Today's Papers

Air Force: ICBM & Step in It

The Washington Post lead reports that the Department of Justice is investigating whether senior FBI officials retaliated bureaucratically against the agents who produced a critical review of the bureau’s conduct relating to its 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The New York Times lead, also fronted by USA Today, is that federal authorities announced yesterday that in the course of a two-year investigation, they’d broken up a global Internet-based child pornography ring–the largest ever, with a Web site supported by 250,000 subscribers–arresting 100 people in the process. The top national story at the Los Angeles Times, and the off-lead at the WP, is Bayer Corp.’s withdrawal from the U.S. market of its cholesterol-lowering drug, Baycol, because of reports linking it to 31 deaths. The paper notes that Baycol is the 12th prescription drug withdrawn in the U.S. on safety grounds in the past four years. USAT goes with Texas prosecutors’ decision yesterday to seek the death penalty when they try a Houston woman on charges of drowning her five children in a bath tub. In court Wednesday, she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The paper version of the story is accompanied by a picture of the woman in jail orange; the online version goes with a heartbreakingly cute picture of four of the children. The LAT fronts, and the WP reefers, the death of Ronald Reagan’s daughter Maureen, at age 60, from complications of skin cancer.

The WP lead concerns the FBI’s reaction to a report done by three rank-and-file agents concluding that initial FBI investigations of Ruby Ridge had falsely placed the blame on agents at the scene, rather than higher-ups in Washington. The papers have already noted that this report recommended disciplinary action against former Director Louis Freeh and several other top bureau officials and that this recommendation was rejected by the Clinton DOJ in its final days. What’s new now is that the DOJ is looking into whether the careers of any of the three street-level agents (or of one agent’s wives, herself an FBI employee) were derailed or threatened because of their findings. The paper says that the DOJ probe will get into the broader question of whether quite generally there is a double standard at the FBI that protects top managers from punishment.

The NYT lead, based on a DOJ press conference given yesterday by Attorney General John Ashcroft, reports that the Internet-based child pornography ring was originally run by a Texas couple, but that most of the actual pornographic material, some of it featuring children as young as 4 and catalogued under titles like “Child Rape” and “Cyber Lolita,” was made and stored outside the U.S. But, explains the paper, although the couple was arrested in 1999–and later convicted and last week, sentenced to prison; he for life, she for 14 years–federal and state investigators kept the site going and used it to identify and arrest would-be buyers of child pornography. Among those nabbed were an employee of a psychiatric hospital for sexually abused children and a captain with a county emergency medical service. The cops claim only to have pursued what the Times calls “the most egregious offenders.” But there’s no explanation of that term, which needs one since, as the stories note, in the U.S. all possession of child pornography is illegal. Another question not answered: If subscribers had merely viewed such materials but hadn’t saved them to their own computers, would that also count as possession and hence be illegal? Also, the Times says, “The authorities released descriptions of a handful of those arrested, though they declined to identify them by name,” but then goes on to name a number of them. Is that wrong? Why should those arrested in this case enjoy an officially sanctioned anonymity not shared by those charged with other crimes?

The headline over the Wall Street Journal’s report on the Bayer drug recall is instructive. It reads: “BAYER PULLS CHOLESTEROL DRUG, WARNING MOVE WILL SAP PROFITS.” Do you notice a certain key word that’s oh so missing? How about “death”?

The LAT goes inside to report that according to government sources, federal and state antitrust officials have decided not to ask a court to block Microsoft’s planned shipment of its new XP operating system. The paper’s explanation: The officials are concerned about being “criticized for hurting the ailing computer industry.”

The NYT observes that the big hostile takeover is making a comeback of sorts, except that now, unlike yesteryear, unsolicited bids, while still very public, are not generally being made directly to the stockholders, but rather to company management. Examples the story cites include EchoStar Communications’ offer for Hughes Electronics and Comcast’s bid for AT&T’s cable TV arm. So far this year, the story says, unsolicited takeover offers, mostly of the new variety, account for 19.5 percent of the total value of deals, compared with only 2.9 percent for the corresponding chunk of last year.

The WP corrections page includes the following: “An Aug. 8 article incorrectly reported that former House member Ron Klink of Pennsylvania is lobbying to scale back emissions rules for older coal-fired power plants. Although Klink’s firm, O’Brien, Klink and Associates, is lobbying on the effort, Klink is restricting himself to advising his clients how to lobby, in accordance with House ethics rules that prohibit former members from lobbying for one year after leaving office.” Now, of course, Today’s Papers is positive that former public servant Klink would never, ever do anything to violate the vaunted House ethics rules, but it’s easy to understand why the Post would write the original item the way it did. Because there’s nothing in those rules preventing Klink from lending his Rolodex to one of his co-workers at the firm, who would then call the targeted member of Congress on his/her private line, being sure to mention who suggested he do so and etc., etc., etc. And isn’t that a lot like lobbying?

The LAT breaks word that internal Pentagon documents reveal a problem with the nuclear-tipped Minuteman III ICBMs the Air Force recently spent $600 million on “upgrading”: They have a shorter range and are less accurate than the missiles they’re replacing. In case you’re wondering if the Air Force has ever heard of Strunk & White, here’s how the wild blue crew says nuclear tipped missiles might miss: They “did not decisively demonstrate that the accuracy key performance parameters had been achieved.”