Today's Papers

Political Dough Nation

The New York Times leads with the Iowa caucus victories of Al Gore and George W. Bush. The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post off-lead Iowa and go instead with the Supreme Court’s 6-3 upholding of dollar limits on political contributions, a story the NYT top-fronts. USA Today also off-leads Iowa, leading instead with yesterday’s 3.3 percent drop in the Nasdaq and 2.2 percent drop in the Dow. The paper observes that such drops no longer provoke the anxiety they did just a few years ago. As if to dramatize this point, none of the other papers fronts the move, and even the Wall Street Journal business and finance news index puts it below Procter & Gamble breaking off merger talks.

The NYT says that Gore outpolled Bill Bradley 63 percent to 35 percent, adding that this result was a “setback” for Bradley, “who had campaigned aggressively.” On the Republican side, the paper says that Bush got 41 percent, Steve Forbes 30 percent, Alan Keyes 14 percent, and Gary Bauer 9 percent. That the latter three social conservatives together outpolled Bush is taken by the Times to be a sign of the potency of the abortion issue in Iowa.

The NYT describes an “ebullient” Gore and immediately points up the contrast with his 1988 presidential campaign when he skipped the caucuses, calling them “madness,” and referred to “the small state of Iowa.” Another bit of history comes when the paper points out that no winner of a contested Iowa caucus has gone on to become president since Jimmy Carter. Indeed, the paper points out high up that the overwhelmingly white state is hardly representative of the nation. Another important piece of perspective should have been higher up: Of the 1.8 million registered Iowa voters, only about 166,000 participated in the caucuses. The paper continues to challenge the Iowa emphasis on the op-ed page, with former Sen. Paul Simon and columnist Gail Collins separately advocating (he more seriously than she) rotating among small-population states the honor of being the first in the nation to weigh in on candidates.

The WP says the Supreme Court’s campaign contribution ruling “provides some legal ammunition” for efforts to curtail soft money. The LAT sees things more strongly, leading off its piece with the claim that with the decision, the court “strongly endorsed the cause of campaign reform.” The WP and NYT remind high up though that the decision actually perpetuates a dichotomy from an earlier decision: Donation limits do not impinge on free speech and hence are OK, but spending limits do and aren’t.

The NYT off-leads the revelation, sourced to Clinton administration officials, that the U.S. now believes that the Pakistani military supported the terrorist group that carried out last month’s Indian Airlines hijack. This puts into play, the paper explains, the possibility of putting Pakistan on the U.S. official watch list of countries that support terrorism, which would reduce its ability to get international loans–an idea being resisted by the Pentagon and CIA because of Pakistan’s aid to the U.S. during the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan.

The WP fronts the Food and Drug Administration’s warning that doctors screen all patients for heart problems before prescribing the popular nighttime heartburn drug Propulsid, because the drug has been linked to 70 cardiac-related deaths. The agency also said the drug should only be taken as a last resort.

The WSJ’s “Work Week” column reports that Y2K preparations had diverted computer specialists at many companies from other projects, which are now back on the front burner. According to an item in the WP, the federal government isn’t so supple–the federal agency that regulates credit unions is resisting attempts to eliminate any of the 34 jobs it created to deal with Y2K problems. Here’s a story idea for the papers: Find out how many Y2K jobs were created throughout the federal government and track what’s happening to them.

USAT’s front-page “cover story” is headlined “NEW WEALTH IS MAKING ‘DEATH TAX’ HIT HOME,” followed by the subhead “Next generation faces a burden of prosperity.” The idea is that although historically very few American estates have been subject to the tax–only about 1 percent in recent times, says the paper–the wealth creation of the nation’s historic boom is liable to change all that. But if you read the fine print stashed in a couple of the piece’s crannies, you learn that “next generation” and “hit home” are rather off: the furthest available projections posit that by the year 2017, a whopping 5 percent of all deaths would be subject to the tax.

The WP has a very weird little report on the upcoming National Book Critics Circle awards. The Linton Weeks story merely enumerates the just-announced finalists in the various categories without commenting on their merits. That is, until Weeks gets to one nominee in the criticism category–David Shields’ Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season. For this book, he abruptly hauls in the WP book critic Jonathan Yardley for some special guest dissing. Yardley is quoted saying that Shields’ effort “is an amazingly bad book, right up there at the top of my list of all-time stinkers.” This seems pretty irresponsible, and there’s probably a back story. What could it be?