Today's Papers

Frist and Goal

Everybody leads with the big news from Washington yesterday: Trent Lott’s decision to resign as Senate majority leader.

According to the Washington Post, which fronts the news with three separate above-the-fold stories and a banner headline, Lott’s decision came less than 24 hours after Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee announced he would challenge the Mississippi Republican for the Senate GOP’s top job.

Lott had insisted that he would not leave his leadership post amid the scandal over his comments at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party. Yet, the papers report that the moment of truth ultimately came when Lott asked Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., one of his closest allies, for advice on what to do about the uproar. “I suggested he step down immediately, ” McConnell tells the New York Times.

Senate Republicans are expected to vote Monday to appoint Frist as Lott’s successor. A former heart surgeon who ranks as one of the richest members of Congress, the Tennessee Republican has been considered a rising star in the GOP, the Los Angeles Times notes. During the 2002 elections, Frist was the Senate’s key GOP fund-raiser and is widely credited for helping Republicans win back control of the chamber.

Not surprisingly, there are grumblings among the natives about Frist’s seemingly sudden rise to power. “The close working relationship he has forged with President Bush will be, at least initially, viewed with some suspicion by senators who resent the role the White House is perceived to have played in Lott’s demise,” the WP notes.

Meanwhile, everybody mentions that Frist—or “Fristy,” as Bush calls him, the LAT reports—is very conservative and may have also made some questionable remarks about blacks in the past, including several racially insensitive gaffes during his first campaign for Senate in 1994.

All the papers today include analysis pieces examining the long-term effects of the Lott affair on Bush and the Republicans. In its piece, the WP says the White House came out a big winner by replacing Lott with Frist, who is a “a more appealing ally in his effort to recast the image of the Republican Party.” The NYT agrees, noting that Frist “embodies the face of the New South as surely as Mr. Lott evoked the Mississippi ghosts of 40 years ago.” The LAT, meanwhile, isn’t as positive, predicting the flap might have alienated the ever-popular swing vote.

Yet, the people who are most peeved about Lott’s resignation are his constituents, the NYT reports. His high profile position in the Senate meant lots of federal grants and other so-called congressional pork for Mississippi, and many worry the largesse will now disappear.

The NYT and LAT front, and the WP stuffs, word that the U.S. will begin sharing its intelligence information on Iraq with U.N. weapons inspectors. The U.S. also plans to up the number of troops in the Persian Gulf to 100,000 by January, according to the LAT. That’s 40,000 more people than the NYT reported three weeks ago.

The WP fronts, and everyone else stuffs, word that opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are attempting to bribe military officers there for help in toppling the administration. Meanwhile, the nationwide strike that has crippled oil production and prompted violent street protests continues.

In Paris yesterday, a French court found billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros guilty of insider trading, the papers report. The case extends back to 1988, when Soros bought stock in a French bank that was later purchased by an investor team, prompting share values to increase, according to the NYT.  Soros admits that he knew about the investors before he bought stock because they asked him to go in on their deal. Instead, he purchased the stock on his own and made $2.3 million in profits—a sum equal to what a judge now wants to fine him.

The NYT“Business” section has what appears to be a major scoop, at least for Must See TV fans: NBC executives are nearing a deal with the cast of Friends to extend the series another season. The network is offering the cast $9 million an episode—up from the $7 million they make now. That’s the highest price ever paid for a 30-minute show in television history. The LAT reports that the mother of radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger was found dead in her Beverly Hills condo yesterday. Police say she had been deceased for as long as two months, and investigators are looking into the possibility that it was a homicide. The California Supreme Court is weighing whether judges in the state can serve as members of the Boy Scouts of America, the NYT notes. Judges there are prohibited from joining groups that discriminate on sexual orientation, though non-profit youth organizations are exempt—for now. Finally, the LAT publishes a last-minute holiday gift guide for the Johnny Knoxville in all of us. Among the ideas: false teeth fitted for SUVs; a $4,000 inflatable iceberg for the backyard; and the “Yankee Flipper,” a motorized squirrel-proof bird feeder that sends furry-tailed critters flying should they try to filch seed. The company behind the device finds the results so amusing that they also sell a video that promises an hour of “sensational flipping squirrel action.”