Today's Papers

Target Down

The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with yesterday’s stock market tumble. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 235 points, or 2.9 percent, marking the first time since October 1998 that the average has sunk beneath the 8,000 level. The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox covers President Bush’s affirmed support of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, a note that is played by the four other papers below Bush’s thought that there is “value” in this market. The Washington Post and the New York Times lead with word that an Israeli F-16 plane fired a missile this morning into the Gaza Strip, killing at least 11 people, including the military leader of Hamas, his wife, and three of his daughters.

As news broke late that the Israeli missile’s target was Hamas military leader, Sheik Salah Shehada, the papers scrambled to figure out his fate. Initial reports from some Hamas officials were that Sheheda managed to escape, but by 2 a.m. EST, a senior Hamas official was confirming Sheheda’s death. Still, at least in early editions, both the WP and NYT have elected to play it safe, putting the confirmation of death in brackets only.

Hamas, according to the NYT, is vowing retaliation. The paper quotes one of Hamas’ political leaders as saying, “Every Israeli is a target now.” The WP notes the attack came just hours after Sheheda’s close associate Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, had said the organization would consider stopping suicide attacks if Israeli withdrew from the West Bank and stopped destruction of Palestinians and their homes. The paper also notes that Israel yesterday had made several conciliatory gestures, including allowing the reopening of a Jerusalem office held by a prominent Palestinian moderate and the announcement that the country was considering leaving two West Bank towns. 

While it is self-evident that when the stock market goes down, people are selling more than they are buying, all of the papers today zero in on the fact that it is mutual-fund shareholders who are bailing, putting a squeeze on the fund managers who manage these trusts, and exacerbating the already strong sell pressures. (In fact, only the NYT manages through all its business coverage to avoid the “throwing in the towel” metaphor.) USAT says that U.S. stock funds suffered outflows last week of $18.6 billion, while the WSJ says that mutual funds are getting returns close to the break-even point on money put into them since 1990.

With the market down triple digits for the third straight market day, the papers are also revisiting the question of how much the market reflects and/or influences the economy. The WP puts it best, saying the optimists believe there is a “disconnect” between the two whereas the pessimists point to shrinking consumer confidence.

While other papers read Bush’s comments concerning Wall Street yesterday as “professing his faith in the U.S. economy” (LAT) or trying to “calm investors’ fears” (WP), the WSJ picks up a more virulent tone in Bush’s words, saying in its first line that the president “took some potshots at Wall Street.”

“I’m not a stock broker. I’m not a stock picker,” said Bush. “My attitude on Wall Street is, they’ll buy you or sell you, depending upon if it’s in their interest.”

The WSJ also includes a new job approval poll of the president. Sixty-seven percent of those polled say they approve of the way Bush is handling his job. This figure is casually mentioned by the paper, but would be, measured against Gallup figures, a nine-point drop from six weeks ago as well as the first time Bush’s number have dipped below 70 percent since Sept. 11th.

The LAT fronts the Justice Department’s announcement yesterday that all non-citizens will have to register a change of address within 10 days of moving, or face financial penalties, jail, or deportation. The paper seems skeptical about the news, pointing out in its subhead that the Justice Department is citing a “50-year-old law” and quoting numerous immigration lawyers who think the announcement’s subtext is to give the INS more enforcement power.

The NYT fronts and the WP puts on its second page word that the U.S. will withhold $34 million in aid to the United Nations Population Fund, an agency which conservative critics charge abets China’s implicit support of forced abortions and sterilizations in accordance with the nation’s “one child” policy. The NYT writes that the announcement is a “rebuff to Secretary of State Colin Powell,” who previously praised the agency, and adds that the news puts Powell in the “uncomfortable position of announcing a policy he has long resisted.” The WP sees no Powell anxiety, quoting the secretary of state’s letter to lawmakers as saying, “If there is a single principle that unifies Americans with conflicting views on the subject, it is the conviction that no woman should be forced to have an abortion.”

Meanwhile, the WSJ in its leisure section comes down hard on Disney’s plans to open up a Disney World theme park in Shanghai. “The news from China is bad, worse than we’d feared it would be: in all likelihood, Disney World will be coming to mainland China well before democracy does,” writes Tunku Veradarajan, the paper’s chief TV and media critic. The author seems unsettled about which entity disturbs him more. “Disney deals in schmaltz; China is the most unsentimental place on earth.” Ultimately, Veradarajan decides the plan won’t work out because the two have “cultural incompatibility.” “What will happen when the visitors all surge at once for the gate to an attraction? … The Chinese don’t queue. It’s as simple as that.”