Today's Papers

The Dictator Formerly Known as Rogue

The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today   lead  with the Supreme Court’s decision barring student-led prayers at school functions such as graduations and football games. (The Wall Street Journal puts this story atop its front-page “World-Wide” news box, and the New York Times   off-leads  it.) The NYT leads  with Vivendi’s takeover of Seagram, the U.S. media and liquor company. By purchasing Seagram, Vivendi, an emerging French media conglomerate, now controls a large portion of the U.S. movie and record industry and rivals AOL Time Warner as a producer and deliverer of content. (This story is reefered by USAT  and stuffed by the LAT  and WP, although the WSJ gives it a full front-page news story.) The NYT, WP, USAT, and LAT front a photo from the Los Angeles Lakers’ defeat  of the Indiana Pacers in the National Basketball Association finals, four games to two. It was the Lakers’ first championship since Magic Johnson retired. The LAT also reports  mass vandalism outside Los Angeles’ Staples Center after the victory. 

The Court’s 6-3 decision builds on a 1992 ruling, which barred clergy from delivering prayers at school-sponsored events. Unlike the ‘92 ruling, however, yesterday’s decision may threaten “moment-of-silence” laws enacted by several states. On the WSJ opinion page, a former Reagan administration lawyer writes that the court undermined free speech: The school in question did not mandate that the student invoke a prayer before an event; it mandated that the student merely invoke something–even an homage to Walter Payton. “We have gone from a duty for the government to remain viewpoint-neutral to a duty for individual students to remain viewpoint-neutral as well,” he writes.

Vivendi, which until five years ago was primarily a water utility, now controls one of the six major Hollywood studios, Universal, and the nation’s largest record label, Universal Music Group (which includes Polygram). The new company, Vivendi Universal, will distribute Universal’s content over Vivendi’s growing Internet, mobile-telephone, and cable-TV network in Europe. The WSJ says it will be the world’s second-largest media company, after AOL Time Warner. Investors–who have punished Seagram since it ventured into the movie business–bought Seagram stock and sold Vivendi stock once the deal became public. Vivendi will likely sell Seagrams’ liquor division to pay off the company’s movie debt. The NYT runs a helpful pie chart  of both companies’ holdings, as well as a brief history of past entertainment mergers. In a separate story, the NYT chronicles Seagram’s journey from a family-owned liquor company to a sprawling entertainment empire. Also in a separate story, the Journal recounts the history of Universal’s subsidiary, MCA: It was founded by a Chicago eye doctor 75 years ago, grew into a Hollywood behemoth, acquired Universal to become MCA/Universal, and was bought by Seagram in 1995. Now it will be owned by a French water utility. (Question: The Post reports, in its opening paragraph, that the Vivendi-Seagram deal “will be announced in Paris early this morning.” Why should the reader care about the location and time of day of Vivendi’s press conference?) (To read Slate’s “Assessment” of the father-son duo behind Seagram–Edgar Bronfman Sr. and Jr.–click here.)

A NYT dispatch  from Seoul describes the “Kim Jong-il fever” sweeping South Korea. The unexpectedly telegenic dictator has won the hearts of many southerners since he appeared in sunglasses in front of cameras at last week’s first-ever Korean summit. “One week ago, people considered Kim Jong-il a monster, and now they think his glasses are really cool,” says a South Korean eyewear vendor. “It might sound funny, but I think that’s real progress toward reunification.” Kim Jong-il’s “political trustworthiness” rating in the South has gone from 15 percent before the summit to 50 percent now. (Today’s Papers suspects he has been consulting Dick Morris.)

A Post reporter chronicles his attempt to track down Bill Bradley at one of his haunts in Montclair, N.J. The 14,400-word article–which should have been titled, “Waiting For Bill”–ends with the author giving up.

The NYT runs a piece on the NYPD’s burgeoning roster of literary cops–police officers who write about life on the beat. Among them are Edward Conlon, who writes under the pseudonym Marcus Laffey for The New Yorker (apparently he wants to remain anonymous), and Lucas Miller, who writes for an obscure Internet publication called Slate ( Miller, a former English major who flunked out of Wesleyan University, has a monthly column called “Flatfoot.”

Politics and the English Language Dept.: The NYT, the WP, and USAT report that the state department has coined an official euphemism for “rogue states”: “states of concern.” (USAT, which reefers the story, says it’s “countries of concern.”) According to the Times, the shift signals “a change in the administration’s approach to an unofficial gallery of nations–from Libya to Cuba–where internal reforms might best be advanced by a more nuanced American vocabulary.” A State Department spokesperson (ne spokesman) clarifies these nuances: “If we see states of concern that continue to be of concern because they are not willing to deal with some of the issues we are concerned about–whew.” The Times and Post both supply their own (inevitable) term for SOCs: “nations formerly known as rogue.” TP thinks that Nations Formerly Known As Rogue should band together with Nations Formerly Known As Most Favored and demand their rightful names back. (To read the winning entries in Chatterbox’s “Name a New Rogue State Contest,” click here. To read “The Earthling” on why rogue states are not crazy states, click here.)