Today's Papers

Keeping His Options Closed

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times focus on the Senate hearing testimony of Firestone/Bridgestone’s executive vice president. Tires are gone from the other big fronts: USA Today goes with American Airlines’ announcement that in two years it is going to add to ground and connecting times and route fewer connecting flights through Chicago in order to improve on-time performance, and New York Times goes with Chase Manhattan’s expected acquisition of J.P. Morgan. Although both are among the nation’s five biggest banks, the paper explains, the move is designed to create a major investment bank heavily involved in mergers and acquisitions. (So who did the M & A work on this deal? The Times doesn’t say.)

Any reader would be confused after reading the two tire testimony leads. The WP puts the big news of Firestone/Bridgestone exec John Lampe’s testimony in the second paragraph: the company’s acknowledgement for the first time that the problems with ATX and Wilderness tires could be attributable not to consumer negligence or Ford’s recommended tire pressure being too low but rather to a Firestone manufacturing or design defect. True, the paper reports, Lampe also persisted in suggesting that there was something inherently wrong with the Ford Explorer that makes it highly vulnerable to a rollover when a tire fails. But the Post headline–“FIRESTONE NARROWS FLAW PROBE/Firm Checking Manufacturing ‘Variations,’ Ford Criteria”–doesn’t do justice to either point. Nor does the headline over the online version of the story: “FIRESTONE AND FORD SPAR OVER BLAME.” The LAT headline “FIRESTONE TAKES ‘FULL’ BLAME FOR TIRE DEFECT” does much better by the first, but not the second. Also, the LAT has Lampe telling the senators, “We made some bad tires and we take full responsibility for them.” How did the Post miss that one? And it’s the LAT–but not the Post–that notices that Lampe’s concession of possible manufacturing problems at the company’s Decatur, Ill., plant leaves utterly unanswered questions about the failures of tires made in Venezuela.

The WP, NYT, and LAT all run inside accounts of a race-indexed survey just conducted by the Department of Justice of all those under a federal death sentence. The stories report that Janet Reno is troubled by its findings that almost all–nearly 80 percent–of those inmates are black. These numbers make the system seem racist but it would be unreasonable to conclude that unless one could compare this percentage to the racial percentages of people who are convicted of crimes that carry the death penalty, and of people tried for such crimes. But the papers don’t include this information, nor as far as the reader can tell, does the DOJ study.

A NYT front-page effort says that the paper’s fresh polling reveals the closest post-Labor Day presidential race in 20 years. The headline and accompanying graphic chalk it all up to Al Gore’s increased and George W. Bush’s slightly settling likability.

Yesterday’s NYT front-pager about whether or not a Bush TV ad used subliminal advertising to suggest that Democrats are “rats” has grown some legs, mostly at the NYT, which today runs an inside Bush denial story, an editorial somberly calling for Bush to conduct an investigation into the ad, and a multi-type-faced Maureen Dowd column that tries to make a supraliminal joke out of the matter. What’s next, a Fold-In? Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal says that inside the advertising business the idea of subliminal ads is a “joke.” Why doesn’t any of the coverage mention the most obvious example of an apparently subliminal message: the ending of Fight Club?

Both the WP and NYT report, based on SEC filings, that last month Dick Cheney made $18.5 million by exercising Halliburton stock options he had received as part of his compensation for being CEO there. And both papers point out that he’d already cashed in these options before making a statement Sept. 1 that if elected VP, he would forfeit options now worth about $3.7 million.

Just in case you thought you were the only one who couldn’t bear to read WSJ editorials, today’s “Tax Report” in that paper notes that Venus Williams, in her post-U.S. Open victory call with President Clinton, complained about the taxes on her winnings–the subject of an entire editorial in yesterday’s Journal.

What’s more pathetic? 1) That Bill Clinton dispatched his personal lawyer David Kendall to tell Hillary that he in fact had been having a tete à petite tete with Monica? 2) That a new book, by a WP staff writer focuses on such bits? 3) That the WP is about to run a three-part series from the book? Or 4) That the Post runs a story today flogging the upcoming series?