Most newspaper and television accounts left little doubt yesterday that President Bush had beaten a major retreat in dropping much of the administration's attempt to ban race-specific scholarships for minority students.
The Washington Post said that "no scholarships will be affected for the next four years" and that the administration "completely reversed itself on the specific issue that spurred the controversy." The Washington Times had the administration "retreating," the Los Angeles Times said it had "abandoned" its position and the Wall Street Journal said it had "largely reversed" the ban.
That left the New York Times out on a lonely limb. "U.S. Lets Stand Curb on College Aid Keyed to Race," the paper said.
Conspicuously missing from the Times' account, by reporter Karen De Witt, was any mention that the administration had shelved the issue for four years.
"I think that was a failure. ... We certainly didn't do a good job of explaining that," says Times Managing Editor Joseph Lelyveld.
Deputy National Editor Jeffrey Schmalz blamed the omission on "an editing screw-up." But he was "pleased" with the overall story, which he says involved "a difference in interpretation."
The issue is a complicated one, and many stories noted that the administration did not completely reverse its stand that race-based scholarships are discriminatory.
"Key parts of the program do remain intact and the administration stands behind the policy," Schmalz says. "We didn't see it as an effort to scuttle the whole policy. There had been all this hoopla the day before that they're going to completely back away and completely abandon the policy. We needed to say, 'Hey, wait a minute, reader, there wasn't a full reversal and the controversy continues.' "
The partial reversal came when Education Department official Michael Williams, conceding he had been "politically naive," said colleges that receive federal funds can continue to accept private donations earmarked for minority scholarships. But he said private colleges should not be able to use their own money for such scholarships.
Kenneth J. Cooper, The Post's education reporter, says the key point is that "nothing much is going to happen for four years. Our previous stories had inspired a good deal of anxiety among college-age students and their parents. There was something of a journalistic obligation to explain what the new impact might be on their situation... .
"They clearly reversed themselves on the specific issue involving the Fiesta Bowl, which was whether a private organization can fund scholarships only for minorities. A week ago the answer was no. Now the answer is yes."
Food, Folks and Finances Financial columnist Terry Savage found herself on the journalistic hot seat this week after announcing that she has signed on as a director of McDonald's Corp.
Savage says she sees no problem in being both a working journalist and a board member of one of America's largest corporations, a post that pays $24,000 a year plus $2,000 for each meeting attended. But critics pointed to a smorgasbord of potential reporting conflicts, ranging from food manufacturers and soft drink makers to the beef, potato and recycling industries.
Savage, 46, also conducts a daily interview show on WBBM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Chicago, which dismissed the flap. "She will not be covering McDonald's, its suppliers or competitors," says spokeswoman Janet Treuhaft.
At McDonald's, spokesman Chuck Eberling says, "We don't see any conflict, period." A company statement says that Savage was chosen for her "unusual blend of expertise in finance and consumer communications."
Reaction was skeptical, however, at the two newspapers for which Savage writes a weekly personal finance column. "I did not know about this until it was done. That did not please me," says Dennis Britton, editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I found it troubling. I still find it troubling."
While cautioning that "I don't want to react on imagined conflicts," Britton describes Savage's situation as odd. "Is she a financial journalist, or is she a businesswoman who's writing a column?" he asks.
Jim Frisinger, business editor of the Dallas Times Herald, says that "it does appear to be a conflict of interest" and that he will disclose the McDonald's connection to readers "if we run the column this week."
"McDonald's is a public company, one of the largest companies on the big board, and she has opinions on whether stocks are a good buy. You start to get into gray areas."
Savage, a founding member of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, did not return phone calls, but she told the Associated Press that the fast-food industry "is not an area in which I've done more than a couple of stories over the last decade. This won't be a problem."
Recession Watch The Baltimore Sunpapers, in an effort to avoid layoffs, have offered early retirement packages to all news-division employees over 55 with at least 15 years of service.
About 80 people are eligible for the buyout offer, which extends to several other departments. Some veteran reporters are weighing the offer, which includes two weeks' pay for every year of service.
The move follows a 19 percent drop in September advertising revenue compared with the same month a year earlier. It comes amid such belt-tightening efforts as requiring reporters to obtain written approval from senior management for any trip costing more than $500.
Publisher Michael J. Davies called the buyout offer "a cost-saving measure" and denied that the paper is trying to get rid of older workers. "The closer you get to retirement, obviously, the more incentive there is to take such an offer," Davies says, adding that the impact will be "invisible" to readers.
But James Houck, managing editor of the morning Sun, says the paper could be hurt if too many people retire. "Frankly, there are a lot of people on the list who I personally hope don't go," he says.
Some employees say there have been rumblings about layoffs if the Sunpapers, which are part of the Los Angeles Times media empire, fail to obtain enough buyouts.
"It's sort of outrageous," says one staffer. "This is a monopoly paper. They were making record profits, and as soon as they have a couple of bad months, they start looking for these drastic cutbacks."