Today's Papers

Campaign Gets Crude

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with Al Gore’s call yesterday for Bill Clinton to release some oil from federal reserves in order to combat rising petroleum-based energy prices. The Wall Stree Journal puts Gore’s proposal atop its front-page worldwide news box. USA Today puts Gore’s position and George W. Bush’s criticism of it as pure politics inside, going instead with a broader story depicting a looming fuel crisis, which the paper says will be “the worst energy crunch in a quarter of a century.”

The papers depict Gore’s pitch as going out to a Clinton administration that’s quite divided on the issue. Everybody mentions yesterday’s WSJ story on an anti-release memo from Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers as Exhibit A of the ferment. Nevertheless, the NYT says President Clinton would probably permit at least one test release of oil from the reserves soon. The LAT says high up that it might be today. The NYT says that Gore portrayed his proposal as “a grand one,” but also observes that it would only amount to a release of “about what the United States consumes every six to nine hours.”

The WSJ has the most detail on the reserve (it’s a system of caverns in Texas and Louisiana) and has the highest and the most on the mechanics of any release from the reserve. What would happen, says the Journal, is that oil companies would borrow oil from the reserve and pledge to replace it later. But nobody answers the question of what happens if the oil companies don’t want to borrow the fed’s oil. Nor does anyone explain what powers the feds have to prevent the oilcos from borrowing the oil but making corresponding cuts in their production to support the current price.

Everybody notes the political angles, most especially that Gore is concerned about how rising heating oil prices might affect him in the Midwest and Northeast (where, USAT reports, wood-burning stoves are selling like crazy, and some homeowners are buying their heating oil in bulk) and that his campaign thinks the oil industry backgrounds of Bush and Cheney can hurt them on the issue. Everybody has George W. Bush’s reaction that the reserve “should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election.” The papers note that Bush called instead for aggressively expanding domestic exploration, production, refining capacity, and electrical capacity. But the papers don’t note that Bush did not say anything about increasing fuel efficiency in cars or developing alternative energy sources. The NYT has the most on Gore’s calls for tax credits for fuel efficient and electric car purchases, but buries it. The consensus of all the candidates on the two tickets is that their opponents don’t have an energy plan.

The NYT quotes an unnamed government official as saying that two of Gore’s senior aides sat in on the White House meetings where the release idea was first floated last week and asserts that “the White House apparently decided to let Mr. Gore propose the idea first, giving him public authorship of the plan.” The WSJ sees the political downside as being that the move reinforces the image of Gore as willing to do anything to get elected.

The coverage notes that seven months ago, Gore argued against what he proposed yesterday. And everybody notes that his campaign responded by saying that circumstances in the oil markets have since changed. The NYT calls Gore’s anti-release comments–that a release could quickly be met by the oil companies’ corresponding production cutback–“one of the strongest arguments” against. The WSJ also cites the argument but doesn’t note that Gore once made it too.

The NYT off-leads with its own study and government stats that it says show that the dozen states that have chosen not to enact the death penalty since the Supreme Court gave them the option have not had higher homicide rates than death penalty states. In addition, the paper says that homicide rates rise and fall in roughly similar patterns in all the states, suggesting that the death penalty rarely deters criminals. The paper concedes that there are many other factors other than penalties that drive murder rates, but claims that the demographic profile of states with the death penalty is not that different from the ones without it. Their poverty rates in the aggregate, for example, differ only by 2 percent. One sentencing alternative that gains from the story is life without the possibility of parole, the maximum murder sentence in Michigan, one of the states that impresses most therein.

There is no front-page mention and very little inside about the lawsuit filed yesterday by Kathleen Willey against President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and the president’s lawyers, alleging that after Willey charged BC with groping her, they illegally released personal letters Willey had written him.

The NYT biz section reports that contrary to a story it ran yesterday, NASA has not and will not participate in a TV show currently being pitched to Fox, CBS, and ABC in which contestants would vie for a televised trip to the International Space Station. (The Russian space authorities will however provide a rocket ride for the winner on a similar show planned for NBC.)

The LAT reefers the decision Thursday by a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit seeking restitution from huge Japanese corporations that forced American prisoners to work as slaves, thereby going along with the Japanese government’s position that all such lawsuits were precluded by the 1951 U.S.-Japan peace agreement. Consumers and stockholders should note that those thus let off the hook include Mitsubishi and Mitsui, two of the largest companies on the planet. One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers is quoted as saying, “While 1 percent of the American POWs in Germany during the war died in camps there, 37 percent died because of abuses in Japan’s company camps.”

The NYT reports inside that the mayor of Atlanta is complaining that the FBI is conducting a racially motivated “inquisition” into his personal and official conduct and accusing the Bureau of leaking its fruits to Atlanta reporters. This sounds kind of crazy, but the Times forgot to mention one thing: it was in Atlanta that the FBI put the news media on to its erstwhile Olympics bombing suspect, Richard Jewell.