Fat Catastrophe

Fat Catastrophe

Fat Catastrophe

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 9 1999 6:52 AM

Fat Catastrophe

The Los Angeles Times leads with Russia's forceful military reaction against Muslim insurgents in the republic of Dagestan (a story it fronted yesterday). Early Monday Moscow time, Boris Yeltsin dismissed his prime minister, creating yet another political leadership crisis for the country, which faces a parliamentary election at the end of the year and a presidential one in the middle of the next. Because of the development's late break, of the early editions, only the LAT front has it, in the form of a reefer box. The New York Times fronts Dagestan, but leads with further evidence of exponential political inflation--the Republican Party's quiet creation of an elite club of $1 million donors. The Washington Post stuffs Dagestan and goes instead with the INS's apparent loosening of its previous policy of automatically detaining every immigrant eligible for deportation because of a criminal conviction. USA Today leads with a story that gets front space at the NYT--President Clinton's carrying of the fight over Republican proposed tax cuts to the national governors' meeting. Clinton told the state executives the cuts could force deep cuts in domestic programs and raise interest rates. Yet, the paper reports, Clinton also said that he thought a smaller tax cut could and should be passed this year. Some of the coverage marks the continuing media gravitization of Jesse Ventura. Front-page pictures from the meeting at the LAT and NYT show a two-shot of Clinton and Ventura talking, very much equals, pictorially at least. (This represents a very conscious choice by editors--after all, during Clinton's appearance he no doubt appeared at least briefly with nearly every governor.)

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The NYT lead notes that the Democratic Party has its own top fat category requiring an individual contribution of $350,000, and goes on to observe that if both parties meet their high-donor goals, the Republicans will have raised twice as much money via this route as the Democrats. This is all soft money, not governed by the rules for individual, union, or corporate campaign contributions, because it's collected for party-building activities and issue ads rather than for individual candidacies, and the paper explains that the new high levels of giving mean that the total amount of soft money collected for 2000 could double the 1996 amount.

The Post's first illustration of the INS shift is the release Friday of an Ethiopian woman who had been jailed by the INS because she was on probation following a conviction for shoplifting clothes for her children. And the story provides no examples of obviously dangerous criminals snagged by the INS under the old policy. But the paper goes on to admit that it's unclear how many of the criminals affected are like the Ethiopian woman and how many are more serious felons.

Both the NYT and WP front reports that Jordan's new leader, King Abdullah, has in recent days twice gone out among his subjects on undercover fact-finding missions, once pretending to be a television producer (complete with crew) and once an ordinary passenger in a taxicab. Both stories (and isn't it curious that both papers would independently front such a soft feature?) note that there is a rich Arab tradition of leaders going out in mufti, with the overall feeling being that this is a quaint feature of a veil- and robe-enmeshed culture. Neither story notes that the practice would also be a good way for an American president to find out what real people put up with and what they actually think. If a president has a certain knack for, ahem, sneaking around, he might as well do it for the public good.

The LAT fronts a $10.5 million lawsuit being brought this week in a Los Angeles court by a former American Airlines mechanic against the company for its failure to take seriously racial harassment he suffered on the job. In a company bathroom, the man, the lone black crew chief at his work space, discovered a depiction of himself next to the words, "Nigger, Nigger, Nigger." And then there was a hangman's noose--not a drawing, an actual rope noose--hanging over a passageway. In a pre-trial deposition, the man's supervisor testified that he thought displaying nooses could be offensive, but he did not think it was a form of harassment. (The man tried to retreat from this view after a 23-minute break called by American's lawyer.) The LAT is to be saluted for running this story prominently, and if American is smart it'll settle this case before large numbers of the paper's 1 million daily readers decide there are plenty of other morally sound ways to fly out of town.

The papers nod toward the 25th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation. A NYT front-pager notes that half of Americans alive today hadn't turned 10 yet on that day, if they were alive at all. And that a recent poll found 76 percent of respondents thinking that there have been other political scandals that were just as bad as Watergate. A Wall Street Journal "Rule of Law" column wonders how it can be that Bill Clinton got invited to give the keynote address to the American Bar Association today when Richard Nixon was never so invited, and indeed was ultimately disbarred. On the LAT op-ed page, columnist Richard Reeves digs up a Ben Franklin-style memo Nixon wrote to himself, that he violated with just about every waking breath: "Need to be good to do good. Need for joy, serenity, confidence, inspirational."

The WP's media reporter Howard Kurtz reports there's grumbling in the newsroom of the Nashville Tennessean over the appearance in a Gore campaign video by the paper's editor, a close friend of Gore's. And indeed, the editor has now said the appearance was a mistake. This is dumb. Isn't the editor allowed to also have a private role as a voter? And even in his public role, there's an excellent chance his newspaper under his direction will endorse Gore's candidacy. So obviously, it's okay for people to know what he thinks of Gore.