Today's Papers

Gold Medal Variations

The New York Timesleads and all papers front the ongoing Olympic ice skating controversy, which has now resulted in the first “duplicate gold medals” in the history of the sport. The Los Angeles Timesleads (and the Washington Postoff-leads) Bush’s greenlight of a plan to bury almost all of the nation’s hazardous nuclear material in a single location in Nevada.

The International Olympic Committee and International Skating Union yesterday “bowed to public pressure” says the LAT, awarding belated gold medals to Canadian figure skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier and suspending French skating judge Marie Reine Le Gougne, who is suspected of judging against them for still-undetermined reasons. The papers aren’t the only ones to note the role the “media-fueled frenzy” in eliciting a prompt official reaction—some members of the Russian Olympic delegation, understandably sore at having to share their gold, also have choice words about the “North American media” bias, or even conspiracy. The papers generally praise the IOC and ISU for acting so quickly and decisively—in particular, new IOC president Jacques Rogge, who “appears to work much faster than his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch.” Though as the facts come out, it appears this wasn’t exactly a tough case to crack. The night of the vote, Le Gougne was “loudly and emotionally” dropping such subtle hints as “I was pressured” and “they made me do it” in her hotel lobby. The next morning she broke down at a meeting, saying outright that the president of the French skating federation, Didier Gailhaguet, had put “enormous” pressure on her to “put the Russians first.” That was Tuesday morning, three full days before officials acted.

The articles all mysteriously fail to mention the Czech “back-up judge” who was in news reports just yesterday. Today the story, as the NYT tells it, is that “with the French judge’s vote for the Russians thrown out, the result was a 4-to-4 tie and a second gold medal awarded.” But the Czech judge reportedly voted for the Canadians, so the inclusion of his vote would push the tally back to 5-4, in their favor. Today’s Papers counsels Salé and Pelletier to reject the duplicate and hold out for solo gold. Of course this would mean prying the gold from the Russian couple’s fingertips and ruining their country’s 40-year gold medal streak in the pairs competition. It would probably also start some sort of Russo-Canadian land war in Alaska or thereabouts. Yet justice must be done.

It sucks to be Nevada. The Energy Department’s plan to consolidate the nation’s nuclear waste in a single granite repository in Nevada’s Yucca mountain caps 20 years of political debate and scientific study, but that’s what it boils down to. Nevada’s tiny but influential political delegation—including Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid—has fought the proposal tooth-and-nail since a congressional commission picked the site (which “straddles the Nevada Test Site where 928 nuclear tests occurred between 1951 and 1992,” notes the LAT) back in 1987. Bureaucratic measures have included denying water rights to the proposed site and terminating general research on the nuclear containment qualities of granite. Nevada governor Kenny Guinn has already filed a lawsuit, and the articles note that the plan still has to “survive” a majority vote in Congress.

Alas, what sucks for Nevada is a load off the backs of the 39 other states that currently house the hazardous material. The WP article lays out the political worst case: “Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) warned recently that voter backlash could cost the Republicans one or two congressional seats in the state.” One can also calculate the odds by looking at the “popular vote,” so to speak. “161 million Americans live within 75 miles [of the current storage facilities]”, notes the Post. Less than two million people live in all of Nevada. If you still think the Yucca plan is going to have a hard time getting a majority vote in Congress, Today’s Papers has some beachfront property on Yucca’s south slope you might be interested in …

The NYT fronts news that Ken Lay’s previously acknowledged figure for the amount of company stock he cashed out in 2001—$30 million—is a bit short. The actual figure is at least $100 million. Another unwitting accounting error, no doubt. Does this affect Mrs. Lay’s televised assertion that the family is in financial ruin and facing bankruptcy? Well, “bankruptcy” may not be the most precise term, Mr. Lay’s spokeswoman tells NYT. Rather, “they are experiencing liquidity problems.” Now there’s something the American people can relate to.

The papers also report on recently released correspondence (“350 pages,” says NYT) between Ken Lay and George W. Bush. The two sent each other hand-written notes and small gifts such as Christmas ornaments and CDs (let’s hope not mix tapes). While there’s no “smoking gun” of paid-for influence (though you can find the letters themselves at The Smoking Gun), there’s certainly enough to satisfy hungry imaginations. For example, a note from Lay thanking Bush for “calling then-Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, where Enron was engaged in an unsuccessful high-profile struggle with a local utility company for an electricity contract.”

Also in the NYT letters account: “In April 1997, Mr. Lay wrote the governor about an upcoming meeting scheduled between Mr. Bush and an influential official from Uzbekistan. He noted that Enron had opened an office in Tashkent and was negotiating a $2 billion joint venture. ‘I know you and Ambassador Safaev will have a productive meeting which will result in a friendship between Texas and Uzbekistan,’ Mr. Lay wrote.” This dovetails neatly with a WP front-page report: “ENRON SPANNED THE GLOBE WITH HIGH-RISK PROJECTS.” “As facts emerge about the foreign ventures,” the article says, “it appears that Enron did not earn a dime from the projects, but it used some of them in creative accounting schemes that disguised the company’s true financial picture.”

For the day Air Force One departs for an extended tour of Asia, both NYT and WP have produced front-page articles on China, each half investigative report, half morality tale. WP reports on the “rise and fall of Wang Xuebing,” a “reform-minded banker, famed among Western businessmen” whose case “underscores one of the major tensions in this society.” That is, he must simultaneously live up to the high standards of Western banking integrity and get results by greasing the system in “traditional” Chinese ways. The NYT reports on the travails of Huang Shurong, whose “tenacity in protesting a land dispute with her local government [has] had her forcibly committed to a series of psychiatric hospitals, five times in the last three years,” where she is “subjected to powerful drugs and electroshock therapy.” This, apparently, is the Chinese Communist Party’s latest way of dealing with political dissidents. “Falun Gong says 1,000 of its members have been forcibly committed,” the article notes.

Both the WPand NYTbusiness sections get excited about “one of the first consumer-oriented Internet start-ups to go public since the dot-com bust … with notable success.” Stock in jumped 55 percent on its first day of trading, “raising $70.2 million by day’s end.” Is that valuation at all in line with expected earnings? Not really. Among other things, the company has “accumulated $264.7 million in losses over the past three years” and is facing serious legal and regulatory issues in several states. So now, what have we learned? Ah, whatever. “The company is well on the path to profitability,” one analyst tells the Post. “I think it’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about the IPO market,” says another.