Today's Papers

Bad Counsel on Debates/Debate on Good Council

Five papers hold out five different top stories. The New York Times lead reports that world leaders at the U.N. summit are weighing proposals to expand the mandate of the U.N. Security Council. The top non-local story at the Washington Post is the latest poll in the presidential race, which places the two major-party candidates in a statistical tie. The Los Angeles Times  leads with the news that the House fell short of the votes needed to repeal the estate tax over President Clinton’s veto. Topping the worldwide news box at the Wall Street Journal is word from the Bush camp that the governor has backed off his debate demands and is open to compromising on the issue. USA Today’s lead reports the widespread use of public funds for college football bowl games: Eleven of 18 scheduled bowl games have already secured some form of public funding and another nine have proposals pending.

The WSJ headline declares that “Bush blinked” on the issue of the debates. The story attributes his change of heart to mounting concern in the Republican Party that his demands looked more cowardly than principled. The WSJ and WP both explain the glaring flaw in Bush’s attempts to cast Al Gore as the evasive one: Everyone knows how eager Gore is to debate. Only the NYT speculates that Bush might have planned to capitulate from the beginning. The WP asserts that Bush is still angling to preserve next Tuesday’s non-commission debate on Meet the Press, but does not satisfactorily explain why this appearance is still to his advantage, given that it’s no longer likely to relieve him of his obligation to show up at the three commission-sanctioned debates.

In two of the first three paragraphs of the U.N. story, the NYT piece all but insists that the push for a more proactive Security Council arose in response to a recent surge in grand-scale human rights abuses. This argument ignores the far more plausible alternative: that the frequency of human rights abuses hasn’t changed, only the will of international action to respond. The article quotes British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s plan for a toothier Security Council that doesn’t just wait for wars to break out but is capable of addressing the economic, health, and education crises that often lead to war.

The LAT reports that 13 Democrats who originally voted to repeal the estate tax were convinced by the Clinton administration to switch sides, leaving the bill 14 votes shy of the necessary two-thirds. To the WP and LAT, the number of changeovers is a reflection of Clinton’s continued influence in Congress. The NYT, however, sees the 53 House Democrats who still voted to override as a sign that Clinton cannot keep the party solidly behind him. The WP notes that President Clinton and House Democrats continue to call for a compromise in the estate tax that would hike the cutoff to $2 million for individuals and $4 million for couples  All the papers agree that while this bill is finished for the term, the issue is likely to remain salient throughout the election and beyond.

Although Gore’s slim lead from a week ago has disappeared, the WP poll offers further evidence that the vice president is gaining in momentum: He gets high marks in key areas such as education, the economy, and health care, now leading Bush in these three categories. USAT fronts its own poll, in which Gore leads by a statistically insignificant three points, beneath the bold headline “Race is closest in 20 years.” Not since Reagan-Carter has there been a post-Labor Day tie in the polls and, as the WP points out, the last four Labor Day poll leaders went on to win. Still, doesn’t the Reagan-Carter example show the weaknesses of polls by illustrating how markedly the electorate can shift come November? And shouldn’t the papers tone down some of their enthusiasm for minor shifts in the popular vote given that they have yet to publish a good reading on the electoral vote tally?

A front-page WP story discusses the latest efforts by corporations to thwart e-criticism: The companies scoop up crude and disparaging domain names (e.g., to keep them out of the hands of would-be Internet defamers. Yet, as one source informed the WP, their goal is ludicrous given the inordinate number of possible slurs. The hacker magazine 2600 attempted to purchase only to find the name already reserved by the telecom giant itself. No bother. They simply snatched up instead. When Verizon filed suit against them, citing an extension of the cybersquatting laws, the magazine responded by registering the following domain name: