Today's Papers

Delhi Take-Out

Everybody leads with the Fed’s half-point cut yesterday in short-term interest rates. The headlines at USA Today, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times also refer to the Fed’s “hint” of further cuts. The stock market, apparently expecting more of one now, tanked, with the Dow down 2.4 percent, and the Nasdaq down 4.8 percent. That reaction is the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page business news index.

The coverage is typical Fed rate-cut reaction: some explanation of the basic idea that more money available to businesses and consumers can increase consumption, which can reduce inventories, which can spur new production, etc.; some quote-trolling in “expert” waters (the NYT lead gives the most space to this, with solons from First Union, Salomon Smith Barney, and Bank of America feeling strongly both ways); and especially time spent in decryption of the Fed’s official statement. Both USAT and the Washington Post leads point out the linguistic similarity between this one and the one the Fed produced in December that was quickly followed by a rare additional interim rate cut. Making the same point, the NYT refers to the Fed’s use of “easily decipherable code” to express its posture on possible further cuts, while the LAT opts for “code phrase.” And much of the WP lead is spent translating Fedese into English. (For example, Fed: “Persistent pressures on profit margins are restraining investment spending and, through declines in equity wealth, consumption.” Post: “With the large fall in stock prices, household wealth has declined, and as consumers feel less wealthy, they tend to spend less than they otherwise would.”) Which raises the question, “Why is the Fed so damned Delphic?”

The LAT lead makes the clearest case that the stock market’s troubles may have little to do with the real economy that the Fed is supposedly and apparently more concerned about, observing along the way that “Americans have continued making the purchases that require the greatest confidence–homes and cars–in surprisingly large numbers.” But then the paper loses sight of reality again when it refers to the “president of the National Assn. of Manufacturers, whose members are bearing the brunt of the slowdown.” What about laid-off workers?

The NYT says at stake in the interest decision is “not only the continuance of the long period of prosperity and the health of Wall Street, but Mr. Greenspan’s own reputation as the master of the economy and the role of the United States as the world’s most reliable engine of growth.” (Note the order.)

The WP and USAT front a American Cancer Society study (coming out in the Journal of the American Medical Association) of nearly a quarter of a million postmenopausal women concluding that women who used estrogen replacement therapy for at least 10 years were twice as likely to die of ovarian cancer as women who never used it. USAT has one of the study’s authors saying that 30 percent of U.S. women have used hormone replacement therapy for at least five years. The Post subheadline says, “Finding Toughens Choices on Post-Menopause Hormone Use.” But the NYT insider says the study’s “significance is unknown,” because the researchers don’t know which estrogen products the studied women took.

The WP, NYT, and LAT front the EPA’s decision to withdraw an about-to-be-implemented Clinton administration regulation governing how much arsenic is allowed in drinking water, on the grounds that it’s not scientifically supported. The NYT notes that a National Academy of Sciences study found that the standard the Bush administration has now reverted to “could easily” result in a 1-in-100 risk of cancer. The paper says it’s mostly rural areas, but also some big cities, including Albuquerque, N.M., that rely on water that would not have been allowed without further purification under the Clinton rules. The NYT, referring to last week’s reversal by President Bush on carbon dioxide emissions, calls the decision, “the second victory in a week for the mining industry,” which opposed the Clinton arsenic rules on cost grounds.

Everybody fronts yesterday’s testimony at the Greeneville inquiry by the sub’s captain, Scott Waddle. Everybody notes that his appearance came as a surprise since his request for testimonial immunity had been denied, and conveys the skepticism bordering on hostility at times shown to him by the admirals asking the questions. The LAT says one admiral thought Waddle acted improperly in taking the ship to a classified depth and speed. The NYT reveals that one of the charges the Navy might file against Waddle is negligent homicide. The Times headline is particularly tough on how Waddle’s stated acceptance of full responsibility didn’t quite fit with some of his critical remarks about his crew’s performance: “CAPTAIN OF SUB ACCEPTS BLAME AND SPREADS IT.”

The NYT fronts a trend story that’s gotten prior coverage–the farming out to India by many American companies of their service phone banks–but develops in rich detail the lengths to which the operations go to disguise their physical whereabouts. At many Indian call centers, the story says, employees are drilled in American phonetics, pop culture, and colloquialisms. At one company featured in the story, they also have assumed fake American phone names and biographies.

Speak no ill of the living. The WP runs an appreciative editorial honoring Richard Harwood, a longtime reporter and editor at the paper, who died earlier in the week (the Post ran an obit yesterday). The NYT runs its Harwood obit today, which ably rehearses the highlights, from Marine Corps service at Iwo Jima, to silence about sources when threatened with jail, to Watergate days (he was at one point skeptical of the story and the two young reporters advocating it), and to his role as the paper’s first ombudsman. The Times makes it clear that Harwood excelled at this job of writing about and policing the Post’s journalism practices, often turning reader complaints into improvements in how the paper reported and edited. It also notes that “there are now 38 ombudsmen, about half at newspapers with more than 110,000 circulation.” The Times doesn’t say that it’s not one of them.

The WP’s Al Kamen announces the winners of his contest for the proposed title and lead for Bill Clinton’s eventual autobiography. Today’s Papers’ faves: Best Title: Hillary Did It. Best Lead: “It was a dark and stormy administration. Suddenly a pardon rang out.”