Sunset Bullevard

Sunset Bullevard

Sunset Bullevard

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 22 2003 5:51 AM

Sunset Bullevard

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide news box, and USA Today all lead with word that U.N. Security Council members, including former hold-outs France, Germany, and Russia, said they've agreed to lift sanctions against Iraq. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with news that Senate and House negotiators have tentatively agreed on a tax-cut deal, with cuts on paper totaling $318 billion. In order to get the bill past a key swing-vote senator, Republican George Voinovich of Ohio, the bill also includes about $20 billion in state aid and $15 billion in refunds to low-income families with children.

The American-sponsored sanctions resolution, which is expected to be passed today, gives the U.S. and Britain almost complete control of Iraq, but also gives the U.N. a slightly larger role than in previous drafts. A U.N. representative will be given what one diplomat described as a "tangible but independent" role on reconstruction efforts. The resolution will also phase out the U.N.'s oil-for-food program; oil revenues will instead be overseen by the U.S. and Britain with an audit board of U.N. and international representatives.

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The tax bill includes a reduction in the dividend tax to 15 percent and a capital gains tax reduced to that same rate. Those decreases account for about half of the cuts—$150 billion—the other portion comes from expanding the child credit from $600 to $1,000, ending the so-called marriage penalty, and phasing in slightly lower income taxes (for some brackets) a few years earlier than had been planned. 

The tax deal's stated cost is less than half of President Bush's original proposal. But part of that lower price-tag was achieved by including clauses to eliminate many of the cuts after a few years. Known as sunset clauses, such deals are prime candidates for repeal, as GOP leaders say they want to do in this case. That, of course, means that the actual cost of the cuts could well be higher than advertised. The Journal hammers home that point, saying up high that the clauses are "budget tricks that were ridiculed in the Senate's tax plan, including by House leaders." The other papers mostly skip such tough-minded analysis and instead have brief "he said, she said" glosses on the clauses. That kind of timid coverage leaves readers to guess about what's really going on.

In fact, one of the best ways to get informed about the cuts is to skip the news stories—and read the editorials. Sure, they can be preachy. But editorial writers aren't reticent, as many of their news-side colleagues are, about outing politically touchy, seemingly partisan, truths. It is a fine line for news-writers, but too often they don't come anywhere near it. Consider today's NYT: The lead editorial says the bill goes "against some of the best economic advice in the land," and will cause the nation's deficit and debt to rise, dramatically increasing the real costs of the cuts. Maybe that's just hype. But the Times' news story doesn't even visit the (important) questions and get experts' take on them. Instead, it spends disproportionate space on a pulpy narrative of the political drama ("stormy meetings," "accusations of arrogance and broken promises," etc., etc.). The Post has also had a fine series of editorials about the cuts. See here, here, and here.

The NYT, alone among the papers, fronts an earthquake in Algeria yesterday that killed at least 530 people and left roughly 5,000 injured.

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The WP fronts current Iraq boss Paul Bremer's statements yesterday that an interim authority won't be set up until at least July and even then won't have much power. Bremer said he is focusing on getting Iraq's security under control, and the Post suggests he's beginning to make progress. More police are now on the streets in Baghdad, and on Wednesday, "for the first time in several days," there were no reported U.S. casualties. (Obvious question: How many casualties have there been recently?)

The WP and NYT front the resignation of EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman who often found herself a punching bag of some in the administration as well as of environmentalists. Whitman said, of course, she wants to spend more time with her family, who live in New Jersey. But the decision wasn't all about having more free time. "This is the kind of job when you come home at the end of the day, you really like to have someone to sound off to," she told the NYT.

A lengthy front-page NYT investigation says that in the 1980s Bayer Corp. kept selling a blood-clotting drug overseas years after the company had replaced it on the domestic market with a safer version that didn't risk exposing users to HIV. The paper also found documents that the FDA at one point ordered Bayer to stop the selling the stuff abroad but to do so without "alerting Congress, the medical community and the public."

Monday, this column complained about how difficult it is to contact NYT staffers, and how other papers do a better job of making themselves available to readers. As a number of TP readers have pointed out, there is actually a neat trick, mentioned deep in the NYT's Web site, to get in touch with Timesians. You can get a fairly comprehensive, though somewhat dated, list of staffers' e-mail addresses by sending a blank message to staff@nytimes.com. (Go ahead, try it.)