Today's Papers

Maid in America

The Washington Post leads with the continuing controversy over Linda Chavez, George W. Bush’s choice for secretary of labor, which is also the top non-local story at the Los Angeles Times and the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page world-wide news box. At the New York Times, which fronts Chavez, the top national story is resistance from consumer advocates and some politicians to the impending attempt by American Airlines to buy TWA and 20 percent of US Airways. But the story also calls American “one of Mr. Bush’s most important constituents,” noting that its CEO has helped raise money for the president-elect and other Republicans, and also contributed the maximum allowable amount to the Bush campaign during the post-election Florida wrangle. USA Today leads with the eve-of-trial settlement by Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone for around $30 million of a lawsuit brought by a woman paralyzed in an Explorer SUV rollover accident, which would have been the first to go to trial since SUV-related tread-peel problems led to a nationwide Firestone tire recall last summer. The WP, which also fronts the story, points out high up that going to trial would have focused new attention on the safety hazards associated with the two companies at a time when, for instance, Ford is gearing up to launch a newly designed Explorer.

Today’s Chavez coverage has a lot about whether or not she was guilty of harboring an illegal alien. (Although both the NYT and LAT also bother to resurrect old stories about Chavez’s defaulted student loans–since paid off–and the NYT replays old complaints about her hiring practices when she was at the Civil Rights Commission under President Reagan.) The stories make it clear that by now, everybody’s interviewed the Guatemalan woman, Marta Mercado, who lived with Chavez for at least a year in the early ‘90s while doing some work for her and receiving some money from her. And the WSJ, NYT, and WP stories have Mercado saying that for some of this time Chavez knew Mercado was in the U.S. illegally. But they also have a Bush spokesman saying that Chavez says she did not know this until Mercado moved out. The Post goes highest with this conflict. The LAT goes high with a Bush spokesman denying there was any harboring law violation, and goes on to say “specialists in labor law” said it was unclear that Chavez’s arrangement with Mercado violated any laws. The WP says by contrast, that “several immigration experts” said Chavez might have run afoul of the law prohibiting harboring. The paper even cites a 1975 conviction of a California woman, upheld on appeal, for knowingly letting an illegal immigrant relative live with her for two months. Danger: Although both the LAT and WP say that a plural number of experts support the (opposing) lines they emphasize, each only cites one such expert by name.

The WSJ Chavez effort emphasizes that there is some concern among FBI investigators that last month Chavez, in anticipation of questions that might be asked in her old neighborhood as part of a background investigation, tried to influence the answers of one former neighbor who had also employed Mercado. The paper says that according to the neighbor, Chavez informed her that she might be nominated for a top position in the Bush administration and that she didn’t plan to raise the subject of Mercado.

The WP says the Chavez disclosures make her “the most vulnerable” of Bush’s Cabinet choices, and both it and the NYT have a spokesman for Sen. Ted Kennedy saying, “The cloud over her nomination is certainly getting darker.” The LAT quotes a top Senate Republican aide saying Chavez is in for “some tough sledding,” and notes that no Republican senators came forward yesterday to openly support her. The Journal says flatly her nomination “is in serious trouble.” The NYT goes high with George W. Bush’s comment Monday that “when the Senate gives her a fair hearing, they’ll vote for her.” But the Journal has one unnamed Bush adviser saying there’s “anger and concern” inside the transition team over the matter, and also saying that Chavez didn’t disclose her relationship with Mercado to the transition.

The NYT is alone in passing along a Bush spokesman’s claim that the money Chavez admits she gave Mercado was not a payment for work, but rather a charitable gift. Here’s a follow-up question the Times should have asked: “Did Chavez take those payments as a deduction? If not, why not?”

The NYT goes inside with a pretty important revelation relating to the mushrooming controversy about the health risks to NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans posed by spent U.S. depleted uranium ammunition. After the NATO bombing campaign of 1999, the paper’s Marlise Simons reports, the U.S. Joint Chiefs issued a “hazard awareness” document warning soldiers and civilians against touching the ammunition and telling personnel having to handle anti-tank shells or enter wrecked vehicles to wear protective masks and cover exposed skin, and advising those involved in the most hazardous of such tasks to undergo health assessments afterward. The paper got the document from an unnamed NATO military official

That’s it, Fluffy–Stay! Just when you thought the nation’s taxidermy industry was in deep trouble, the WSJ fronts a feature reporting a new trend that’s energizing it. Unfortunately, it also proves that increasing numbers of apparently functional Americans have quietly gone mad. The trend? Freeze-drying deceased household pets. Which, explains the story, allows the family Labrador to maintain its former perch on the bedroom rug, head on paws, eyes wide open.

Don’t like the news? Buy another paper! Here are the first sentences of three different papers’ take on Amazon’s latest financial reports. NYT: “ said yesterday that it just barely made its sales targets for the fourth quarter, but it sacrificed its profit margins to do so.” WSJ: “ Inc. said it expects to report that its fourth-quarter sales increased 42% from last year, meeting the low end of its projections but raising questions among some Wall Street analysts about slowing sales growth.” USAT: “ on Monday reported solid holiday sales, giving a little cheer to the bruised e-tail industry.”