Today's Papers

Bread in the Bone

The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timestake somewhat different tacks on, yes, Enron in their leads. The NYT examines the numerous safeguards, both within Enron and beyond, that somehow failed to protect investors and employees from what the paper calls a “catastrophic corporate implosion.” The LAT goes for a broad view of the effect the company’s collapse is having on the national economy. The Washington Postfronts Enron, but leads with Bush’s proposed 2003 budget, which will mark a return to deficit spending after four years of surpluses. 

“This was like a nuclear meltdown where the core melted through all the layers,” says a Brookings egghead in the NYT lead. He’s referring to the rings of regulators, analysts, accountants, credit-rating agencies, and so forth, who failed to smell trouble at Enron. The NYT puts “the media” on the list as well. In March, an article in Fortune “delved into the unanswered questions about the sources of the company’s profits,” but it wasn’t until August that Enron coverage took on a sharper, more skeptical tone. Meanwhile, analysts at the big firms continued to recommend Enron stock to investors well into the fall, even after the troubles became public. The NYT implicates a host of others as well—people who were expected to pay attention and, for a variety of reasons, did not.

Nestled in under the NYT lead is a full-color photo of a father reading a bedtime story to his son, with the caption, “‘I was let go by voice mail,’ says Mark Lindquist of Enron. Now he must figure out how to pay for therapy for his autistic son, Garrett, 3.” The picture accompanies a case-by-case slam of Enron by its brutalized employees, people who lost thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) in salary and stock when the company flamed out. The NYT stuffs a photo of the motivational rocks given to employees over the years, with the Enron logo carved on one side and words like respect, communication and integrity on the other.

The LAT lead contradicts the Bush administration’s claim that Enron’s collapse is not affecting the national economy. Lawrence Lindsey, a former consultant to Enron and now George W.’s chief economic adviser, called the Enron thing a “nonevent.” The LAT suggests otherwise. “Enron is affecting the whole U.S. economy, particularly the energy industry,” says an analyst. Lenders are now making it more difficult for energy companies to borrow money to complete projects, and credit raters are now taking a harder look at corporate debt, unwilling to make the same mistake twice. Of course, Enron’s creditors, like Citigroup and Morgan Chase, are feeling the heat directly, with losses in the hundreds of millions, the LAT reports.

George W. is proposing fat increases in defense and homeland security spending for 2003, according to the Post lead. Even with a budget deficit of about $100 billion, only slight increases—barely enough to keep up with inflation—have been set aside for the social programs one might ordinarily turn to in a rancid economy. The Post reports that the war in Afghanistan is costing about $1 billion per month, and that Bush wants to increase defense spending by $28 billion.

The bad times are impinging on Olympic joy and profit, according to a LAT fronter. Plenty of hotel rooms and houses are still up for grabs—in Utah—and tickets for the opening ceremonies, which had been selling for $885 a pop, can now be yours for as little as $700. Many people let their Olympic dreams die after Sept. 11, while others, like corporate sponsors, simply have to cut back on their allotment of hotel rooms and the like. International media outlets, already over-committed in Afghanistan, aren’t sending as many reporters, etc. “The entire hotel market is like Jell-O,” someone says there.

The NYT Olympic fronter gets more mileage out of a story the paper already reported a couple of weeks ago: that Mormons have decided to lie low during the Games. They had initially met with NBC to plan an advertising blitz, but then, as people started making reference to the “Mormon Olympics,” and a local newspaper warned that the church would be proselytizing left and right, church officials backed off. Instead, they’ll just be nice. “We have a heightened sensitivity to being good hosts and being helpful to people,” one of them says.

Finally, a NYT fronter on tissue donation reads, in the subhead, “Knee Surgery Was Fatal.” Unlike organs, tissues get passed around with virtually no government oversight. Rarely, but sometimes, those tissues are infected with something in the gangrene family, and the results, as noted, can be deadly. For-profit tissue banks find their bone, blood valves and vessels, corneas, skin, and other parts from all over, including hospitals, funeral homes, and morgues, and sometimes, with dollars at stake, corners (as opposed to coroners) get cut and testing and sterilization suffer. According to the Times, a typical human has about $220,000 worth of parts.