The New York Times leads with the announcement Thursday by five major pharmaceutical companies that they are willing to enter into negotiations with the World Health Organization and other international aid groups to arrive at steep cuts in the prices they'd charge for AIDS drugs going to Africa and other poor high-HIV regions. The Washington Post fronts AIDS/drugs (stuffed elsewhere) but goes instead with the House's passage, by a wide bipartisan margin, of a land conservation bill that would increase some sevenfold the amount of money typically spent annually by the government on creating parks, recreational areas, and preservation sites. The top non-local story at the Los Angeles Times is the Los Alamos fire, which continues to burn out of control. Although no one has been killed, the brush fire--which started when high winds made a National Park Service "controlled" burn of brush anything but--has destroyed more than 100 homes and came to within several hundred yards of the concrete complex storing much of the plutonium used in U.S. nuke warheads. And not to worry--the paper quotes the lab director saying that the storage area was designed to take a "direct crash from a 747." The NYT and WP also front the fire. USA Today reefers it, leading instead with the five-year high reached this week by the 30-year home mortgage rate, now at 8.52 percent.
The NYT lead singles out high up as an example of mounting pressure on AIDS drug companies to cut prices a December speech by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but waits until the 25th paragraph to mention what seems a far more likely cause: the Clinton administration's Wednesday executive order announcing to African countries that they would not be pursued for patent violations committed in pursuit of cheaper AIDS drugs--a move that could completely eliminate the drug majors from the African markets and substantially degrade the general value of their patents. The paper does point out a big worry the price cut brings with it for the companies: It might well encourage Congress to lower Medicare drug reimbursal prices.
The WP lead sings the praises of the conservation bill and marinates in the bipartisan warmfuzzyfest it evidently has inspired in the House, waiting until the fifth paragraph to mention that the fate of the bill in the Senate is "uncertain" and until the last sentence to note that the chairman of the key Senate committee handling it has warned that it will be "very difficult" to pass.
The USAT lead relies on the man-in-the-street interview to explain how homebuyers are reacting to the mortgage rate climb. That is, one man, one street, one interview. It's Jim Carletta, from Woodbury, Minn., and it turns out that he got his mortgage at the rate he did because he figured rates were going up. How exactly did USAT pick him? And why?
The NYT fronts the admission by Ford that its sport utility vehicles, which account for much of the company's profit, pose serious safety and environmental problems. The company said they would nonetheless keep building them because of their profitability but would seek technological fixes for the problems and look for alternative vehicle types. The admission came in a new corporate publication made available to shareholders and the press at the company's annual meetings. Made available to all the press of course, confirming that in the pack-journalism world of automotive reporters, the NYT's car coverage stands out. This story reminds Today's Papers of the time only the NYT auto reporter noticed that a certain new model car was the first one ever without ashtrays.
USAT fronts word that today George W. Bush will announce a program to distribute free trigger locks to handgun owners in Texas and will pledge to create a national version of this program if elected president. The paper says the program is designed to show--on the eve of Sunday's Million Mom March calling for national handgun licensing and registration, which Bush opposes--that Bush is serious about curtailing violence. The story goes on to report that today President Clinton will announce federal grants to two gun companies to support research into smart guns. But the headline over the story only mentions the Bush proposal.
Everybody goes inside with the love bug latest: the impromptu appearance before reporters in Manila of the man most sought by authorities in connection with the episode. The college computer student stopped short of taking responsibility for the worldwide outbreak, but he said he might have unleashed it accidentally. He was not taken into custody. The NYT story brings out particularly strongly the "burst of perverse pride" the incident has inspired in a largely computer-backward country. "Yes, the Filipino can!" was, the Times informs, the reaction of an editorial in a leading Manila paper.
The Wall Street Journal "Washington Wire" reports that Al Gore's former campaign manager, now a board member of a Microsoft-funded trade group, cites polls showing no public support for a Microsoft breakup in urging Democrats to stay clear of the Microsoft/DOJ wrangle for the coming election. The item adds that at least three veteran advisers recently added to the Bush campaign come with Microsoft connections.
The WP runs an AP story inside revealing that the FBI believes foreign spies have unescorted access to the State Department because they are adopting the cover identity of news correspondents. The paper quotes Madeleine Albright's counterintelligence on the matter: "If you are spies, then identify yourselves."