Today's Papers

Suits and Pants

Both the Washington Post and New York Times lead with the next phase of George W. Bush vs. John McCain–Tuesday’s Michigan primary. The Los Angeles Times, which fronts the GOP-off, goes instead with the case the Supreme Court will hear this week that could result in patients gaining a fairly general right to sue their HMOs. The three papers front a picture of an Al G.-Hillary C. lip-lock during a joint campaign appearance in New York state.

The WP lead emphasizes that McCain’s Michigan strategy is based on challenging Bush’s credentials as a reformer, quoting McCain on the Michigan stump saying, “If he’s a reformer, I’m an astronaut.” The NYT says McCain said this several times yesterday. Indeed, the paper sees so many McCain attacks with so little response from Bush (they notice that Bush is now talking less about McCain and more about Al Gore) that the paper sees a role reversal from South Carolina. The Post says McCain’s challenge is to find a way to fight back against Bush without breaking his no-negative-ads pledge.

The WP has a quotation from a top McCain aide saying that the senator “got off message” in South Carolina, but it doesn’t explain in what respect, and in fact sticks the remark in a paragraph that isn’t even about campaign tactics but rather about McCain’s position on the budget surplus. The NYT doesn’t have the very same quote but is clearer about the campaign staff’s sentiment about S.C.–there was too much time spent discussing political technique, in the form of negative ads and push-polling.

Both papers mention that McCain is continuing to talk in Michigan (with a lot of Catholic voters) about Bush’s failure to criticize Bob Jones University’s anti-Catholic sentiments when he visited there. The Post has Bush’s response that his brother Jeb is a Catholic. But the paper doesn’t mention that this is the second time Bush has used Jeb to deflect criticism of his silence about BJU’s Neanderthal mores.

The domestic focus of the papers right now is exemplified by the papers’ inside placement of word that a mob of Serbs in Mitrovica, Kosovo, pelted with stones and otherwise assaulted some American troops trying to conduct a weapons search. The U.S. peacekeepers departed without responding with force.

The LAT lead notes that the Supreme Court case centers on a misdiagnosis and the patient’s right to collect damages caused by it from an HMO that rewards its doctors financially for limiting the number of diagnostic tests and referrals to specialists without informing patients of this. A somewhat surprising fact about the case is left until the story’s penultimate paragraph: The Clinton administration, the one that has urged Congress to pass a patients’ bill of rights, has filed a brief urging the Supremes to rule against the woman.

An important story about the Alaska Airlines crash can be found on the front of the Sunday LAT: The aircraft factory that made the very plane that crashed was, at the time, being criticized by government auditors for slipshod work, improper parts inspections, and other safety-impacting discrepancies. The paper says there is no indication that poor quality control at the plant played a role in the crash. But given all the stabilizer problems described in this piece, that statement is prematurely concessive. The paper should have said, “no indication so far …”

A piece in the “Metro” section of Sunday’s LAT describes a little-noticed problem: Many poor school kids don’t have nice clothes to wear to school, which often means they go to school unprotected from the elements and/or subject to teasing because of unfashionable togs. Now, this may indeed be a serious problem. But the lead paragraph speaks of two brothers so poor that they “alternated days in class because they only had one pair of good pants between them.” Really? If so, why couldn’t they have been mentioned by name and interviewed in the story? A little further down the reader is told that “officials estimate that at least half the students at the poorest schools wear little more than rags or unwashed clothes.” At least half? Which officials? Now, if the LAT can document either statement adequately, Today’s Papers will pitch in on the problem. But this kind of documentation should always be a part of such stories–the papers can’t fight hard-heartedness with soft-headedness.