Today's Papers

Mr. Green Genes

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with President-elect George W. Bush’s nomination yesterday of two people who served in his father’s administration: Elaine Chao for labor secretary (after his first choice for the post, Linda Chavez, withdrew over questions about the legality of her past dealings with an illegal immigrant) and Robert Zoellick for chief trade negotiator. This is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box. USA Today, which reefers the appointments, leads instead with AOL’s purchase of Time Warner clearing its last government hurdle, the Federal Communications Commission’s approval on a 3-2 vote, a story the Post and Los Angeles Times front and the NYT reefers. The FCC imposed some conditions on the largest merger in U.S. history that are designed to protect the market rights of smaller Internet service providers. The LAT, which fronts Bush’s appointments, goes instead with the latest chapter in California’s electricity saga: in the face of a winter storm that impaired the operations of some seaside electric plants, and the refusal of some wholesalers to provide power, the state’s narrow avoidance yesterday of large-scale blackouts.

The WP and WSJ point out high and the NYT low that Bush’s selection of Chao, in contrast to Chavez, was greeted favorably by some union officials. The coverage consensus is that the Senate will approve her rather easily. The NYT reports that two weeks ago, Chao was passed over when the Bush Cabinet was originally put together. In the sentence in which the WP first mentions Chao, it immediately identifies her as the wife of Kentucky conservative Sen. Mitch McConnell. The LAT also has this high. The NYT brings in McConnell much lower, but when it does, the paper adds immediately that this connection will probably mean Chao will be treated with “additional deference” in the Senate confirmation hearings. The WSJ makes the same point high up and also reports that during the just-passed campaign, Chao raised $100,000 for Bush.

The LAT is alone in giving the demographic rundown for the now-completed Cabinet, which the paper calls the most diverse in history: “four women, two blacks, one Latino, two Asian Americans and one Arab American.”

The NYT lead is alone in going high attributing some emotion to Bush in comments he made after he announced his appointments. The paper says he “somewhat testily defended” his attorney general candidate, John Ashcroft, and “made little effort to hide his annoyance at President Clinton” over Clinton’s remarks earlier in the week questioning the legitimacy of Bush’s victory. USAT’s front-page “cover story” interview with Bush captures his ire about Clinton’s comments, too, citing his “evident annoyance” (the paper’s words). The interview also has Bush proclaiming that he will end Clinton’s practice of inviting campaign donors to spend the night at the White House.

The WP and LAT front word, stuffed elsewhere, that the Justice Dept. has concluded a plea deal with Indonesian banker James Riady, under which Riady will plead guilty to conspiring to illegally funneling foreign funds to the campaigns of President Clinton and others and will pay a record (for a campaign finance case) fine of $8.6 million but will serve no jail time. The Post introduces Riady as a “banking magnate.” The LAT upcurtains him as “a longtime Indonesian friend of President Clinton.” The Post reports that as part of the deal, Riady has already been talking to Justice investigators concerning what he might know about Chinese espionage and about whether money his bank paid to Clinton friend and former DOJ official Web Hubbell was intended to buy Hubbell’s silence in the Whitewater investigation.

Everybody but the LAT fronts the creation by scientists of the first genetically modified monkey, which, via gene splicing work done on monkey eggs that were then fertilized, implanted in a monkey, and brought to term, has a gene–taken from a jellyfish–that can be seen to glow green under a microscope. Since monkeys in many ways offer the best animal comparisons to humans, the procedure augurs the development of many customized research animals.

The NYT and WP go inside with a little more detail about that still-secret life-changing invention that’s going to be the subject of a Harvard Business School Press book. The consensus among Silicon Valley types: some sort of a personal transportation device. Some sort of a unicycle. One that’s “gyroscopic stabilized,” guesses one Siliconfidant in the Times.

That Times piece illustrates one of journalism’s doofiest conventions: the compulsive need to explain things everybody already knows. The story follows the quote, “Wander around Silicon Valley and there are probably more adults on Razors than kids,” with the sentence: “(Mr. Saffo was referring to the Razor, the best-selling scooter that took over urban sidewalks last year.)” Well, if it took them over, don’t readers already know what they are? Similar incoherence is on display in the LAT inside effort on the porno industry’s trade convention currently taking place in Las Vegas. The piece follows the common practice of not using the personal pronoun “I” in news stories. Presumably, this is to prevent the intrusion of personal details about the reporter into the news. Do you think that the prevention is successful in the following sentence about a stripper? “Then she squeezes the reporter’s breasts affectionately and wanders off with her entourage.”