Today's Papers

Cuts That Heal?

USA Today, the Washington Post, and the  New York Times lead with the Federal Reserve’s decision Tuesday to lower short-term interest rates half a percentage point, which is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page business news box. The top national story at the Los Angeles Times, which fronts the rate cut, is more cautious government guidelines for cholesterol levels that could lead to nearly one-fifth of the U.S. adult population being prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs, a development everybody else fronts. The LAT says high that the new stringency might curtail the ravages of heart disease, but it might also impose heavy costs on the already burdened U.S. health-care system.

The headline over the USAT lead says that the Fed hinted of more cuts, but the story itself goes high saying that yesterday’s Fed action could be “the beginning of the end of the latest round of cuts.” The story and the rest of the coverage converges on a reconciliation of these two ideas: Subsequent cuts are likely to be smaller and not between scheduled Fed meetings. The NYT calls the 2.5 points in cuts since January “one of the most concentrated efforts” the Fed “has ever undertaken to reignite economic growth.” The WP says it’s the “most aggressive swing in policy, from restraining the economy to stimulating it, since the fall of 1982.” USAT detects a “sense of urgency” rarely seen at the Fed under Alan Greenspan. The LAT says the Fed seems “particularly worried about corporate America.” And several of the papers note that the Fed’s Tuesday statement emphasized the need to stimulate business to spend more on new equipment. Most of the stories are struck by the Fed’s apparent lack of concern that the new cuts will produce inflation. The NYT thinks this means that Greenspan believes that productivity growth will continue in the long term despite a recent slip. The WSJ is alone in noticing one sign that perhaps the Fed isn’t monitoring things quite as carefully as everyone thinks: The statement it issued yesterday is “virtually identical” to the one it issued along with its last cut in April.

The papers report that tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank participated in a protest against what they call the “catastrophe” of the creation of Israel in 1948. They marked the day with speeches, burning Israeli and American flags and throwing stones at and scuffling with and shooting at Israeli police and soldiers. At least four Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli fire, and the coverage strongly suggests that some of those Palestinians were not shooting at Israeli forces at the time they were killed but had been targeted by Israeli snipers who perceived them to be known terrorists. The papers also report at least one case where the strategy led to the shooting of a clearly innocent victim: An Israeli sniper chest-shot a French reporter, who survived only because of his flak jacket.

The WP goes inside with a story headlined “FIELD OFFICES ASSURE FBI ALL MCVEIGH FILES ARE IN.” Nice to know, but the story waits until the sixth paragraph before getting to the real news–that before the dust-up about the FBI’s undisclosed John Doe No. 2 files, McVeigh had written a letter to the Houston Chronicle in which he stated unequivocally that there was no John Doe No. 2.

The WP fronts word that a retired U.S. nuclear bomb scientist, Danny Stillman, who participated repeatedly in exchange programs with his Chinese counterparts, believes he learned “a lot” about Chinese nukes without giving anything away about U.S. capabilities. The paper emphasizes that now the U.S. government is refusing to let Stillman publish a book he’s written about the China contacts. It seems to Today’s Papers that here, too, the Post hides the real news. The story waits until the 32nd paragraph to reveal that one top Chinese scientist told Stillman that the Chinese developed warhead miniaturization on their own and until the 35th to mention that on every one of Stillman’s visits to China, scientists there pressed him for help getting nuclear bomb locks because the Tiananmen Square crisis drove home to them the dangers of unauthorized control of nuclear weapons by military factions, but that the U.S. declined to help. In this case, the reporter can’t really blame his editors for imposing the false notes on him, because the reporter is the paper’s managing editor, Steve Coll.

And why is one WP fronter headlined “RACIAL PROFILING IN MARYLAND DEFIES DEFINITION AND SOLUTION”? After all, the story says that at one area where all Maryland state police traffic stops were videotaped, nearly 30 percent of the drivers stopped were black even though one of the nation’s top traffic stop statisticians estimates that only 17 percent of the lawbreakers in the traffic there were black. And why, by the way, is that little nugget saved for the 28th paragraph?

When it comes to Monday’s Supreme Court decision on medical marijuana, a WP editorial feels strongly both ways. In the first paragraph, it says that “Drug buyers’ clubs that sprang up in California following the state’s passage of a medical marijuana referendum were therefore operating illegally, and the Justice Department was within its rights to shut them down.” But in the third paragraph, it says, “Where other treatments have failed patients and their doctors are willing to certify that they believe marijuana could offer relief, there ought to be a way for them to receive the drug without the threat–however theoretical–of federal criminal prosecution.”

The worst thing about op-ed page “humor” is that it’s too often written by “funny” people without interesting opinions who do no reporting, whereas the key is instead to find opinionated reporters who can make you laugh. Witness two successes from the NYT op-ed page: 1) Maureen Dowd has this reaction to Hillary Clinton’s being shocked that the FBI misplaced those McVeigh files: “Surely our senator understands that records can disappear on you, just when they are most needed as evidence in a high-profile case”; 2) Paul Krugman foresees the Bush administration reaction to an unprecedentedly bad fall TV lineup: “Mr. Bush declares that he is ‘very concerned’ about the deteriorating quality of broadcast entertainment. He urges TV viewers to support his plan for tax relief, which will provide families with money they can use to subscribe to HBO, allowing them to watch The Sopranos.”