Today's Papers

Early Labor Pains

Everybody leads with Linda Chavez’s pullout from the labor secretary nomination process yesterday in the face of mounting worries about the legality of the arrangement she had with an illegal immigrant, Marta Mercado, who lived with her in the early ‘90s. The Los Angeles Times lead calls the Chavez episode “a major stumble in a Cabinet selection process that the Bush team has sought to portray as speedy, thorough and professional.”

The coverage goes high with Chavez’s remarks yesterday blaming her exit on “Washington’s search and destroy game” and on “the politics of personal destruction.” There’s some play given lower to Chavez’s suggestion that another factor was the brevity of the transition period. The Washington Post calls hers a “defiant departure.” The papers report a statement from President-elect George W. Bush expressing his disappointment and sadness regarding the development. The WP lead gives Bush’s statement a Beltway gloss, explaining that it did not repeat Chavez’s complaints about having been treated unfairly. The USA Today lead goes high with Bush’s irritation with Chavez (first reported yesterday by the Wall Street Journal) for not disclosing her relationship with Mercado during the Cabinet vetting process. Everybody notes the conflict between this and Chavez’s admission yesterday that “I think I always knew” that Mercado was an illegal immigrant. The WSJ–which yesterday broke the news that the FBI was pursuing the possibility that Chavez had tried to influence the possible testimony of a neighbor who knew about Mercado–and the New York Times emphasize that the FBI was becoming increasingly concerned about the clarity of Chavez’s answers in agent interviews. The WP flatly says that her misleading answers caused Bush officials to drop their support. In short, the papers make it clear that Bush and his aides came to feel they had something in common with Mercado: They, too, had been taken in by Chavez.

Several papers suggest that the Chavez exit frees up Democratic resources for a stronger challenge to Bush Attorney General-designee John Ashcroft, in their sights for his extremely conservative abortion stance and for his obstruction of a black man’s appointment to a federal judgeship.

The papers go inside with the release yesterday of the Pentagon’s report on the terror bombing of the Cole last fall. The report isn’t the Building’s last word–next week, there will be a more narrow review focusing on the performance of the ship’s officers and crew–but it concludes that the U.S. military hasn’t put enough time or money into the sort of intelligence-gathering needed to protect against terrorist threats to its assets.

The WP is alone in fronting the federal government’s first rollover ratings for passenger vehicles. The four-door Honda Accord finished with the best rating, five stars. The bottom ratings went to two two-wheel drive SUVs–the Chevy Blazer and the GMC Jimmy/Envoy–and generally, SUVs fared less well than cars. The Ford Explorer got two stars, for instance, compared to the four stars earned by all the other passenger cars in the survey besides the Accord. The story does not explain why only 43 vehicle models were tested, nor what the principle for their selection was.

USAT fronts a new sort of personal injury lawsuit percolating at a Sydney, Australia, law firm: a class action suit over “economy class syndrome,” the condition in which a clot develops during a long flight in a cramped seat and then afterward moves in to a vital organ. The paper says 800 people have signed on to the suit, including the relatives of 36 who died. The story also reports that British Airways has just announced it will now give a written warning about the need to maintain good circulation during long flights to every passenger buying an overseas ticket.

The WP and NYT go inside with reports of President Clinton’s speech-making Midwest road trip yesterday. The Post story, which runs on Page 9, emphasizes Clinton’s recitation of favorable economic statistics covering his time in office and waits until the 10th paragraph to quote him saying that the only way the Republicans “could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida.” The Times account doesn’t mention this remark.

Today’s Papers is deeply appreciative of all the mail it received pointing out the error in yesterday’s comment that the papers should have asked Linda Chavez if she claimed a deduction for the money she charitably donated to Marta Mercado: Gifts can be deducted as charity only if made to recognized charitable organizations. The follow-up question should have been: Did Chavez record these gifts so as to make sure that with all her giving she didn’t go over the annual tax-exempt monetary gift limit?

Gets Its Ass Kicked. Both the NYT and USAT front word that the U.S. Army will this week replace its award-winning ad slogan “Be All You Can Be” with a new theme designed to appeal to youthful individualism, independence, and self-growth: “An Army of One.”