Today's Papers

Chirac Attack

The lead at the New York Times is word that Sheik Omar Saeed, the lead Daniel Pearl kidnapper, was found guilty and sentenced to death by a Pakistani court today. Three of his accomplices received 25-year or life sentences, depending on which paper you read. Saeed’s lawyer said he will appeal the verdict. It’s likely to be months before Saeed would be hanged if his appeals are unsuccessful. The Washington Post leads with newly released WorldCom memos that show employees believed the company was fudging its accounting to appear more profitable back in March 2000, but the company ignored these concerns. The WP story on the documents, provided to the newspapers by the House Commerce Committee, says senior financial managers told employees to record what the employees considered to be improper transactions. The story also reports that a “worker” went to the company’s accountant, Arthur Andersen, with concerns about the accounting. Andersen has denied it knew about certain accounting practices at WorldCom. The NYT, whose reporting on this one is more thorough than the WP’s, identifies this worker as the director of international finance for WorldCom. [In their final editions, both papers identify the worker as Steven Brabbs and name the position that he held (director of international finance and control) at the time of the complaints.—ed.] The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox predicts a fight in the Senate over whether firms should treat employee stock options as expenses in their accounting. The Senate will vote today on changes to accounting regulation. USA Today leads with what appears to be a scoop: According to an anonymous source, the Justice Department will indict members of the Rigas family, former executives of Adelphia Communications, on charges related to their decision to use a few billion dollars’ worth of Adelphia assets to back private endeavors, including a golf club on Rigas property. As has been reported on the papers’ business pages, Adelphia filed for bankruptcy protection several weeks ago and is under SEC investigation for faulty accounting. The Los Angeles Times lead appears to have some exclusive details on proposals Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is pushing to weaken congressional oversight of the Pentagon.

The LAT says Rumsfeld has several ideas in mind: He wants to eliminate federal rules that protect civilian workers at the Pentagon (meaning, the paper says near the end of the piece, for example, he wants freedom to give merit-based pay raises to some and pay cuts to others). He wants to exempt the Pentagon from some environmental regulations, something the military has long wanted. He wants to not have to submit over 340 annual reports on the Pentagon’s activities to Congress. Most controversially, he wants to send initiatives straight to Congress, bypassing other agencies, and give Congress limited time to vote on the initiatives. That proposal is not likely to go anywhere, according to an official quoted at the end of the piece. There’s nothing new about the Pentagon trying to get more freedom, the paper notes. However, sourcing the information to “senior administration officials” but not offering many details, the paper argues that this time around it’s part of an administration-wide effort to fundamentally alter the relationship of the executive to the legislative branch.

Everyone reports, the NYT on its front, the WP as an AP dispatch, that a right-wing extremist fired a shot at French President Jacques Chirac in what the gunman called an assassination attempt during a Bastille Day parade in Paris. The bullet missed, no one was hurt, and Chirac didn’t notice, which might explain the WP’s disinterest.

The papers announce that Coca-Cola Co. will begin reporting employee stock options as an expense, putting billions in reported profits at stake and placing it in a tiny minority of American companies. According to a Coke exec quoted in the NYT, the company is hoping to “try to help restore confidence in corporate America.” The NYT seems the most taken with Coke’s decision; the paper makes room for a “God bless Coke” quote from a former SEC chairman and doesn’t once suggest that Coke may be acting out of self-interest. The opening sentence of the LAT’s piece says the move is really about boosting investor confidence in the company.

The papers preview a deal to be announced today in which drug maker Pfizer will acquire Pharmacia Corp. for $60 billion in stock. Pfizer, which makes Viagra and the popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, will become the most dominant drug maker in the world, according to NYT, after its acquisition of the maker of the arthritis drug Celebrex.

The LAT fronts word that the Israeli Cabinet effectively killed a controversial bill that would have limited Arabs’ right to buy land in many Jewish towns. Meanwhile, the papers report, an Israeli F-16 shot missiles at the home (NYT) or explosives lab (WSJ) of a Hamas militant in the Gaza Strip, but he escaped.

The NYT fronts an investigative report from the streets of New Orleans: What do people there think of being named the third-sweatiest city in the country by a deodorant company? They’re indignant. They feel they were denied the top ranking, according to a columnist for the Times-Picayune. The paper didn’t balance the story with counterclaims from residents of San Antonio or Dallas, the first- and second-sweatiest cities respectively