Today's Papers

Hooked on Debate

Everybody leads with last night’s debate. The consensus is that the evening was substantive–the USA Today and Washington Post headlines emphasize “issues,” the New York Times’s stresses “differences” and “priorities.” The Wall Street Journal, which puts the debate atop its front-page world-wide news box, has a header mentioning “policy jabs.” The Los Angeles Times headline is the most specific: “GORE, BUSH CLASH OVER DRUG PLANS, TAXES, ABORTION.”

The NYT lead’s first paragraph sums up the debate as Al Gore repeatedly casting George W. Bush as a friend of the rich and Bush upbraiding Gore as a Washington insider with big promises and few accomplishments.USAT lists first among what it calls the night’s “key exchanges” Bush’s reference to his disappointment in Gore’s involvement in the scandal over fund raising for the 1996 presidential race, specifically mentioning Gore’s attendance at a funds event at a Buddhist temple. The NYT points out that such personal comments didn’t come until the debate’s final few minutes.

The WP lead puts high Bush’s line about Gore that “I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It’s fuzzy math.” USAT puts most of this line in a graphics box. The LAT puts the “fuzzy math” reference much lower but says Bush used it “over and over.” The WSJ has the calculator quote, too. Only the NYT lead does not. The NYT identifies Gore’s buzzword for the night, noting that he used the phrase “wealthiest 1 percent” ten times.

The coverage notes that Bush said he didn’t think he could as president change the FDA’s permission of RU-486, and that Gore said Bush’s claim that he would put “strict constructionists” on the Supreme Court was a “code word” for judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. The NYT is alone in succinctly summarizing the candidates’ POVs about using American troops overseas: Gore said he might do so to prevent mass killings. Bush said he would not to promote nation building.

USAT says that Gore made the first mention of former presidents Reagan and Bush and that Bush was the first to mention Bill Clinton. The NYT says neither candidate mentioned Clinton.

The NYT lead mentions that Gore at one point explained that Serbia and Montenegro together make up Yugoslavia but doesn’t see any significance in the remark. But the NYT front-page “analysis” by Frank Bruni does, seeing in it and in Gore’s crisp pronunciation of “Milosevic” and “Kostunica” a case of “oratorical intimidation, an unwavering effort to upstage and unnerve an opponent whose mind and mouth have never behaved in a similarly encyclopedic fashion.” The Bruni article also quotes Bush as saying, “I guess my answer to that is, the man’s running on `Mediscare,’ trying to frighten people in the in the voting booth.” (The repeated “in the” is in the paper.) “Today’s Papers” looks forward to such stenographic accuracy the next time the publisher of the NYT is quoted in the paper.

The NYT concludes that throughout the debate, Gore tried to avoid looking mean-spirited and that Bush did not seem to commit any blunders although he was at times less facile than Gore. The WSJ has a very similar takeaway.

The WP early edition reports that Ralph Nader had a ticket to the debate but doesn’t say what happened. The NYT and LAT do: He showed up at the door and was refused admittance.

The papers report that a Mideast cease-fire collapsed yesterday almost as soon as it was called, putting more weight on Madeleine Albright’s attempt today in Paris to broker something more lasting. The WSJ op-ed page runs an unapologetic column by Ariel Sharon, who says the fighting was caused not by his visit to the Temple Mount but by a “premeditated campaign organized by the Palestinian Authority.”

A front-page LAT effort highlights a heretofore overlooked human toll of Firestones on Explorers–not the 101 deaths but the 400 or so serious injuries attributable to the combo, many of which have resulted in paraplegics or quadriplegics.

The NYT runs a fascinating op-ed about a Web site run by two former Federal Election Commission employees–when you plug a ZIP code into it, it produces a list of every person in the area who’s contributed to a candidate for national office since 1980, providing the donor, recipient, amount, donor address, phone number, and employer. The writer, an NYU law professor, points out that while this isn’t a voting record, it’s functionally equivalent. In other words, taking FEC records out of musty file drawers and making them easily available–the sort of move ordinarily thought to be the very essence of reform–threatens the secret ballot. The NYT decided not to give the URL for the site, presumably because that would only intensify the problem. Was the paper right?

Elsewhere on the NYT op-ed page is a Paul Krugman piece about Amazon’s recently revealed practice of “dynamic pricing”–offering movies (not books yet) at the price that Amazon thinks the logged-on consumer will pay based on information it has acquired about him. Krugman points out that this is just a computer-enhanced version of the price discrimination that’s always been possible in markets but that the enhancement will no doubt widen the practice. Today’s Papers has a practical suggestion: Whenever you’re buying nonessential items like records online, don’t accept the first price offered. If there’s dynamic pricing afoot, you’ll probably get countered with a lower price. If there’s not–hey, you’re not buying medical supplies. In fact, adopt this strategy offline, too. TP’s been doing this in department and clothing stores ever since reading about a WSJ reporter’s success with the tactic a few years back. Leave retail to Bill Gates, who probably doesn’t pay it either.

And by the way, points out a smart little letter in the WP, don’t buy it when online retailers say it’d be too hard to calculate what sales and local taxes apply to online transactions. That can’t be more complicated than calculating dynamic pricing.

There’s no question what’s the creepiest moment in the sheets today. That would have to be a crucial juncture in the WP’s breathy Style section excursus on Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book, “An Invitation to the White House: At Home With History,” her “first-person account of entertaining at the executive mansion.” The president’s favorite place there? Whew–it’s the kitchen.