Today's Papers

Today’s Pardon Scandal

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with President George W. Bush’s call yesterday for making his $1.6 trillion/10-year tax cut retroactive–that is, for applying it to the whole of tax year 2001. USA Today puts the Bush tax latest inside and instead goes with a lead based on interviews with U.S. law enforcement sources saying that increasingly, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida group, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations use the World Wide Web to pass along information such as maps and photos of prospective targets. The paper says these groups use encryption programs available on the Web for free to hide and/or to access data in pre-existing images found in high traffic sites like sports chat rooms and pornographic bulletin boards. (Hmmm …Cindy Margolis could also be dead-drop gorgeous?) USAT says that bin Laden has been using the Web this way for five years but has done so increasingly since U.S. officials revealed they’d been tapping his satellite phone calls and otherwise tracking his activities. But buried halfway through an LAT front-pager on shortcomings in the U.S. hunt for terrorists is cause for a bit of nonalarm: In the 1980s, 571 Americans were killed by terrorists; in the 1990s that number dropped to 87.

The Bush tax leads quote the president saying, “This is the right size plan. It is the right approach. And I’m going to defend it mightily.” The WP and NYT say that this was not just a warning to Democrats wanting to cut the cut but also to Republicans pushing further breaks for businesses and rich people. The Post elaborates, attributing to Bush’s chief economic adviser the claim that Bush opposes the sort of special interest tax breaks that were part of the last major tax cut under Reagan.

The NYT spends the most ink worrying out the details of how exactly even Bush’s retroactive cuts–which would include cutting rates, doubling the child-care credit, giving a break to many two-earner married couples, repealing the tax on large estates, increasing charitable deductibility, and extending a tax credit for corporate R and D–could be, as Bush claimed yesterday, “an important part of helping our country’s economic recovery.” After all, the first year’s proposed cuts amount to about $20 billion, a tiny drop in a $10 trillion economy, bottom-lines the Times. And besides, the paper adds, it’s the taxpayers in the lower tax brackets who are most likely to spend whatever they save in taxes, and under the Bush plan, they would not be getting that much back. The paper says “the obvious way” to put additional money into people’s pockets this year is to lessen payroll withholdings–which the Bush plan does not do. The WP makes the same point in a separate piece inside.

The Wall Street Journal reports that as part of his strategy for winning congressional support for the repeal of the estate tax, Bush is considering imposing capital gains taxes on the unrealized increased value in estates at the time of the bequest.

The coverage notes that Bush’s presentation yesterday used the device he employed for tax matters during the campaign: sample families illustrating the potential tax savings. Both the WP and LAT note that when a reporter asked Bush where his top-bracket sample family was, Bush responded, “Well, I beg your pardon, I got a little pay raise coming to Washington from Austin. I’ll be in the top bracket.” But the papers don’t do the obvious follow-up: show how much in fact Bush would save under his plan. The coverage notes that Bush used a prop check made out to “U.S. Taxpayer” for $1,600, the amount the administration says a family of four making $50,000 would get back under the proposed cut. But although the LAT cites some examples of taxpayers earning far less who would get back far less or even nothing, the leads leave out the key datum: how many taxpayers earn that $50,000 and how many earn far less.

The LAT fronts and the NYT stuffs a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 2,400 gay and bisexual men in six U.S. cities suggesting that 30 percent of young black gay men in America are HIV-positive. Of the 293 men shown in the study to be infected, only 29 percent had known it beforehand. The LAT story quotes some expert explanations: The rise of anti-viral cocktails has led to a renaissance of unprotected sex (46 percent of the men in the survey reported they’d had unprotected anal sex in the previous six months), young black men have a high rate of incarceration, and gay blacks feel more stigmatized in their communities and hence are less likely to get HIV information and counseling. The LAT goes with a Treasure Hunt headline, “RESEARCHERS RAISE CONCERNS ON HIV RATE,” while (online at least) the NYT tells it, er, straight: “STUDY IN 6 CITIES FINDS H.I.V. IN 30% OF YOUNG BLACK GAYS.”

The NYT fronts and the WP goes inside with word of another funky Bill Clinton pardon. The problem is that a California businessman, Almon Braswell, convicted in 1983 of mail fraud and perjury in connection with a mail-order baldness treatment, was being investigated by the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles on suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering at the time he was pardoned last month. And now, because Clinton didn’t specify what crimes the pardon was being issued for, some Justice Department officials are left wondering if their inquiry into Braswell can continue. The WP says they’ve been reassured it can. The Times has legal experts saying that if Braswell’s pardon had been submitted by the Clinton White House to the usual Justice Department review, “it almost certainly would have been rejected quickly.” Biggest mystery of the pardon: Why did Braswell get it? After all, note both papers, he has been a significant donor to the Republican Party and to George W. Bush. The WP says that in Florida, Braswell’s $250,000 donation to the Bush campaign was returned after he used a letter of endorsement with a doctored Jeb Bush signature.

The LAT op-ed page is topped by Robert Scheer’s assessment of the NYT’s two-part review of its nth-part series about Wen Ho Lee. A longtime critic of the NYT’s WHL coverage, Scheer finds that “The New York Times has not yet come to grips with the enormity of its betrayal of the principles of fairness that should govern a great newspaper.” He points out that in the NYT’s famous Pentagon Papers case, the paper argued for printing the papers in toto, but that in its Lee coverage it has only printed selected snippets of the government documents it’s obtained.

“I got it Hill–that Rich pardon was a, was a hack!” The WP and USAT go inside (crediting a Swiss weekly newspaper) with word that hackers have penetrated the database of the organization that holds the annual (and just-concluded) Davos world conference, making off with the credit card numbers, cell phone numbers, and passport information belonging to about 1,400 prominent people who’ve attended in recent years, including Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Bill Gates.