Today's Papers

Neuharth to Media Elite: Drop Dead

The New York Times   and the Los Angeles Times   lead with President Clinton’s long-promised veto of Congress’ estate-tax repeal. The Wall Street Journal puts this story atop its “Worldwide” news box, but the Washington Post   and USA Today   run it inside. The Post leads with continuing fallout from the Firestone tire recall. (The LAT and NYT front this story, while USAT reefers it.) USAT leads with Al Gore’s plan for a 24-hour campaign swing on Labor Day.

The papers describe President Clinton’s confident defense of his estate-tax veto. Clinton says that the Republican plan, which would phase out the inheritance levy over 10 years, would give half the tax break to the richest 6 percent of estates. (The obverse must also be true–i.e., that 6 percent of estates now pay half the tax–but none of the papers state this explicitly.) All the papers except the Post mention the current exemption: No estate under $675,000 is taxed, and in 2006 this tax-free ceiling will climb to $1 million. Above this ceiling, notes the LAT, the rate ranges from 37 percent to 55 percent. The LAT also reports  that only 43,000 of the country’s 2.3 million estates paid the tax in 1997. The issue will surely become an election topic, yet only USAT and the NYT mention that Gore actually supports a partial repeal of the tax, and only the NYT indicates  that Clinton may yet strike a deal with the GOP. (To read Slate’s Michael Kinsley on the loopy logic behind the “death tax” repeal, click here.)

There were two developments in the Firestone recall: 1) The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration increased its death toll from the tire blowouts by 26, to 88 fatalities. (The LAT does  its own analysis of NHTSA data and says that 19 of the claimed 26 new deaths cannot actually be pinned on Firestone. Hence the death toll really is just 69.)  2) A Venezuelan safety agency announced that Firestone blowouts have killed 47 people in that country, and it recommended that the country file criminal charges against both Firestone and Ford. (It says that Explorer SUV design flaws contributed to the blowouts.) The Post explains  what this means: Since a corporation cannot be charged under Venezuelan law, the government would indict the corporate executives, possibly with involuntary manslaughter. But the NYT reports  that the Venezuelan safety agency lacks technical expertise and has been culling its data from American newspaper articles. Ford, which blames Firestone, has seen its stock drop 18 percent since the recall began Aug. 9; Ford’s CEO will testify before Congress next week.

The Journal profiles  the hero of the tire recall: Sam Boyden, a data researcher in a rural Illinois insurance office. While investigating a few rather mundane tire-tread complaints in May 1998, Boyden did some extracurricular research on a hunch. When he discovered a pattern linked to Firestone and the Ford Explorer, he called the NHTSA. When the NHTSA did nothing, he did more research, and then called the NHTSA back. The research finally convinced the agency to open an investigation in May, which led to last month’s recall.

The NYT reports  that President Clinton will likely punt on the decision to deploy the Pentagon’s anti-missile system. The military has put off its next test until January, and Clinton will simply decide whether to go forward with preliminary development. This decision, the Times explains, is less politically fraught than the initial plan to decide on the entire $60 billion deployment, which would require withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. (To read Slate’s “Earthling” on why anti-missile defense won’t protect us from rogue nations, click here. To read an “Explainer” on the difference between withdrawing from a treaty and abrogating it, click here.)

USAT prints the results of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings. The champion universities? Princeton, followed by Harvard and Yale. The champion liberal-arts colleges? Amherst, followed by Swarthmore and Williams. (To learn how U.S. News cooks the books, click here; to find out how Newsweek fouls up its high-school rankings, click here.)

On the USAT opinion page, the paper’s founder, Al Neuharth, reports  that September is “Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month.” But what we really need, Neuharth argues, is a “Be Kind to Readers” month. He then launches this salvo at his media colleagues:

Traditionally and historically, many newspaper editors and writers looked with disdain on readers. “Wrote down” to them. … For the past 15 to 20 years, more newspaper people have become “reader friendly.” Most now actually print news that readers can use. Some editors disdainfully still call that “happy news.” They consider themselves “purists.” Actually, they’re misanthropic cynics. Don’t put these misfits on your “Be Kind To” list.

Dirty Laundry Department: Several weeks after Laura Bush’s genteel schoolteacher turn at the Republican convention, you might be forgiven for thinking that the days of the feminist political wife–à la Hillary Clinton and Ernestine Bradley–are over. But a Post columnist takes note  of a political wife who has truly struck out on her own. It seems that the estranged wife of a Maryland county representative, Albert Wynn, has joined the campaign of her husband’s opponent. She has even recorded a phone message for the opposition, which is busy speed-dialing it into voters’ homes: “Albert Wynn does not represent black women,” she says. “He left me for a white woman.” (To read Slate’s Culturebox on why first ladies should pop pills, click here.)