Today's Papers

Issue Ad Nauseam

The Los Angeles Times leads with the latest in L.A.’s police scandal: exclusive details about how “an organized criminal subculture” of the LAPD routinely broke the law. The Washington Post and USA Today go with the third consecutive day of the hack attack against high-profile Web sites. The New York Times goes with an exclusive revealing that President Clinton, to counteract George W. Bush’s tremendous financing, is planning to spearhead a multimillion-dollar soft money solicitation campaign to fund ads that can serve the Democratic Party presidential nominee’s cause when he emerges from the primary fight. The Times points out the spots being planned are similar to the “issue ads” of the 1996 campaign that have been roundly criticized as violating at least the spirit of the law against soft money flowing to ads for a specific candidate.

The LAT’s lead is the first extensive look its readers have had at directly quoted material from the burgeoning scandal’s nearly 2,000 pages of police and D.A. interviews with the main source, a dirty cop holding up his end of a plea bargain. The story describes in some detail the corrupt practices of the anti-gang unit at the scandal’s center: how cops would shoot unarmed gang suspects and then keep supervisors out of the area while they planted a weapon and got their story straight. In one case described, the story-straightening meant an ambulance had to be kept away while the unjustly shot suspect bled to death.

The big flaw in the story is that it delays until the seventh paragraph and utterly keeps out of the headline and subhead the information that the confessing cop has failed the polygraph test he was given. Yes, the paper still marshals information supporting the idea that he’s nonetheless being truthful–most notably that some of his statements marked as deceptive by the polygraph have been independently confirmed–but suppressing the “lie detector” results is the mark of attempting to politically spin a news story. Another mark: using another space above the fold for a second story that essentially just repeats the ex-cop’s unjustified shooting narratives in just a bit more detail. The truth doesn’t need this kind of piling on. In fact, it’s hurt by it.

The WP and USAT leads report that Wednesday saw the gumming-up of E*Trade and ZDNet. The Post paints a picture of frustrated traders not able to get executions at E*Trade as a result, including one customer who said while he was on hold for half an hour, the stock he was trying to sell dropped by 6 percent. (Don’t you think there were also traders trying to buy a stock who got a better purchase price because of the enforced delay? Why you think the Post didn’t quote any of them?) USAT says that the target-site slowdown created a general one–with the top 40 Web sites running about 60 percent slower yesterday–although the paper doesn’t explain why this collateral damage occurs. The coverage makes it clear that at this point law enforcement officials admit they are clueless. By the way, an inside story at the NYT quotes insurance experts as surmising that most of the clobbered dot-coms do not carry insurance to protect against losses incurred by service interruptions.

The WP reports that the Food and Drug Administration has backed away from its recent loosey-goosey approach to supplement labels, with the agency now, out of a concern for fetal health, warning companies not to promote their over-the-counter pills as treatments for various maladies and discomforts suffered by pregnant women. The paper says the agency’s latest statement appears to be a nonbinding advisory and quotes an official as saying the FDA would evaluate whether it should take some (unspecified) action against companies ignoring the warning. This story and the recent Post coverage of OSHA’s tap dance on home-worker safety should remind the reader that it’s not just candidates that use the papers for trial balloons. Regulators do too.

Everybody reports that at a news conference in Brussels, the European Union announced that its antitrust regulators were starting to examine whether Microsoft designed Windows 2000 so as to unfairly leverage its dominance in PC operating systems into a dominance of other markets such as server operating systems and e-commerce. A DOJ spokeswoman denies any advance notice of the probe. The main concern is whether or not Microsoft designed Windows 2000 to work less than optimally with server software made by competitors like Sun Microsystems.

The Wall Street Journal “Business Bulletin” quotes an academic study of the notion of branding that purports to show that leading brands don’t maintain their market leadership for as long as the conventional wisdom suggests. But the main fact from the study the column quotes is: Of the top brands in 100 product groups surveyed in 1923, only 23 were still leaders in 1997. Excuse, but isn’t that a lot?

The USAT front reports that Michael Jordan has made a TV spot for Bill Bradley and will endorse him later this week. (For a Bradley pre-mortem, click here.) What’s next–going to the Wizards?