Getting Less Real

Getting Less Real

Getting Less Real

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 14 1999 7:42 AM

Getting Less Real

The New York Times, flashing its sensitivity to world finance, is alone in leading with Brazil's devaluation of the real (and runs five more real-related items inside), but the story does get big play everywhere. The Los Angeles Times's top non-California news story is the Michael Jordan travelling call, complete with huge portrait and above-it-all MJ quote, pretty much the standard treatment of the story at all the majors. The Washington Post goes with President Clinton's expression of confidence regarding his impeachment trial chances, pointing out that such informal statements are probably all the Senate is going to get from him. The USA Today lead is that a government commission report to be published today will urge a new package of better benefits for military veterans.

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The NYT lead notes that the decision by the Brazilian government to allow its currency to shrink in value by more than 8 percent upset financial markets all over the world. It probably didn't help that the president of the country's central bank suddenly resigned or that it's widely believed any economic troubles in Brazil will severely affect the rest of Latin America. Which would be of no small interest to the U.S. economy--the Times and Wall Street Journal each point out that Latin America now accounts for one-fifth of all U.S. exports.

Maybe it's the dismal science rather than dismal writing, but from the Times coverage, it's a bit hard to follow the logic of Brazil's move. The paper says the devaluation eases pressure on Brazil to defend its currency by spending its reserves keeping interest rates high, and that the government describes its move as a way to restore consumer confidence and credibility among investors. But the NYT doesn't say how this is supposed to work. After all, if the currency is falling, won't investors be motivated to take what they've got and convert it to a more stable currency before things get worse, thereby putting more pressure on the real? And why is a devalued currency preferable to increased interest rates? They both suppress consumer spending and hence both contribute to the kind of transnational recessionary contagion that is the main worldwide economic concern at the moment. Similarly, the USAT "Money" section "cover story" says that if Brazil's central bank can trim interest rates, "domestic industry can worry less about paying its debt and more about borrowing to resume production." But if the country's money is worth less, don't companies just have to borrow more to accomplish any given thing? Maybe this is what the WSJ Brazil story is getting at when it reports that IMF officials were furious that Brazil didn't seem to have a coherent plan.

The WP eve-of-impeachment coverage is all scene-setting: A front-pager headlined "Caught in History's Spotlight/Five Senators Prepare to Shoulder a Most Unusual Burden" and a "Style" section profile of Sen. Trent Lott breaking the news that every day when he gets home from work he gets into his pajamas (cotton, just so you know). But the NYT impeachment off-lead manages to break a little news: Despite last Friday's official agreement to table the matter for now, a small group of Senate Republicans has met secretly with the House impeachment prosecutors to work on issues related to calling witnesses.

The NYT fronts somewhat disturbing news from the cancer wars, a story that's also flagged in the WSJ front news box and runs inside at the WP: According to a new study of 639 women, there is a technique that reduces the chance of breast cancer among high-risk women: removing both breasts while they are still healthy.

Running inside at both the WP and NYT is word of what could well become known as the beginning of the Israeli Watergate scandal. It seems that burglars broke into the office of Stanley Greenberg, a prominent Washington pollster, and took sensitive campaign strategy and fund-raising materials relating to the prime ministerial candidacy of Greenberg client Ehud Barak.

The Jordan retirement coverage offers yet more proof that the leading untreated malady among sportswriters is hyperbolic myopia. The WP runs a story inside headlined "Retirement Sends Shock Around a Small Planet," but at least the Post front notices that in his press conference yesterday, Jordan frequently referred to himself in the 3rd person. That egomaniacal touch somehow didn't strike the sportsoids at the NYT and LAT as like, completely wacked.

The NYT op-ed page features Jordan-inspired thoughts on athletic retirement over the byline of Hank Aaron. It's a fairly pedestrian effort that wouldn't make the page if it had been written by say, Lonnie Wheeler. But here's the weird part: the credit line for the piece states that "Lonnie Wheeler assisted with this article." Now does the NYT really expect us to believe that all those politicians and CEOs who grace its op-ed space with solo bylines have produced their great expectorations with utterly no help? If not, then what gives with the sudden truth in packaging for Hammering Hank?