Bald-Faced Lawyers

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 23 2003 7:43 AM

Bald-Faced Lawyers

The New York Times leads with President Bush's decision to freeze the assets of several Hamas leaders and charities. Because almost all the assets in question lie outside the U.S., the Times notes, the action is merely a symbolic strike at the organization, which claimed responsibility for an Israeli bus bombing this week. (The Washington Post runs this story inside.) The Post leads with the ouster of Freddie Mac CEO Gregory J. Parseghian by federal regulators. Parseghian is the company's second CEO in three months to be fired for his role in the mortgage lender's accounting fraud. (The NYT reefers this story.) The Los Angeles Times leads with an election poll: Fifty percent of Californians want to recall Gov. Gray Davis, while 45 percent want him to stay.

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The Post fronts, and the two Timeses reefer, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's suspension (with pay) for violating a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. A nine-member panel of judges, lawyers, and citizens, the LAT explains, will determine a punishment, if any; a unanimous vote could remove him from office. The NYT piece chronicles how Moore used the Ten Commandments issue to launch his political career; in 2000, he was elected chief justice on the slogan "Roy Moore: Still the Ten Commandments Judge." Hundreds of Moore's Christian supporters remained outside the courthouse.

The LAT fronts, and the Post runs inside, an internal Environmental Protection Agency report criticizing the EPA for letting the White House censor its statements on Manhattan air quality in the wake of 9/11. The agency inspector general found that all EPA press releases at that time needed National Security Council approval. In many cases, the NSC deleted or downplayed EPA warnings about the health risks of airborne pollutants from Twin Towers debris.   

The NYT and WP sketch preliminary chronologies of the escalating utility failures leading to last week's massive blackout. Both papers agree that the problem began near Cleveland, when a coal-fired generator went down around 2 p.m. Between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., the same utility lost two transmission lines. When this happened, Cleveland began drawing too much power from a nearby Ohio utility, which shut itself down to protect its equipment. At 4:06, Cleveland sucked power out of Michigan, which did the same to Ontario. At 4:09 Cleveland went dark. The utility serving New York and the utility serving both Washington and Philadelphia each separated itself from the grid. For unclear reasons, New York's separation failed to save it from the black hole that engulfed the Midwest and Ontario at 4:11.

For these blackout narratives, both papers use the same sources: Yesterday's report by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (a consulting firm) and the partial timelines released by some utilities. The NYT, however, off-leads its piece and plays up the causal significance of the two transmission lines near Cleveland, imparting a plot line akin to the old proverb about a butterfly in China setting in motion a weather change in the Americas. The Post, which places its article on A08, emphasized the corporate blame-shifting that may slow the Energy Department's investigation; the paper's chronology of Aug. 14's failures comes only later. So: How did Cleveland's blackout become the nation's? Neither paper knows enough to say, although the Times quotes a federal regulator who blames antiquated communication technology between utilities. Also inside, the Post runs a piece reviewing President Bush's record on grid modernization. Before 9/11, Bush made several public statements urging that the grid be updated. After 9/11, he never mentioned it. Democrats argue that Bush could have passed a stand-alone grid-modernization bill long ago, but that he insisted on attaching it to a larger energy bill with far less political support.

The WP and NYT run stories on U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello's memorial service in Baghdad. At the service, one of those who tried to free Vieira de Mello from the rubble of Tuesday's bombing revealed that the diplomat said, "Don't let them pull the U.N. out of Iraq. Don't let them fail this mission," shortly before he died. The Post puts this quote in its headline and fronts the story; the Times does neither.

According to late wire reports, three British soldiers were killed in Basra Saturday morning.

Both the NYT and WP use a front-page photo to reefer the 40th anniversary ceremonies of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have s Dream" speech. Both photos show Rep. John L. Lewis, D-Ga., a speaker at the original march, standing with Eleanor Holmes Norton and Coretta Scott King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The Times' photo, however, has a striking composition and reveals Lewis breaking down in tears, while the Post's is a rather desultory shot, with no clear focal point and Lewis' back to the camera.

The NYT gives word that a federal judge threw out Fox News' request for an injunction against the sale of Al Franken's new book, which mocks Fox's trademark (and trademarked) slogan "fair and balanced." According to Reuters, the courtroom broke into laughter several times as the judge challenged Fox's lawyers to say, with straight faces, that Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, is not satire. They obliged: "To me, it's quite ambiguous as to what the message is," one of Fox's lawyers insisted. "It's a deadly serious cover. ... This is much too subtle to be considered a parody."

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a social worker in Seattle.

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