Today's Papers

Cisco Fever

Both USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with the stock market’s crowning Monday of a new world’s most valuable company: Cisco Systems, a maker of computers that route information across the Internet. The switch happened because Cisco was up slightly while Microsoft, the former No. 1, was down on concerns about the imminent outcome of the government’s antitrust case. The Washington Post puts Cisco inside and goes instead with the failure of OPEC oil ministers, meeting in Vienna, to reach an agreement about how much more oil they should produce to assuage inflation worries among the West’s oil-consuming nations. OPEC also tops the Wall Street Journal’s front-page business and finance news box. The late metro edition of the New York Times fronts neither Cisco nor OPEC, leading instead with the agreement by Rudy Giuliani and the Brooklyn Museum of Art to drop the lawsuits they’d filed against each other over last fall’s exhibit that included an elephant-dunged painting of the Virgin Mary.

Although both the USAT and LAT leads recognize that total market valuation (= stock price x number of shares outstanding) can shift suddenly with the vagaries of Wall Street, both papers say that the move of Web-centric Cisco past PC-centric-Microsoft means something–how crucial the Internet has become to the economy. The LAT quotes an expert who makes the additional point that focusing on market capitalization as opposed to the more traditional leading criterion of annual revenue shows a shift in investors’ mind-sets–hope now counts more than experience. For instance, in last year’s version of the revenue-based Fortune 500, the paper notes, Cisco came in 192nd, while GM topped the list. But at Monday’s market close, GM’s total valuation was only about one-10th of Cisco’s. And perhaps not so obviously, it’s not just investors who’ve made this turn. But also many journalists–after all, it’s the papers touting Cisco today, and when was the last time GM led any of the majors?

The WP says that the basic rift in OPEC right now is between Saudi Arabia, which wants to increase daily production enough to drop and hold prices in the $21-$25 a barrel range–it’s now trading at about $34–and Iran, Algeria, and Libya, which fear that increasing production at all could send prices down below $10 a barrel, where they’ve been within the last year. The Post explains that the U.S. consumes about 20 million of the 75 million barrels of oil burned worldwide daily, and that half of American oil is imported. The upshot, says the paper, is that the U.S. is more vulnerable to foreign suppliers than ever before. But on the other hand, says the Post, oil is not as important to the American economy as it was in the ‘70s.

The LAT fronts the punitive award of $20 million handed down Monday in San Francisco–on top of last week’s $1.7 million damages award–in the case of a woman smoker now gravely ill with lung cancer. All this even though the woman didn’t start smoking until 1972, well after health warnings were introduced in ads and packaging. Which means, says the paper, quoting a law professor, that the tobacco companies face a virtually unlimited pool of prospective plaintiffs. Meanwhile, the WSJ “Work Week” column reports that workplace restrictions and soaring prices have helped send U.S. cigarette consumption down to its lowest level since 1957.

The WP front reports that Tony Blair’s wife, seven months preggers, wants the P.M. to take paternity leave when the baby comes. The paper says Blair was visibly nonplussed by the idea. Asked by an interviewer what his response would be, “the prime minister sounded like a toddler just learning to talk.”

The WSJ op-ed page features a column arguing that although Erin Brockovich is a slick and enjoyable movie, the real woman wasn’t much of a scientist. The problem is, argues the author, Michael Fumento, that Chromium 6, the suspected toxin in the case, could not have caused the wide range of symptoms described, if for no other reason than that it’s a carcinogen only when inhaled. So its mere presence in Erin B.’s town water supply is not dispositive. According to the piece, PG&E settled the case for $333 million not because of the evidence against it, but because of the possibility that in facing the high-powered trial attorney hired by the plaintiffs, the utility could have lost a great deal more. Fumento, the Journal does not remind, first came on the scene as the author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS.

The WP runs an AP report that President Clinton’s phone bills rose more than $50,000 after an Army sergeant assigned to the White House Communications Agency gave the White House phone access number to acquaintances, allowing them to make 9,400 unauthorized calls from early December to early February.

Both the WP and USAT front word that thus far, 42 percent of Americans have completed and mailed in their 2000 Census forms. But they differ on what that means for the prospects of an accurate census. USAT is concerned–its headline reads “FEWER THAN HALF RETURN CENSUS FORMS.” But the Post is cheered–its headline is “CENSUS RESPONSE COUNTERS FEARS.” As the coverage makes clear, the big worry is that U.S. residents won’t cooperate because they don’t trust the government’s promise to keep confidential all personal census data collected. A letter writer to the Post wryly observes that although the paper has frequently repeated the Census Bureau’s assertions that census information is private, a recent Post article included all of Paul Revere’s census replies.


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