The Willennium Bug

The Willennium Bug

The Willennium Bug

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 30 1999 7:16 AM

The Willennium Bug

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leads with a poll (of 622 adults) purporting to show that most Americans are unlikely to change their behavior or take special precautions because of Y2K. But the story does add that most also believe in the likelihood of one or more millennial terrorist attacks against the U.S. The Washington Post leads with the cancellation of D.C.'s biggest private New Year's Eve celebration, which the paper takes as indicative of a nationwide veer away from partying and toward cocooning on the big night. But the paper's recitation of failed events suggests a more down-to-earth explanation: $2,000 per couple to hear Neil Sedaka and Mary Wilson is stupid. The New York Times goes with yesterday's 1.7 percent rise in the Nasdaq to a new all-time-high close, leaving that tech-dominated market up over 84 percent for the year. The WP fronts the financial whoopee. The Los Angeles Times puts it on its business front (as does USAT) and leads instead with the decision by German federal investigators to take the first step toward prosecuting former chancellor Helmut Kohl in connection with recent allegations that he took, but did not at the time report, contributions from an arms dealer and an oil company. Kohl, the paper reminds, started off the whole controversy last month by acknowledging that while in power he kept secret bank accounts, but thus far has refused to identify donors. The WP fronts Kohl while the NYT stuffs him.

The NYT says no broad index of American stocks has ever risen as much in a calendar year as the Nasdaq. Three of its stocks are up more than 1,000 percent since 1998. One, says the Times, Qualcomm, is up 2,444 percent since then. The NYT is so taken with the Nasdaq that it waits until the 10th paragraph before noting that the Dow and other major indexes also set records yesterday, news that the Wall Street Journal gets right into the little summary paragraph it runs at the top of its front-page financial news box.

The WP off-leads a federal judge's decision to hold Wen Ho Lee in jail without bail pending his trial on charges of unauthorized handling of secret nuclear weapons data. The other papers put the story inside, with all the coverage explaining the judge's reasoning: If Lee were out, he might be able to transfer to a foreign power the seven highly sensitive data tapes he admits making but that are currently missing. (The judge said however that if Lee passes a polygraph test on the tapes, he could reapply for bail.) But none of the stories mentions the real reason the prosecutors wanted no bail: their hope that the prospect of sitting in stir for up to several years would make the never-before-jailed Lee break down and confess to the big hole in their case: who he gave data to. By the way, the NYT Lee story says that he is prohibited from speaking Chinese to his family when they visit him in jail. Today's Papers would love to know what authority there is for this in the law, but the paper doesn't say.

The NYT's Jason DeParle today continues, in his usual off-lead space, his tireless search for the failure of welfare reform. The dateline is the usual one, Milwaukee, home of the nation's most aggressive government welfare-to-work program. Today's tack: Well, even if many people there are getting off welfare and on payrolls, their lives aren't "truly transformed." The story spends most of its time playing out the examples of three women, who are supposed to somehow stand proxy for the thousands in Milwaukee. The story defends this method with the remark that the notion that welfare reform is not "epochal ... cannot be proved with charts and graphs." The women DeParle dwells on are poster children for irresponsibility as a lifestyle: At every turn there are unexpected pregnancies, out of wedlock fatherless children, and abusive-cum-substance-abusive-cum-mooching boyfriends. And yet the most obvious takeaway from all this, from a Wisconsin welfare-to-work official, is pushed down to nearly 4,000 words in and then glossed over quickly: "We're in the first few years of a new system after 60 years of welfare." (For more on DeParle's piece, click here.)

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George Will's WP effort--765 words explaining the meaning of the 20th century--is a textbook specimen of the columnist's game. As if to prove he has emerged utterly unscathed from his Doonesbury scathing, Will manages to shoehorn in quotes from T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Stephen Spender (Today's Papers is guessing somebody got the Anthology of Modern Poetry for Christmas) and Arthur Balfour. But the real con is the lead, which is an anecdote about one August Kubizek, a childhood friend of Adolf Hitler. There's a long unattributed quote and an unsourced reference to a photograph. Now, given all the express attribution in the piece, the effect here is one of Will's deep, deep knowledge: Who knew from August Kubizek? But is there any doubt that this anecdote and that photograph also come from a book on Will's desk? So why not source them, George?