House passes ethics bill; Murdoch wins.

House passes ethics bill; Murdoch wins.

House passes ethics bill; Murdoch wins.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 1 2007 6:00 AM

The MSJ 

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Timeslead with the House overwhelmingly voting in favor of what both papers describe as the biggest changes in congressional ethics rules since Watergate. The New York Timesleads with, and everyone else fronts, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. getting enough support from Bancroft family members to make the purchase of Dow Jones practically a done deal. "A century of Bancroft-family ownership at Dow Jones & Co. is over," (somberly?) notes the Wall Street Journal, which devotes much of its front page to the news.

The WSJ leads with a look at how, barring any unforeseen announcements, July had the lowest number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq this year. USA Todayleads with a new Army-funded study that shows child abuse and neglect increases when an Army spouse is deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq. "Deployment … has been associated with increased stress among non-deployed parents, which may hamper their ability to appropriately care for their children," the study says.

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By voting 411-8 in favor of the ethics reform bill, Democrats moved closer to achieving a goal they made a priority after the midterm elections. Under the measure, lobbyists would have to disclose contributions they collect, or "bundle," from several sources if they raise more than $15,000 in a six-month period. The measure would also require greater disclosure of earmarks, and prohibit any special spending items that financially benefit a lawmaker's family. Senators would also not be allowed to place secret "holds" on legislation, and lawmakers would not be allowed to accept any gifts, meals, or travel from lobbyists.

Some of the provisions in the bill were watered down in recent weeks, as lawmakers worked behind closed doors (the irony isn't lost on the LAT)to resolve the different House and Senate versions. The NYT reefers the ethics bill and is by far the most critical and diligent in pointing out the "loopholes" that lawmakers left for themselves. Although some Republican senators vowed to vote against the measure because it isn't strong enough, everyone expects it to pass this week without much trouble.

Four months after Rupert Murdoch offered $5 billion for Dow Jones, he finally cinched the deal. Although Bancroft family members appeared uneasy at first, the offer was simply too good to pass up. The LAT goes inside with a look at how the WSJ is the "latest newspaper dynasty to be dismantled in mere months" in a sign of just how much the business is changing. Murdoch staunchly rejected calls to raise his offer and has now won a company that is not only a prestigious addition to his empire, but will also greatly benefit his new business news channel, which is set to launch in the fall.

Murdoch now has to convince skeptical journalists he is committed to improving the quality of Dow Jones. The LAT has a separate story inside on how reporters at the WSJ were not happy with the news. "It's a sickening realization to know that this really great iconic newspaper is … going to be controlled by a man whose values are inimical to ours," one reporter said.  "We held a wake. We stood around a pile of Journals and drank whiskey," a reporter told the NYT.

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The WSJ reports in a separate Page One story that Murdoch first expressed interest in Dow Jones almost 10 years ago and had been carefully working toward this moment for two years. In the end, Murdoch was able to close the deal simply because he "wanted it more," says the NYT's David Carr. Despite frantic searches by some Bancroft family members, no one even came close to offering the same kind of money for the company.

The WSJ takes the opportunity to publish a long, sentimental look into the history of Dow Jones, but everyone else is focused on the future, although no one knows what it will look like. In fact the NYT says it's likely that Murdoch doesn't have a "grand plan" beyond luring readers away from other papers. Carr predicts that the WSJ staff will hit Murdoch early with a story about one of his business interests but Murdoch "is probably too smart to take the bait." Although much has been made of the committee that was created to protect Dow Jones' independence, it's the "outside scrutiny from readers that will be more likely to keep him from interfering in the paper's news pages," Carr writes. (Slate's Jack Shafer has begun his "Murdoch Journal Watch.")

In a letter to readers, the WSJ's publisher touts the editorial independence agreement and assures readers that "the same standards ... will apply to this publication, regardless of ownership." And the editorial page also assures readers that "we intend to stand for the same beliefs tomorrow and into the future as we have for a century."

The WP fronts a letter sent by the director of national intelligence to lawmakers, where he revealed that the warrantless wiretapping program was only one part of a much broader executive order. Mike McConnell said the name Terrorist Surveillance Program refers only to "one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more." Just as the NYT hinted at on Sunday, this is the administration's way of saying Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wasn't lying when he told lawmakers there were no legal objections to the program.

The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, the U.N. Security Council authorized sending 26,000 U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has always touted that he can sympathize with the commuting agonies of the average New Yorker because he takes the subway to work practically every day. But a NYT reporter followed Bloomberg's travels for five weeks and says on Page One that the mayor's commute is quite unique. When he takes the subway (about twice a week), he gets picked up "by a pair of king-size Chevrolet Suburbans" that speed past the closest station and drive the mayor to an express stop 22 blocks away.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.