Today's Papers

Eggs Over Uneasy

The New York Times leads with a privately financed Virginia laboratory’s creation of human embryos (in vitro, from donated eggs and sperm) for the express purpose of deriving stem cells for research–probably, says the paper, the first time this has happened in the U.S. (Previously, the stem derivations have been done on embryos destined to be destroyed but originally created on behalf of couples with fertility problems hoping to have children.) The Times says the development, first revealed in this month’s issue of Fertility and Sterility, “will undoubtedly have political ramifications” because President Bush is deciding whether federal funding should be allowed to support embryonic stem cell research. The Washington Post fronts the embryos but leads with the Bush administration’s intention to implement, within several months (via Health and Human Services action, not via submitting a bill to Congress), a program under which private companies would negotiate lower-price bulk purchases of drugs from their manufacturers and then turn around and sell cards to Medicare patients entitling them to buy many of their medicines at a discount. The paper says that tomorrow, President Bush will outline other likewise private-sector-oriented principles for Medicare reform. USA Today, which reefers the embryos, leads with Merrill Lynch’s announcement yesterday (also fronted by the NYT) that it would henceforth ban its stock analysts from buying shares in the companies they follow. The paper says the decision comes as Wall Street tries to clean up its tarnished image while heading off new rules from Congress and the SEC. The paper says however that stockholders are not sure analysts shouldn’t hold what they push–it found in an e-mail survey of investors that purity only edged out involvement merely by 57 percent to 43 percent. The Wall Street Journal pass at the development includes an excellent question by an investors’ advocate indicating how limited the Merrill Lynch move is: “How many analysts will issue negative research reports on the companies their firms do investment-banking business with?” The Los Angeles Times also fronts the Virginia embryos but leads with the $90-million jury award handed down against Farmers Insurance Exchange in favor of its claims adjusters who argued the company had cheated them out of years of overtime pay by falsely portraying them as administrators rather than as hourly production workers. (The story high up quotes one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers estimating that the final award could run as high as $130 million, but nowhere notes that actually, jury verdicts tend to get whittled down before finalized.) The paper says the verdict is significant because it will encourage more white-collar workers to file lawsuits challenging their overtime-exempt status.

The NYT lead explains that the egg and sperm donors (customary rates were paid: The women got $1500, the men $50) were informed of the point of the procedures beforehand, and since attempted parenthood was not a goal, younger egg donors could be used, possibly yielding more robust embryos. (Is there a legal minimum age for donors? The story doesn’t say.)

The WP off-leads the White House’s abrupt climb-down from its consideration, as part of its attempt to marshal support among the religious right for its faith-based social service initiative, of promulgating a regulation that would have let religious charities discriminate against gays in hiring. This came after the WP led yesterday with the White House’s contemplation of the possibility, based on a leaked Salvation Army memo.

USAT fronts a decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court that it says is likely to reverberate across the U.S.–a 4-3 ruling that a father of nine children with four different women who was convicted of owing them a total of $25,000 in child support could, as a condition of being allowed a five-year probation instead of a prison sentence, be ordered not to father any more children during that time. The majority justices were all males, the dissenters all females.

The LAT is alone in fronting the police search last night of Rep. Gary Condit’s Washington, D.C., apartment. The story says that at a press conference, the D.C. police chief acknowledged he had wanted to search Condit’s place earlier in the investigation into Chandra Levy’s disappearance but was stymied. The LAT says he didn’t elaborate but adds that a source “familiar with criminal procedure involving federal elected officials” said that before Condit’s agreement Monday to the search, the cops would have had to inform the Justice Department. More info, please: Just what special rights do members of Congress have in criminal matters?

The WP fronts the latest finding from its surveys of racial attitudes (jointly undertaken with Harvard and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation): Large numbers of white Americans incorrectly believe that blacks are as well off as whites. The paper says that such a misperception seems to explain, at least in part, white resistance to even the least intrusive types of affirmative action. However, other important findings are left out of the headline and pushed down too low in the story: 1) The paper waits until the ninth paragraph to report that the survey also found that a majority of whites favored government action to ensure all races have access to schools and health care; and 2) it’s not until the 12th paragraph that the story reveals–within parentheses–that 25 to 33 percent (depending on the specific area of success asked about) of blacks also mistakenly believe blacks are doing as well as whites.

The WSJ fronts a feature about the slow but inexorable death of office building mail chutes (invented in 1883), mainly caused by their tendency to jam when people insert oversized or overfolded mail. Best jam story: The widow who recently was unpleasantly surprised when she got two letters mailed during World War II but only delivered after a chute backlog was discovered during a building renovation: one written by her late husband to her, and one written by him to the girlfriend he was having an affair with.