USA Today and the Washington Post (at least in its online edition) lead with the brewing fight over John Ashcroft's confirmation as attorney general. On this slow news day, the New York Times runs a rare local lead playing to every New Yorker's obsession: apartments. Manhattan apartment rents (while still higher than a few years ago) have dropped 8 percent to 12 percent in the last six months, dragged down by the dot-com bust.
Everyone gives the Ashcroft hearings front-page play. USAT's lead says they'll be the roughest since those of Clarence Thomas (successful) and Robert Bork (unsuccessful). Ashcroft will be grilled on everything from "abortion and civil rights to gun control and the environment." In a pre-emptive move yesterday, he condemned racial profiling. Democratic senators are still girding for war. The WP's take: Bush is piling up conservative credentials now--by backing Ashcroft--so he can later ask his party for policy compromises. The Los Angeles Times' story looks at Ashcroft v. Roe v. Wade. The former senator will face "intense scrutiny" from pro-choice advocates. The NYT reefers a story that highlights the GOP's search for Ashcroft-endorsing African-Americans.
A front-page NYT story says the Clinton administration, spurred by recent consolidation within the industry, will release studies this week demonstrating a lack of airline competition (and offering advice on improvement). The studies say big airlines try to kill competition, and use their dominance of airports to charge higher fares. While so far resisting crackdowns, the outgoing transportation secretary will call for increased vigilance.
An op-ed in the NYT says President Clinton "steered the Democratic Party through a dangerous crossroads, shaping its identity as momentously as Franklin Roosevelt did." By supporting NAFTA and watching it succeed, he's made "global economic engagement" a safe position for Democrats, who were once bitterly divided over free trade.
A fascinating front-page Wall Street Journal feature tracks the rise and fall of the new Burger King french fry. Rolled out in 1998, the fry was meant to beat its McDonald's counterpart by staying hotter and crispier. After years in the lab, it debuted with a 19-page list of performance specs ("an audible crunch ... should be present for seven or more chews") and a nationwide giveaway. The result: People hate it, and fry sales are way down. The blame game has begun. (Why all the fuss? "[W]ith a profit margin as high as 80 cents on the dollar, fries are the most lucrative food on menu boards.")
An AP story on mistakes found in middle-school science texts gets picked up by the Post and NYT. Several popular texts are "riddled" with errors, including "maps that show the Equator passing through the southern United States and a photo of the singer Linda Ronstadt labeled as a silicon crystal."