Today's Papers

You’ve Got Piles!

All the majors lead with President George W. Bush’s budget address last night to a joint session of Congress. The New York Times calls the speech “the most formal and comprehensive” of Bush’s presidency and views it as an early test of his ability “not only to command affection but also to inspire confidence and shape public opinion.”

The coverage notes Bush’s basic gist: that the forecasted budget surplus gives the chance for his $1.6 trillion-over-10-years tax cut as well as significant deficit reduction and some spending increases, especially for education and defense, but all the while restraining the growth of government. Bush claimed that his budget will mean an annual growth rate of 4 percent, which both the Washington Post and NYT helpfully context by noting an average spending growth over the past three years of 6 percent.

Although the speech wasn’t incredibly nuts-and-boltsy (especially when compared to some Clinton budget addresses), the papers in general push what details there were down below their own rather quaint quantifications. High up, the NYT reports that Bush’s 49-minute speech was “one minute longer than those of his father President George Bush, during the first year of his presidency but 9 minutes shorter than those of Mr. Clinton in 1993,” and the Los Angeles Times reports that it was “shorter than any of the budget speeches of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who set a modern record of 89 minutes only last year.” Both USA Today and the LAT go high with a count of the number of times the speech was interrupted by applause.

When the NYT finally gets to noting such Bush proposals as $4.9 billion in the next five years on national park improvement, tax credits that would allow low-income people to buy health insurance, enabling community health centers to reach more people, and $700 million over 10 years to provide mentors for children with imprisoned parents, it quickly describes them in terms of their politics, as having “inevitably bipartisan support.” This is almost surely part of their appeal to Bush, but absent countervailing evidence based on inside reporting on how the budget was planned (of the sort the papers have been devoting instead to pardons), it seems unfair to not also write that these items are in the budget in part because Bush thinks they are effective answers to serious problems.

Overall, the press is a bit grudging in its assessment. Only the LAT comes close (and not all that close) to noting that Bush’s address, in pitching social spending themes as well as tax cuts and defense, bears some similarity to Bill Clinton’s “third way.” (To be fair, maybe Bush should have said as much, too.) And the Wall Street Journal front-page feature describes the situation as a “soothing sales pitch” obscuring “hard-core conservative goals.” And neither Times can resist reporting that Bush once accidentally said that education is “not my first priority.” The LAT almost seems disappointed when referring to this, saying, “There was only one ‘Bushism’.”

Everybody fronts the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday that the Environmental Protection Agency can set national air quality standards based purely on risks to public health and safety–rather than on costs of compliance to regulated businesses–and that the standard-setting authority of the EPA, a part of the executive branch, does not usurp Congress’s power.

The WP and NYT front, and the LAT, WSJ, and USAT reefer, the news that yesterday in the Microsoft appeal, most of the judges were tough on the Justice Department–some wondering aloud whether a forced breakup is called for in the case of a company not formed via merger or acquisition. And on the trial judge–the NYT says that the appeals judges “pilloried” him for granting media interviews before the case was completed. The WP headline draws the biggest conclusion: “MICROSOFT BREAKUP IN DOUBT.”

The LAT off-leads a new fear of U.S. intelligence officials about the Robert Hanssen spy case: that he may have provided Russia with information about a type of sophisticated overseas eavesdropping capability–used by the U.S., says the LAT, since the 1970s–that has never been acknowledged by the government. The story’s main source is a recognized expert on the National Security Agency, who in addition is said to know Hanssen quite well. The story puts at the very bottom (and out of the headline) the expert’s opinion that while a compromise of this program would be serious, “the seriousness has been reduced by the end of the Cold War.”

The WP fixes on something else in the paperwork just released by the government in the Hanssen case: that his mail contacts with known U.S.-based KGB officers were undetected because the FBI had inexplicably failed to employ a basic technique against them known as “mail cover,” in which a photographic record is made of the front and back of all incoming mail. The technique, the paper says, does not require a court order (!). The Post also says that despite allegations of hundreds of thousands of dollars in spy payments, Hanssen seems to have been in considerable debt. Much of it seems to have been accumulated in the mid-90s, when it appears he was not actively spying.

The WP’s Al Kamen has some perspective for those stories about the documented visits to the Clinton White House made by pardon figures Denise Rich and Beth Dozoretz: They’re small potatoes compared to the number of visits racked up by nonpardon figures (and Republicans) Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Bob Barr. That’s perspective the papers should have had in their initial Rich/Dozoretz visit stories. An essential question for editors and readers to ask themselves about any apparently newsworthy activity is, “What’s the baseline?”

OK, OK, so it’s not exactly news that the Internet business went in the toilet in the past year, but the WP reports that Matsushita Electric is developing the Healthy Toilet System, an online can that ahem, monitors your weight, body fat, and blood sugar and can send those results (just the results) broadband to “doctors, relatives and other appliances.”

Kudos to the PR department at not-exactly-household-word Lynn University of Boca Raton, Fla., which is mentioned in a front-page WSJ feature about country club discrimination and in the credit line of a NYT op-ed.