me!’ ” The NYT says Alan Keyes added, “So would we.” The WP and LAT attribute the quip to Gary Bauer. The LAT reports that when Keyes criticized McCain for saying he liked Nine Inch Nails, McCain climbed down quickly, saying the band was a “poor choice.”

The editorial pages seize on McCain’s FCC letters, with the WP saying he “badly overstepped the rules,” and the NYT calling the letters “improper.” The WSJ says the real scandal is that unelected bureaucrats at the FCC have power over large swaths of the private economy and that the least our elected representatives can do is ride herd on them.

The WP reports in a story inside that the Pentagon disclosed yesterday that the explanation it offered during the Kosovo war of how a passenger train came to be bombed had a flaw. The official explanation at the time, that the U.S. pilot locked onto an empty railroad bridge, and only after that did the train very quickly come onto it, was buttressed by the Pentagon’s showing of a nose-cone video. But, says the WP, the Pentagon now admits the video was shown to reporters at three times normal speed. The paper notes that all other bombing videos released to the press during the war were shown at normal speed. The Pentagon insists the speed selection was inadvertent. In other words, they’re willing to admit to a mistake in a non-combat zone, when lots of supervisors are involved, with lots of lead time, and involving simple technology but can’t contemplate a mistake when none of these favorable conditions obtain.

The WP and NYT run wire service stories reporting that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of legal abortions in the U.S. (for 1997, the latest year for which data is available) is at its lowest point since 1978. The WP story says that the CDC didn’t try to figure out why the drop occurred. The NYT says it did and mentions among the factors “possibly different attitudes about the moral implications of abortion.” Will there be more study of this last question by the CDC or is the government afraid to find out and/or publicize a possible result indicating an increasing belief that abortion is immoral?

USAT reefers, and the other papers run inside, Major League Baseball’s decision that John Rocker must undergo psychological testing before it decides whether or not to discipline him for his recent disparaging remarks about gays and minorities. Today’s Papers thinks this makes sense, since prejudice is a mentally disordered way of looking at the world. And, hey, while we’re at it, how about psychological testing for Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, and Pat Buchanan?