Top News

This Week | The Top 5 news stories as measured by coverage in The Washington Post, USA Today, and NBC Nightly News over a one-week period from July 10 to 16

Issue: "Sex, lies, & audiotape," July 27, 2002

Scoring system: 5 points for news stories appearing on the front page of The Washington Post, 3 for stories on the next two pages of the "A" section, and 1 thereafter. Same formula for USA Today, except the values are doubled to account for its national circulation. Stories carried on NBC Nightly News receive 10 points if they run before the first ad break, 6 between the first and second break, and 2 thereafter. Anchor-read stories earn 2 points early, 1 point late.


Taking account

197 points | The bill might have looked yellowed and cobwebbed a few weeks ago, but the Senate quickly approved an auditing-accountability bill 97-0. Under the plan, the Securities and Exchange Commission would create an oversight board for auditors with the power to set rules, inspect accounting firms, and discipline wrongdoers, replacing the accounting industry's system of self-regulation. House and Senate negotiators are eager to reconcile the Senate bill with a House bill passed in April. One proposal wasn't loaded on the bandwagon: requiring the cost of executive stock options to be counted as an expense. Coca-Cola's stock rose after its announcement that it would count its options that way. Other major corporations are considering the change, but many high-tech firms aren't eager to follow. Microsoft argued that if it had treated its stock incentives as an expense, its reported profit would have been $5.1 billion, not $7.3 billion, a 30 percent drop.


The enemy here and there

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80 points | Attorney General John Ashcroft told a House committee that members of al-Qaeda remain in the United States "who have not yet been identified in a way that will allow us to take preemptive action against them." After speaking with pride about government success in blocking entry of suspected terrorists, Mr. Ashcroft warned that the increasingly restricted terrorist access will force al-Qaeda to "recruit United States citizens and permanent residents to carry out their attacks." As for the war in Afghanistan, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz explained that TeamBush "regrets" the loss of civilian life in a July 1 air attack in the Uruzgan province, but has "no regrets whatsoever" about pursuing terrorists that he had "very little doubt" were in the area at that time. Afghanistan's foreign minister said after meeting with Mr. Wolfowitz that his government was satisfied with the U.S. response, including a 12-member military investigation into the misdirected assault.


Homeland haggling

72 points | The Bush Cabinet's big four-Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill-appeared as a group before a House committee looking to create a Department of Homeland Security. But at the same time, House committee chairmen like Transportation's Don Young were pushing their panels to vote to keep the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency out of the new department. The liberal-to-moderate Brookings Institution criticized the new department as too large and unfocused. Serious hurdles for White House Cabinetmakers are federal-employee unions, who staunchly oppose granting the newly created department a personnel policy that is "flexible," and "grounded in the principles of merit and fairness." Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said his party unanimously opposes "management flexibility." Despite all the reservations, House and Senate leaders say they want to pass a bill by Sept. 11.


Loans & lawsuits

46 points | President Bush's tenure as a member of the board of directors of Harken Energy was compared to his current policy proposals. Following his announcement that corporations shouldn't be able to make loans to corporate officers, reporters noted that Mr. Bush took two low-interest loans totaling $180,000 from Harken in 1986 and 1988, a far cry from the $400 million WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers took to buy company stock. Democrats kept up the drumbeat to release more SEC records on Mr. Bush's Harken dealings. The political elite's interest in the SEC investigation of Halliburton, the energy firm formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, increased dramatically when the group Judicial Watch announced it was suing Mr. Cheney for allegedly misleading investors. The Media Research Center noted that despite its myriad of lawsuits against President Clinton, this was the first time all three network evening newscasts mentioned Judicial Watch on the same night, and the first time Peter Jennings ever uttered those two words on air.


Dow jawbones

45 points | Despite expressing the need for investor confidence, the media's attraction to highlighting accounting scams and tough new financial regulations shook that confidence. On July 15, cable news networks split the screen between President Bush's economy-cheerleading speech in Birmingham and declining stock values. The Dow Jones had dropped 380 points by mid-afternoon, but rebounded to just a 50-point drop by the end of the trading day. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan sounded hopeful notes for investors that the economy was taking hits from corporate scandals but was holding on. But the Dow drops gave him a platform to remind Congress of his criticisms of "irrational exuberance" in the '90s stock boom: "At root was the rapid enlargement of stock market capitalizations in the latter part of the 1990s that arguably engendered an outsized increase in opportunities for avarice."


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