Today's Papers

Mea Culpa: Will Write for Pay

The New York Times and the Washington Post (online) lead with yesterday’s Labor Department report that the unemployment rate has increased from 4.3 percent to 4.5 percent in the month of April, bringing the total jobless number to 6.4 million. The agreement between the negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers finds a lead in the Los Angles Times and is fronted by the NYT; the WP deems this Page One “Style” section material.

The news that the U.S. economy bled nearly a quarter of a million jobs last month dashes any hopes that the economic slowdown has run its course. In the third paragraph, the WP explains Wall Street’s optimistic take on the figures. Since businesses are cutting costs with an eye toward the bottom line, this means they’re serious about profit, and so stocks rose on both the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq yesterday. Further on down the story, the Post quotes dueling economists: Some have faith that an “aggressive Fed easing will bring us out of this.” Yet others are less certain and “can’t see any way out of it.” The NYT and the LAT (which gives the story a front page box) essentially treat these figures the same way with the slightly more pessimistic NYT wondering if this means we should start using the “R” word.

The LAT’s lead on “HOLLYWOOD WRITERS AGREE TO TENTATIVE 3-YEAR CONTRACT” dominates its front page, with a second story attempting to analyse the circumstances that forced a settlement. The “fragile and tense” negotiations appear to have ended in the producer’s favor, as the writers settled for $41 million instead of the $100 they initially demanded. The writers did make gains on overseas licensing rights as well as forcing Fox to acknowledge its full network status. The guild’s 11,000 writers still have to approve the agreement when they meet on June 4.

The NYT’s fronter describes the details of the agreement as “sketchy,” making it difficult to ascertain who gained what. Still, producers did not want to appear victorious for fear of making it harder for the agreement to win the approval of the full union. Does this mean the producers got the upper hand? Not exactly, as the NYT explains in the next sentence: “It was clear, however, even with the sketchy details released today, that the writers had won at least some improvements in most of the economic issues.” The LAT closes with a philosophical note brought to you, not by a writer, but by a producer. Warner Bros. President Alan Horn, “As is true with life, nothing’s perfect. No one got everything. No one was shut out.”

All three papers front stories about the pope’s visit to Greece and his apology for the Catholic Church’s anti-Orthodox past. Each quote the pontiff’s crucial words in their opening paragraphs, though there is no consensus on what these actual words are. The NYT goes with “deep regret” in its first paragraph and then offers up the pope’s lament about the “disastrous sack of the imperial city of Constantinople,” one sentence down. The WP employs a similar formula: It opens with the pope’s acknowledgement of “action or omission,” and then elaborates with “a sin before God and a scandal before the world.” The LAT chooses the most conciliatory wording of the sins that Catholics committed “against their Orthodox brothers and sisters.” While the NYT and LAT mention the pope’s apology to the Jewish people in Jerusalem last year, none of papers make any attempt to compare or quantify the apologies.

The WP fronts news that the Florida legislature has passed a “wide-ranging package of changes in the state’s election system, outlawing the punch-card ballot system blamed for much of the chaos that delayed the final outcome of the 2000 presidential election.” Gov. Bush cannot wait to sign it, the article reports, without a drip of irony.

Personal hero:  The Post fronts the federal indictment of Ohio Rep. James Traficant on charges of racketeering and bribery. Traficant, a Democrat whose support for Speaker Dennis Hastert cost him his committee assignments this year is currently in his ninth term and is “known for his polyester suits, plaid pants and denim blazers.” If convicted, he could face up to 40 years in prison and forfeit $100,000 in personal assets. But this is not the first time Traficant has faced difficult odds. In 1983, he convinced a jury that the $163,000 he took in mob money was really just a part of a one-man sting operation designed to flush out mobsters.  Then he won his congressional seat.

In a second article, this one in the style section, the Post gets to the good stuff and provides a “greatest hits sampling of the wit and wisdom of Jim Traficant.” For those of us that have misplaced our Bartlett’s:

“From the womb to the tomb, Madam Speaker, the Internal Rectal Service is one big enema. Think about it: They tax our income, they tax our savings, they tax our sex, they tax our property-sales profits, they even tax our income when we die. Is it any wonder America is taxed off? We happen to be suffering from a disease called Taxes Mortis Americanus. Beam me up!””Mr. Speaker, gasoline is $2.20 a gallon. That’s right, $2.20. Now, if that is not enough to bust your bunions, Congress gives billions of dollars to OPEC countries, and they rip us off. To boot, the domestic oil companies are gouging us so bad, we are all passing gas. Beam me up!””If the White House succeeds in getting China admitted to the World Trade Organization, I say the White House needs a lobotomy performed by a proctologist.”