Today's Papers

Wild on the Street

USA Today

and the New York Times lead with yesterday’s volatile stock market, which also tops the Wall Street Journal front-page business news box. The Los Angeles Times fronts the market but goes instead with the Japanese parliament’s approval of a new prime minister, installed as his comatose predecessor remains on life support. This is also fronted at the NYT. The top non-local story at the Washington Post, which puts the stock market just below the fold, is the latest in the Elián González saga–the preparations and negotiations surrounding his father’s trip to Miami, which is expected soon.

For the day, the Nasdaq and Dow weren’t off all that much, but the coverage emphasizes that yesterday wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey. For the day, observes the NYT, the Nasdaq traveled 1,074 points. The Times coverage includes the duty content-free quotes from experts (sample: “We sense some sort of balance may be coming back into the market”), although mercifully none from Abby Joseph Cohen. But it also actually offers some concrete explanations for what’s going on: 1) An increase in margin calls (this is also stressed by the WSJ’s front-page feature), which usually result in a forced sale of securities by the margined investor. One source is quoted by the Times as saying his brokerage firm made four times the typical number of margin calls yesterday. 2) So-called “lockup periods”–during which executives of companies that recently went public agree to not sell their shares–are expiring and the executives, hoping to lock in profits or stop their losses, are selling.

Two statistics in the WSJ’s account indicate that the general coverage is doubly mistaken in the suggestion that yesterday’s development was in any serious sense bad news. Not really bad because the Nasdaq is up 62 percent from a year ago. And not really news because it’s off 17.8 percent since March 10.

The new man in Tokyo is Yoshiro Mori, who has, the LAT says, held nearly every top government and party post, while expressing few strong opinions. According to the paper he is “the safest possible choice.” The story goes on to note that in a Japanese daily it’s said of the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Mori that “his body is big, but he’s got the heart of a flea and the brains of a shark.” Thank goodness the Zen masters in the LAT’s Tokyo bureau were able to decrypt this impenetrable haiku for the lay round-eye reader by adding: “meaning he is both gutless and stupid.”

The LAT fronts an important shift in the NRA’s lobbying strategy. Heretofore, the gun lobby has always focused its political funding on individual congressional races, but now, says the paper, it has become, for the first time ever, one of the top five givers of soft money to the Republican Party. This is significant because soft money, being basically unregulated, can be deployed during a presidential campaign with greater impact.

Both the WP and NYT go inside with stories detailing what they depict as the murkiness of Al Gore’s position on the Elián González matter. The main confusions: Does Gore favor giving the boy’s father custody if he comes to the U.S.? And, if the father, once in the U.S., says he wants to take the son back to Cuba, should he be allowed to? Neither paper can figure out Gore’s answers. And a WSJ piece wonders why Gore has inserted himself in the Elián matter but has announced he will stay quiet about Microsoft.

The WSJ and the WP report that the IRS is planning to shut down a truly macabre tax break known as a “ghoul trust.” The gimmick? A lawyer for a rich person finds a young person who is expected to die within a few years and creates a trust in the name of the doomed person that then is used as a vehicle to give assets to others after the predicted death. Because of the actuarial rules used to calculate estate and gift taxes, a young “donor” means big tax savings. The WP says that lawyers and financial planners market these packages to customers complete with the name of a suitably seriously ill individual and access to his or her medical records.

The NYT reports that faced with tremendous unhappiness among ABC News staffers, the network is considering not airing a sit-down interview of President Clinton recently conducted for it by Leonardo DiCaprio. The story says the president of ABC News claims that he thought the interview was requested by the president and quotes him as saying, “We did not send him to interview the President. No one is that stupid.” A White House spokesman disputes this, maintaining that it was ABC that requested the interview. The story leaves untouched a dubious underlying assumption: that a movie star’s conversation with the president would automatically be entertainment, not news. It’s what’s said, not who says it that counts, right?

On its “Life” section front, USAT files a lengthy report from Panama City, Fla., on Spring Break ‘00. The story explains how many of the businesses in town will make 30 percent of their annual revenue during the week’s bacchanal and totes up some of what a local emergency room doc sees: intoxication at three to five times the legal limit, impact injuries from car and Jet Ski accidents, pumped stomachs, broken legs and spinal injuries from balcony falls, and date rape. Also, ingestion of GHB, a pleasure-inducing drug made from floor wax and paint thinner. The story is accompanied by a picture of a coed showing her breasts during a poolside contest–with the word “Censored” very strategically placed in the photo. Today’s Papers was shocked. Repeatedly.


For more political news, go to Slate’s Politics page.