The New York Times is alone today in leading with President Clinton's determination to punish health insurers who deny coverage to sick people in violation of federal law. USA Today leads with the rain-produced break in the Florida fires for residents and firefighters, the first since Memorial Day. The Washington Post leads with a Maryland politics story and gives the Florida fires equal billing with a profile of Sen. Trent Lott. The Los Angeles Times goes with intensifying pressure on both the UAW and GM to settle their increasingly disruptive strike.
At issue in the Times lead is the 1996 Kennedy-Kassebaum law, which guarantees people losing group health care coverage alternative access to individual policies regardless of any preexisting medical condition, and provides for uninterrupted coverage for those moving from one job to another. The paper reports that government officials are concerned that health insurance companies are circumventing the law by discouraging sales to certain individuals, charging very high premiums or penalizing insurance agents who sell policies to those with preexisting conditions. In response, says the paper, Clinton today will issue an order requiring that all health plans insuring federal employees not do these things.
The LAT sums up the trouble looming for both sides and the general economy in the GM strike: the five-week stoppage is already the most expensive ever experienced by a U.S. automaker and the longest since 1970. The company is warning that as a result, its sales could plunge by 40 percent this month and its market share from 31 to 25 percent.
The Wall Street Journal weighs in with the only other potential drag on the U.S. boom: the Asian economic meltdown. The fifty-five economists participating in the paper's latest semiannual forecasting survey named the Asian crisis as the major threat facing the U.S. economy and hold that it will hit here during the next six to nine months in the form of slower production and reduced employment. But the economists agree that these changes will not be drastic because our low interest rates and low inflation mean we can keep financing big-ticket purchases cheaply. Of course, such stories would be much more valuable to the reader if they included a summary of what the Journal's past semi-annual forecasting surveys had concluded.
USAT's "Money" front brings news that an obscure company has gotten a patent for software that often performs Y2K bug fixes in 80 percent less time than previous tools, bringing it business from the likes of Citibank, NationsBank and the Interior Department. However, the paper also reports the fix doesn't work universally.
The death of Roy Rogers gets a surprising amount of coverage: sure, a thumbnail picture/reefer at USAT, but also top-front-with-picture at the LAT, below-the-fold-front at the WP, and a big front-page picture/reefer at the NYT. The NYT editorial (!) puts Proust on the plains with, "For many viewers, the picture of Roy Rogers, aglint in the sun, racing across the harmless West upon Trigger, is a picture as invincible to time as a childhood memory." Still, the obituaries make it clear that both Rogers and his wife Dale Evans achieved something altogether missing from show business today: wholesome fame based on actual wholesomeness.
USAT goes front-page with word that an internal Defense Department investigation concluded that the Pentagon's former deputy Inspector General, retired Maj. Gen. David Hale, had affairs with wives of four subordinates. The paper reports that the case is being watched closely in Congress, where there are concerns that officers get treated more leniently than enlisted men. There are other hotter background issues that the paper could have also mentioned: In light of last year's Kelly Flynn case, doesn't the Hale matter show male service members get a different sexual deal than females? And, how, given his Monica troubles, can President Clinton politically handle any eventual disciplinary sanction against Hale?
Following in the footsteps of last week's debunking NYT piece, the WP says U.S. government officials and academic experts now say a Pakistani man who claimed insider knowledge of his country's willingness to preemptively nuke India is a fraud. "He doesn't know," the Post quotes one scientist who interviewed the man for an hour, "the most elementary facts about what a nuclear reactor is." No further word yet from USAT, which broke the preemptive strike story last week.
The WP officially cherishes its "Meyer Principles" about lascivious content, which basically say that the Post should be written so that it could be read by a family together at the breakfast table. But it's still surprising to learn that actual Post reporters actually internalize them. Witness today's E.J. Dionne column, in which he says that when went to the Web to look up the evangelical concept of "rapture," he got religious sites side-by-side with porn sites. "For the record," Dionne immediately adds, "I never did look at the porn sites. I knew I'd want to tell this story someday and figured someone would ask."