Today's Papers

None of Your Business

The  New York Times   leads with word that the U.S. government will vaccinate a half million health-care and emergency workers against the bioterrorist threat of a smallpox attack. The Washington Post leads, and the other papers front, the assassination of Afghanistan’s vice president. The Los Angeles Times leads with the challenges the new Transportation Security Administration will have in implementing a security makeover in the nation’s airports and the hassles that travelers can expect.

The NYT finds the controversy in its top story not in the news that a half million health-care workers will be vaccinated for smallpox, but in the question of what happens to everyone else. According to the story, government officials have preliminarily settled on “ring vaccinations,” a plan for the aftermath of a bioterrorism attack that would focus on isolating the infected people and vaccinating those in close contact with the them. The skeptics seem fairly certain that this won’t be enough. However, by the end of the year, the story notes, enough smallpox vaccine will exist for every American, and that may lead one to wonder whether this whole controversy will soon be moot.

Citing it as a sign of political instability for Afghanistan’s new regime, the papers report the grisly assassination of Abdul Qadir, the country’s vice president and a Cabinet minister, who was ambushed by automatic rifle gunfire while sitting in his car outside his office. Qadir’s driver also died in the attack. At this time, it appears, the list of suspects is long. Qadir was the leading Pashtun official, raising speculation that the murder could have come from the hands of Tajik militants. Qadir was also a former warload, and he was leading a program to bring warlords in Eastern Afghanistan under the control of the central government. In addition, he was a leading supporter of the government’s plan to eradicate opium poppy cultivation, something that understandably upset farmers in the region.

Meanwhile, the WP fronts a story saying that U.S. officials have now concluded the conventional war stage of the Afghan operation. Conventional troops won’t be recalled, but they’ll be handing much of the work left undone over to U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives. “It is now primarily a war in the shadows, as it should be,” says an unnamed U.S. military expert.

The NYT contributes to the growing post-grief literature reconstructing the minutes and seconds of 9/11. Today’s tale, the culmination of a “six-month examination by The Times” focuses on the exploits of the city’s firefights. Far from a glowing profile, however, the paper concludes that the Fire Department that day was “plagued by failures of communication, command and control.”

The LAT fronts a feature on the increasing reluctance by foreign companies to accept U.S. business standards of “corporate openness, independent directors and outside auditors” in the wake of the fiscal scandals currently rocking this country. In a story that could probably have been easily written the other way—foreign businesses seeing the need to clamp down on corporate (bad) behavior as seen in the U.S.—the spin here is that business leaders, especially in Asia, are defending their practices on grounds of U.S. hypocrisy.

Inside the LAT, the paper runs a wire report on the tax-evasion scandal currently rocking Ireland, where a 10,000-page report alleges that many of the country’s business leaders secretly deposited millions in an illegally run bank for decades. Irish Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney says the report “demonstrates that we in Ireland now have the capacity and the courage to lift the veil of secrecy and the determination to enforce the law.”

Five days after thrusting the issue into the national spotlight of alleged insider trading by President Bush in 1989 for stock sales at Harken Energy—the company that Bush was a board and audit committee member for at the time—NYT columnist Paul Krugman says that everyone missed his point: “Unfortunately, the administration has so far gotten the press to focus on the least important question about Mr. Bush’s business dealings: his failure to obey the law by promptly reporting his insider stock sales,” Krugman writes. What people should be paying attention to in advance of Bush’s Tuesday speech on corporate malfeasance, Krugman directs, is what caused the insider knowledge in the first place: Harken pulled the exact same financial accounting maneuver that ran Enron into trouble 12 years later.

The LAT writes about a man who sees himself as the “latest in a long line of victims of corporate exploitation”: Singer Michael Jackson. Appearing with Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem, Jackson accused his record label, Sony, of improper accounting, failure to promote adequately his last album, and racism. “The record companies really do conspire against the artists,” Jackson said. “Especially the black artists.” Sony calls Jackson’s remarks “ludicrous” and “bizarre,” and says the singer is free to go after his contract is up.

From the No Bad Publicity Dept.: In what has to be the fulfillment of every inventor’s secret dream, the NYT says “nothing prepared us for Patent 6,411,687,” describing the invention as having an “Orwellian quality.” In an editorial headlined “PRESS ‘1’ IF YOU’RE STEAMED,” the paper dials 1 for the patent that it first reported on in Monday’s biz section. The patent itself describes software that listens in on customer service calls and using “mood analyzer” capabilities, transfers those calls that require special attention.  This is enough to set the NYT punching:

What is really needed is software that tallies the number of times a customer is asked to punch in the same 15-digit account number in a single phone call, and that warns you that when a customer representative says, “I’ll be back in a second,” she really means 20 minutes. That kind of software would be worthy of not only a patent, but a Nobel Prize.