Today's Papers

Oreo Speedwagon

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday’s deal in which Philip Morris will buy Nabisco. The USA Today lead covers much the same ground as yesterday’s LAT off-lead: the Federal Aviation Administration’s concern that airport runways are an overlooked nest of aircraft dangers. The problems should be addressed, says the story, by better markings, improved communications with taxiing planes, and satellite-based tracking of airport vehicles. The WP runs an editorial that also reviews the problem. The New York Times goes with the narrow victory for the governing coalition in Japan’s parliamentary elections. The Wall Street Journal puts Philip Morris atop its front-page biz news box and Japan’s elections atop its front-page world-wide news box.

The WP says Philip Morris/Nabisco exemplifies two major trends: 1) food companies increasing in size to gain leverage vis-à-vis grocery sellers; 2) tobacco companies looking to unlock the values of other holdings depressed by uncertainties created by tobacco lawsuits. The merger will create a gigantic food company (PM already owns Kraft), the world’s largest, says the NYT, which drives the point home by finding an expert who says the resultant company will have more revenue and profits than H.J. Heinz, Campbell Soup, Quaker Oats, Hershey, and Kellogg put together. Everybody notes that the deal handsomely profits Carl Icahn, who has been buying up Nabisco stock considerably below the deal’s share price.

The papers all agree the deal won’t arouse antitrust concerns from the government, but the explanations for why seem highly arbitrary. The LAT says it’s because the companies have very different products, giving the example that Nabisco is the dominant player in the cracker market while Kraft dominates the cheese business. Huh? Yes, cheese and crackers are different products but the two go together as least as well as the different products called operating systems and browsers.

In the Japanese elections, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party–in power almost nonstop since 1955–barely retained control in the powerful lower house of parliament while two sitting Cabinet ministers lost their seats. The NYT calls this a “surprisingly weak showing” that could pressure the recently appointed prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, to resign. In its front-page story, the LAT says basically the same thing, as does the Journal, while the WP takes a softer line, reporting in its inside effort that the election signals “popular discontent with a decade of stagnation but no change in policies in the world’s second-largest economy.” Everybody mentions the perception that Mori’s affinity for speaking gaffes contributed to his party’s performance.

The papers report inside that Ralph Nader won the Green Party’s presidential nomination yesterday. The WP says that Nader vowed to challenge the corrupting influence of giant corporations in American life and politics. In a separate inside article, the Post reveals that Nader owns more than a $1 million in Cisco stock. The story goes on to quote a Nader associate who says Cisco has raised antitrust concerns, something anti-Microsoftie Nader has never opined.

Post columnist William Raspberry thinks he’s found a good new argument against zero-tolerance youth violence policies. Adlai Stevenson, he reminds, as a 12-year-old shot and killed a young girl after pointing a rifle at her. Stevenson maintained it was an accident, but at least one eyewitness says he pointed the rifle at the girl’s forehead. Stevenson wasn’t even arrested, but under today’s policies, writes Raspberry, he almost surely would have had his life turned upside down. “Do you really think,” he wonders, “he’d have left the courtroom and resumed the path that led him almost to the presidency?” This is nonsense of course, but it does suggest a new gotcha question for political reporters to pose to candidates: “Did you ever shoot and kill anyone?”

A NYT op-edder criticizes the trend of states passing laws making it possible for parents to abandon unwanted newborns without fear of prosecution. New York is on the verge of such a shift, one already made by Texas. The author notes that the anonymous abandonment of newborns is “hardly a national epidemic”–105 cases in 1998. Compare this, he urges, to the 31,000 babies taken from their mothers after being born with illegal drugs in their systems, or the 4,000 children killed by firearms. Or the tens of thousands suffering in violent or neglectful homes. But the piece utterly ignores the idea that these latter numbers would probably be much lower if society were to make it easier to raise the numbers of drop-offs.