Today's Papers

The Greatest Shows on Earth

The Los Angeles Times leads with Internet firms’ expanding lobbying efforts in Washington. As Internet taxation, privacy, and data protection become increasingly thorny issues, high-profile Web companies hope to buttonhole lawmakers. The Washington Post goes with a report that 1999 gun sales in Maryland and Virginia rose because of year 2000 hype and the possibility of stricter gun control laws. The Post off-leads the vast migration of people from established businesses to shoestring dot-coms. The New York Times interviews Al Gore, who has vowed to make campaign-finance reform central to his candidacy. The story comes a day after the paper revealed how close Attorney General Janet Reno came to investigating the vice president’s fund-raising practices.

The NYT lead sketches out Gore’s emergency repentance over past fund-raising mistakes: “Mr. Gore said he had adopted the passion of a convert on campaign finance in part because of the ‘pain’ he experienced” after being exposed for his actions in 1996. A WP front-pager anticipates epic nastiness between Bush and Gore in coming months. Rhetoric is expected to center on Clinton administration scandals and failed Republican policies.

All three papers acknowledge Pope John Paul II’s monumental trip to the Middle East later this month. The WP frames the pope’s visit in the historical animosity between Catholics and Jews. His pilgrimage is the first official papal visit to the state of Israel. One Catholic priest in Israel tells the paper, “He’s done more for Catholic-Jewish relations in 20 years than the Catholic Church has done in 2,000.” The LAT fronts Yasser Arafat’s current attempt to sway the pope into visiting Palestinian-controlled Jericho, considered to be the world’s oldest existing city. A papal visit, the LAT headline suggests, might attract tourists and make Arafat look good politically. A NYT “Week in Review” piece discusses today’s landmark sermon, in which the pope will apologize for sins committed in the church’s name throughout history.

This election season spans the globe. People from Arizona to Zimbabwe have voted in recent weeks, are voting today, or will vote soon. To be more precise, election-related reports are filed in the NYT from Chile, El Salvador, Iran, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Zimbabwe. In Mexico, Vicente Fox Quesada, a former Coca-Cola bigwig, is challenging the monolithic ruling party’s annointed candidate, Francisco Labastida Ochoa. The front-page effort delays mention of the election’s date, July 2, subtly reinforcing evidence in much election coverage lately that campaigning has become an end in itself. Skip to the end of the article if you’re curious about campaign issues; read the beginning to find out which candidate usually wears cowboy boots. With Russian presidential elections looming March 26, Serge Schmemann, in the NYT Week in Review profiles a hero of that cagey bee Vladimir Putin: the great reformer and terror Tsar Peter I.

Mexican drug traffickers have become much more aggressive and violent with U.S. anti-drug officials in recent years, according to an LAT front-pager. Assaults on federal agents in southwest border states reached 500 last year, up from 156 in 1992. The traffickers now have the technology and money to track agents, making it easier to intimidate them and their families.

For those surprised that candidates can run for the Senate in New York on short notice: The NYT Week in Review reports from Prague that Czech President Vaclav Havel invited Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to run for president of her native land. She played along, remaining mum on the issue until her refusal the following day. The Times quips that she did not ask that Havel run for the White House, even “in the interests of bringing a new spirit to the ‘rather stale, provincial environment’ of Washington.’ “

The NYT early edition lead reveals that ethnic tensions in Kosovo are driving a wedge between the U.S. and its NATO allies. The former would like to prevent “American casualties … during an election year”; the latter are growing reluctant to keep troops in Kosovo and would like more money from the cash-strapped United Nations. Best way to get on the NYT front page: Tell a reporter that the point of American policy is to keep Kosovo “off the front page.” A WP inside story documents ethnic violence but skips military and diplomatic repercussions.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has learned a lesson that many new Internet companies with ambitious, sometimes loony, marketing schemes won’t want to face: “Brand recognition alone won’t ensure success.” A NYT “Money & Business” report profiles the 130-year-old spectacle as its parent company, Feld Entertainment, tries to capitalize on the Greatest Brand on Earth. Research indicates that many people seem to equate the name “Ringling Brothers” with any old circus. Question not addressed: Ringling Brothers wants to license its brand for toys and such. How do they expect to break into this competitive area at a time when traditional toy industry leaders face a dramatically shifting market: Children now shed toys years earlier than usual and everything they do play with has to beep.

The Post reports that Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, will publish Tuesday on a 24-page tract suggesting that rapidly evolving technology might cause “something like extinction” of the human race within two generations. Several points make the story a novelty. Notably, Today’s Papers has always felt there’s really just nothing quite like extinction.