Today's Papers

United We Fly

The Los Angeles Times leads with the tentative contract agreement between United Airlines and its pilots union that could help reduce airline delays. The New York Times leads with President Clinton’s trip to Nigeria, the first visit to the country by a U.S. president since 1978. The LAT fronts it, and the Washington Post stuffs it and goes instead with a Federal Trade Commission report, set for release next month, which finds that the movie, music, and video game industries market violence to teen-agers. Movie studios advertise R-rated movies during teeny-bopper TV shows, and video game companies place ads for their grossest games in youth culture magazines. Sen. John McCain has promised to hold hearings on the report, and Sen. Joe Lieberman has expressed interest in testifying. If he does, he will again pit himself against Hollywood and risk undermining his ability to raise money there.

The United/pilot contract, which is pending approval by the union master executive council, addresses wages and job security. It comes at the tail end of a disastrous travel summer in which United canceled more than 20,000 flights and lost $150 million in revenue. Airline officials partially blamed the pilots for their troubles, accusing them of refusing to work overtime and calling in sick (union spokespeople deny it). Now United will turn its attention to the mechanics, whom it has accused of similar slowdown tactics. The horrible summer season has given hope to critics of the proposed merger between United and US Airways. If the merger goes through, the argument goes, then other airlines will merge, and with only three or four huge airlines in the U.S., disgruntled pilots and mechanics could sabotage the whole system. 

The purpose of the Nigeria visit is to shore up the 15-month-old civilian government that took over for an entrenched military dictatorship. The Clinton administration views Nigeria as the key to stability in sub-Saharan Africa because it is the most populous country on the continent and because its oil resources make it relatively prosperous. Clinton promised more aid and focused on regional peacekeeping (the U.S. is currently training Nigerian forces for peacekeeping duty in neighboring Sierra Leone), the AIDS crisis, the diamond smuggling that funds the rebel groups waging war in many African countries, and especially oil policy. The Nigerian president promised to push for stable oil prices at the OPEC meeting next month. In return he asked Clinton for debt relief. Nigeria owes $32 billion to countries around the world, and Clinton said he would urge Europe to reschedule loans and consider forgiving debt if Nigeria stays on the path to democracy.

The WP fronts word of the crisis at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the wake of the recent Wen Ho Lee and missing hard-drive scandals. Los Alamos is still in charge of the aging nuclear stockpile, but its scientists are leaving for the private sector in droves, few young scientists (especially Asian-Americans) seem interested in replacing them, and the remaining scientists are hampered by harassing investigations and illogically strict new regulations imposed by the Energy Department. For instance, scientists working on classified projects used to be allowed to leave their computers running for two hours if they left their offices. After Wen Ho Lee, the Energy Department ruled that they must shut them down every time they leave. But they take 20 minutes to shut down, and the scientists are required to leave their offices any time they discuss top-secret issues with colleagues (because they cannot talk about them over the phone). The result: The scientists say their work has come to a virtual standstill.

The WP runs a story about a huge drug bust in Colombia. Authorities from the U.S. and 11 other countries had been investigating an international cocaine ring for two years, and after a gun fight and a speedboat chase, they confiscated 23 tons of cocaine bound for Europe and the U.S. and arrested 43 people in seven different countries. The bust comes just a week after President Clinton authorized $1.3 billion for prosecuting the drug war in Colombia. Venezuelan authorities were unhappy with the funding because they thought it would push drug traffickers across the border, but despite concern that they would retaliate by refusing to cooperate, Venezuelan law enforcement played a prominent role in yesterday’s bust. 

What planet, please: The NYT fronts news that directory assistance is not not working, even though calling 411 can be annoying. True, operators give out 150 million wrong numbers each year, but they also give out 3 billion correct ones. And the reason the operator for New York City information asks you to spell Park Avenue is that he actually lives in Phoenix, Ariz. (The phone company saves money that way.)

DilantinGate: The NYT reports that a new Nixon biography due out tomorrow accuses the former president of having taken a mood-altering prescription drug without a prescription. Nixon apparently took the drug Dilantin whenever he was in a bad mood, but doctors say that the drug was discredited for psychiatric use and could have had serious side effects. Nixon’s former doctor claimed that he was “neurotic” but not “psychotic.”