Today's Papers

Laying Off the Facts

USA Today leads with the crash death yesterday during the Daytona 500 of stock car racing’s leading driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., seen by 200,000 spectators and 30 million TV viewers. Everybody fronts a picture of the fatal moment. The Washington Post lead reports that the Navy’s decision to hold a rare public inquiry into the USS Greeneville’s deadly collision with a Japanese fishing boat was influenced by Japanese pressure on U.S. officials. The Los Angeles Times lead reports that mainly because of California’s energy problems, for the first time in years, Congress is about to debate some major energy legislation. A Republican-sponsored omnibus bill would promote new oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power development. Democratic plans emphasize energy conservation, and solar and wind power. The New York Times lead says that layoff figures announced by corporations are often misleadingly high and therefore lead to unjustified anxiety about the economy’s prospects. For instance, explains the story, more than half of Sara Lee’s recently announced 7,000 job cuts will occur in other countries, 12,000 of the 26,000 workers recently laid off by DaimlerChrysler will continue to receive 95 percent of their pay, and at least a third of the 16,000 jobs to be eliminated at Lucent will simply continue as parts of other companies. The story explains that companies have little incentive to correct misperceptions because announcements of large job cuts appeal to lean-and-mean-loving investors and Wall Street analysts.

The WP lead cites many recent cases of U.S. military operations resulting in death, injury, or abuse in which no service member was jailed or fired or often even punished at all. An example the paper forgot: The captain of a Navy cruiser not only didn’t get court-martialed but also received a medal for his Persian Gulf service, which included his ship’s shoot-down of a normally operating Iranian airliner.

The NYT lead notes that inflated job-loss figures are often repeated in “newspaper headlines.” But the paper doesn’t mention any specific examples from its own past coverage. So while the Times effort today is not sneeze-worthy, the real test will be seeing if in the future, the paper leads the way in subjecting company layoff press releases to a bit more analysis.

A WP inside piece reports Brookings Institution scholar Michael O’Hanlon’s criticism of President George W. Bush’s justification for Friday’s airstrikes versus radar facilities near Baghdad. O’Hanlon notes that Bush implied that the “no-fly” zones over Iraq were agreed to by Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War, when actually, they were established unilaterally by the United States and Britain to protect Iraqi opponents of Hussein from his air attacks.

The NYT, USAT, and the LAT front critical reaction to Bill Clinton’s most detailed explanation yet of his pardon of Marc Rich, served up in Clinton’s NYT op-ed column on Sunday. The main point of contention: Clinton’s claim in the initial version of the piece that Rich’s “applications were reviewed and advocated” by three “distinguished Republican attorneys.” During the paper’s Sunday press run, at the suggestion of Clinton’s office, this wording was changed to “the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated” by the three Republican lawyers. But as the Times reports today, these lawyers complained about even the revised wording, because it implied that they had reviewed Rich’s pardon application or lobbied for the pardons, two things Clinton’s office now agrees they did not do. A couple of questions about all this not addressed in the coverage: 1) Given that what the lawyers had done was argue that Rich was wrongly and unfairly prosecuted, although long before the pardon effort got underway, why didn’t the papers ask them (for today’s coverage at least) if they, in light of this track record, would have supported the pardon effort if they’d been asked to? 2) Why didn’t editors at the NYT op-ed page call up these Republican lawyers to check on the role in the case Clinton alleged before running the piece? Do all checkable op-ed allegations get a bye at the Times or merely those of ex-presidents?

The WP fronts an as-yet-unreleased General Accounting Office report on the V-22 Osprey concluding that the Marine Corps, citing cost and time considerations, has skipped numerous tests of the craft’s rapid descent characteristics, thought now to have contributed to a crash last April that killed 19 Marines. The report also cites significant problems with the Osprey’s hydraulic systems, which, the USMC admits, may have caused a more recent crash that killed four other marines. An LAT Osprey front-pager focuses mostly on one of those crash victims, a leading Osprey advocate, but also reports that the Osprey has had about twice the accident rate of the helicopters it’s designed to replace, although it’s still safer than the service’s F-18 fighter/attack plane was at the same stage of development.

The WP offers an op-ed by Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett in favor of Justice William Rehnquist’s second most deeply held constitutional concern: raising the salaries of federal judges. (The first most deeply held: the right of clearly properly counted votes for president to be treated absolutely the same as possibly not properly counted votes for president.) In that virtually all Bennett’s court appearances are before federal judges, this is not exactly charity work. Bennett’s argument repeats the now-familiar reasoning Rehnquist likes to trot out: Newly minted first-year associates now make more money than the federal judges they formerly clerked for and now litigate in front of. This argument fallaciously depicts the legal profession’s general economic structure by selective reference to only its most stratospheric features, something akin to calculating the average height of mountains worldwide based on a survey of the Himalayas. Where, for instance, in Bennett’s argument are the lawyers appointed by New York state family courts to represent abused children needing a safe foster care placement? Lawyers whose compensation is limited by state law, informs a NYT op-ed, to $40 per hour for in-court work and $25 per hour for what’s done out-of-court. Let’s give them a raise before we fund the next set of gold stripes on Rehnquist’s robes.

An item in yesterday’s NYT “Week in Review” reports that so far this year, more than 14,000 Americans, acting in response to a passing suggestion by the LAT columnist Patt Morrison, have made donations to Planned Parenthood, a leading abortion rights group, with an interesting twist. They have given their nearly half a million dollars explicitly in the name of a rather high-profile foe of abortion: George W. Bush.