Down by Law

Down by Law

Down by Law

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 3 2003 12:30 PM

Down by Law

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with the decision from a three-member federal panel striking down parts of McCain-Feingold, the campaign-finance law intended to regulate soft money. The decision's complexity and discordance allowed both sides to claim victory. The New York Times' top non-local story is the 6 percent jobless rate for April, an eight-year high.   

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Though it doesn't lead with the decision on McCain-Feingold, the NYT has the most pointed analysis of the "jumble of often-conflicting rulings." The paper implies that the 1,638-page opinion is an exercise in jurisprudential masturbation, given that the case will now go immediately to the Supreme Court, which is in no way bound by the panel's decision. The WP argues, however, that if the Supreme Court is slow to act, next year's campaign season will be a miasmatic fog, as strategists try to figure out what exactly they can get away with.

So, to boil the 400,000 or so words down to one sentence, as the NYT confidently does, the ruling prohibits the use of soft money for political attack ads, but not for increasing voter registration or getting out the vote. "By and large, the ruling accepts the premise of McCain-Feingold, which is that certain kinds of soft money can be prohibited and that that does not violate the First Amendment," Russ Feingold says in Times. The bill's opponents—conservative Republicans, the NRA, the ACLU, and others—called the decision a victory for free speech. For the civic-minded overachiever, the NYT's Web site provides a link to the entire decision.

The new jobless rate, though alarming, was apparently less than expected, according to the NYT's lead. "The best news is that the weakness in the economy does not seem to be intensifying," says an economist at Prudential in the NYT. "But we haven't seen any sign of improvement." Government agencies added 32,000 workers in April, while manufacturers eliminated 95,000, the 33rd consecutive monthly decline in that sector. President Bush interpreted the numbers as further evidence that the time for his massive tax cut is now.

The LAT and NYT front the renewal of diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan for the first time in two years. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee announced the restoration of diplomatic and airplane links to Pakistan and the Pakistani P.M. quickly reciprocated. The NYT calls the agreement "a rapid and stunning reversal from the hard line that India has taken for months, insisting it would not talk to Pakistan unless it permanently ended the infiltration of militants from its territory into India." Both countries still lay claim to the border state of Kashmir.

The WP is alone in fronting a plot by al-Qaida to fly an aircraft packed with explosives into the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. The scheme was foiled earlier this week with the arrest of six suspected al-Qaida operatives, who surrendered the details under interrogation by the Pakistani intelligence service. A car-bombing at the Karachi consulate last June killed 12 Pakistanis but no Americans, the Post reminds.

The LAT runs an ominous SARS fronter. The paper says the disease may be a mere "dress rehearsal" for something considerably more serious. "Perhaps this future scourge will be an old, familiar foe, such as the influenza virus, ramped up to new lethality after borrowing genetic information from a related bird virus. Or maybe that foe is still faceless because it has only recently evolved, or has been skulking in an isolated part of the world, unable until now to obtain a wider foothold."

The NYT has some fun with William J. Bennett (author of The Book of Virtues) and his outsized gambling habits. The papers' sources are the online versions of Newsweek and the Washington Monthly, which report that Bennett is a preferred customer at several casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and has racked up $8 million in losses. "The magazines say he earns $50,000 for each appearance in speaking fees on the lecture circuit, where he inveighs against various sins, weaknesses and vices of modern culture. But Mr. Bennett exempts gambling from this list."

Finally, the WP and LAT can't resist fronting—and Today's Papers can't resist repeating—the story of hiker/adventurer Aron Ralston of Aspen, Colo. Ralston was climbing down over a boulder in Blue John Canyon in southwest Utah when the thing shifted and pinned his arm. His attempts to free himself were unsuccessful and so he stood there, trapped, for five days. On Tuesday of this week, he ran out of water. On Thursday, he "realized that his survival required drastic action," according to the sheriff's report. With a pocketknife, he proceeded to cut off his arm. He then rappelled the remaining 60 feet down the canyon and walked five miles before a helicopter spotted him. "You got to hand it to the guy," says a park ranger in the LAT. "That's true grit."

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.