Today's Papers

Bankrupt Reporting

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with President George W. Bush’s decision to reverse his campaign pledge to seek reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, on the grounds that it would lead to higher energy costs. The New York Times fronts this but leads with its own fresh polling revealing that Bush has a job approval rating of 60 percent, similar to that achieved by his father and Bill Clinton in the opening months of their presidencies. But the poll also finds half the respondents feeling that Bush is not really in charge of his administration. It also says that although more than half of Americans accept Bush as the legitimate president, three-quarters of blacks don’t. The poll finds the public preferring a tax cut to paying down the national debt, but would shore up Social Security before either. Nearly three times as many of the paper’s pollees think the economy is getting worse than thought this a year ago. USA Today leads with its interview with Yugoslavian President Vojislav Kostunica, in which he charges NATO peacekeepers with “direct collaboration” with ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Serbia. He says that NATO troops should show “more courage” and confront the Albanian forces. Kostunica also tells the paper that he doubts enough evidence will have been collected to arrest his predecessor Slobodan Milosevic before the March 31 U.S. aid cutoff deadline. He adds that he thinks Milosevic is a war criminal, but he also thinks this about the former leaders of Croatia and Bosnia, the Albanian forces, and NATO.

The WP lead calls the Bush turnabout a “sharp blow” to environmentalists, and quotes this Sept. 29 Bush campaign statement: “We will require all power plants to meet clean air standards in order to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide within a reasonable period of time.” The paper says that in that speech “Bush tweaked Gore for proposing that reductions in those emissions be voluntary.” The Post has a White House spokesman saying that carbon dioxide should not have been included as a pollutant in the Bush campaign position because it is not classified as one under the Clean Air Act. The LAT lead refers to this response as Bush trying to “finesse” the policy reversal. The paper also observes that “energy industries were among Bush’s most generous donors” and that several key members of the administration are “industry alumni,” although it leaves Bush himself out of the list.

The WP observes that the new CO2 stance “overruled” EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman who had said several times since taking office that Bush would keep his campaign pledge. The LAT says the move “undercut” her. The NYT fronter says Whitman had as recently as 10 days ago described Bush’s campaign promise “as if it were already policy.”

Like most newspaper poll stories, the NYT lead tries to make itself more real by feathering in some actual people. Of course, this reflects as much on the editors’ selection process as on anything else. Today’s winners: a financial analyst from Norfolk, Va.; a homemaker from Hickory, N.C.; a food service worker from Suffolk, Va; and a building material estimator from Grass Valley, Calif.

The NYT, the WP, and LAT front, and USAT and the Wall Street Journal reefer, the U.S. government’s decision to ban the import of animals and animal products from the European Union, upon learning that foot-and-mouth disease had been detected in France. Hoof-and-mouth is not a threat to humans but can devastate animal herds. The move will have the greatest impact on pork products, in that Euro beef is already banned in the U.S. because of mad cow worries. The Journal also reports that McDonald’s has decided to begin requiring all its beef suppliers to provide a tight audit trail proving that the animals involved were never fed the ruminant meat or bone meal believed to have facilitated the spread of mad cow disease across Europe.

The LAT is alone in fronting the first follow to that mistaken U.S. Navy bomb drop that killed six in Kuwait on Monday. The coverage reports that at some point after clearing the pilot for his bomb run, the ground-based controller realized the plane was heading for the wrong target and made a call for the aircraft to abort, too late. The LAT makes the excellent and basically forgotten point that mistaken target identification plagued U.S. forces during the Gulf War.

Quiz question: If you were a WP editor and you had a story saying that the sub that went on to sink a Japanese fishing boat killing nine people first took a bunch of civilians down to a classified depth (below 800 feet), where would you put that information? Answer: In the 16th paragraph. And what headline would you run over the story? Answer: “NAVY MAY TRY TO RAISE SUNKEN TRAWLER.”

For the second day in a row, the NYT fronts a Senate bill thought likely to become law that would make it more difficult to avoid debts via bankruptcy. The story says that current relatively ready access to bankruptcy drives up the cost of borrowing for the non-bankrupt by $400 to $500 per person per year. But the story adds that opponents say the problem with the bill is that it would impose severe financial penalties on people “who are forced into bankruptcy through no fault of their own–because of medical problems or layoffs, for example.” But what percentage of bankrupt people are “forced” into it “through no fault of their own”? The Times never says.

The WP runs a somewhat whiny letter from the editor of the Berkeley student paper, The Daily Californian, regretting his decision to run an ad placed by conservative writer David Horowitz arguing against paying slavery reparations to blacks. The WSJ runs a rather brave op-ed by the editor of the University of Wisconsin student paper, the Badger Herald, not regretting running the same ad. Question for the majors: “Did Horowitz submit an op-ed to you on this topic that you turned down?” If the topic wasn’t newsy enough for you before, it is now.