Today's Papers

Post-Pneumatic Distress Syndrome

USA Today leads with a fresh poll showing that in the wake of the Firestone/Ford Explorer imbroglio, the American public is less likely to buy either product. And nearly half think at least one of the companies engaged in criminal behavior. The poll finds that general awareness of the story falls short of Princess Diana or JFK Jr. territory but is the same as that achieved by the Elián González saga. The much-anticipated Federal Trade Commission report on the media’s marketing of violent entertainment to children leads at the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times.

The WP lead emphasizes the comments made by President Clinton and Al Gore about media violence. Their upshot: Harsh regulation could come if the producers don’t stop targeting children. The WP has Clinton quoting Plato to support the importance of the issue: “Those who tell the stories rule society.” (Neither Clinton nor the Post mentions that Plato threw the story-tellers out of the Republic.) The WP refers to Daily Variety’s report that a tape of a 1987 Gore meeting with rock music execs includes his apology for his role in Senate hearings on lyrics and to an LAT report from last year that says Gore told Hollywood types the FTC study was Clinton’s idea, not his. This is the background for the Post’s report that George W. Bush (and William Bennett) yesterday charged Gore with hypocrisy.

The LAT lead goes high with the head of the FTC’s request that his staff determine if laws governing misleading and unfair ads can be used to curb entertainment’s marketing of violent content. The story says no movie studio execs will appear before upcoming Senate hearings, which is being interpreted by committee staff as stonewalling. And it reports Gore’s stance suggesting possible regulation but doesn’t mention Bush. The NYT has Gore, Clinton, and Bush, but none in the first half of the story. USAT bottom-fronts their reactions, although it leaves out Bush’s hypocrisy charge, only quoting him saying more needs to be done to reduce the amount of violence kids see.

The LAT mentions that the FTC report includes damning internal documents, but in its second paragraph, the NYT lead quotes from one, about how for one unidentified (unnamed for legal reasons) R-rated movie, the “goal was to find the elusive teen market audience and make sure everyone between the ages of 12-18 was exposed to the film.” And the paper quickly cites a memo about how to get posters for an R movie distributed to the Campfire Boys and Girls. Both the LAT and NYT have unnamed studio executives admitting that the report has some validity. Given such high placement of details about youth-oriented entertainment marketing, the story shouldn’t have waited until the 14th paragraph to explain that R-rated movies can only be seen by those younger than 17 if accompanied by an adult and that M-rated videos cannot be sold to them at all.

The WP off-lead refers to the detail, also reported in a separate effort inside the paper, that since the early 1990s the federal agency in charge of highway safety misfiled at least 26 consumer complaints about Firestone tires that seem related to the present mess. The paper says they weren’t filed as Firestone tire problems but rather as Ford vehicle problems. However, in neither spot does the paper explain why misfiling under the latter would keep a problem hidden. (Good thing it wasn’t misfiled as a possible nuclear accident.) The Post off-lead emphasizes the admission by Yoichiro Kaizaki, the head of Bridgestone, that his company had failed to keep up with growing tire problems, and his regret that he hadn’t exercised tighter controls on the company’s U.S. plants. (Subtext: It was those damned sloppy Americans.) The story also includes his denial that the firm engaged in a cover-up. The WSJ front-page feature on Kaizaki and the USAT lead have these points as well.

The WP business section reports that Michael K. Powell, an FCC commissioner, is set to vote on the AOL-Time Warner merger even though his father, Gen. Colin Powell, sits on the AOL board, and in that capacity has already voted for the merger, and holds options on $13.3 million worth of AOL stock. The paper says FCC ethics officials have cleared the younger Powell’s participation, saying there is not a strong enough appearance of a conflict of interest and no direct one. The story only briefly mentions and the FCC seems completely incurious about one possible source of a direct conflict: If in his will Powell senior is leaving Powell junior some of his AOL stock.

The WP reports an emergence within Germany of Hitler humor, notably in a widely read comic strip (“The Private Fuehrer”) and a comedy coming out shortly on German public television about a Jewish man who gets mistaken for Goebbels. The point is to belittle, but there’s the following example of the genre’s risks: “In one cartoon, Hitler is seen working on a jigsaw puzzle that is a picture of Goering and says, ‘I imagined the Final Solution differently.’”