What the Nation's Leading Papers Said This Week

One last shot at Clinton. The Bethlehem Steel theme park. Laying off people the right way. The Fed's informal research methods. More!

by Eric Hübler

Smashing the boundaries of business journalism, The New York Times (free registration required) looked at the violent cartoons invading children's lineups on TV and found that critics aren't as vocal as previously. Partly, that's because righteous heroes prevail in these films, many of them made in Japan.

The Los Angeles Times examined the ethics of "vulture" investors, who swoop in to buy assets of dead companies cheap. Vulture Patrick Byrne of Overstock.com concludes that salvaging something for the heirs isn't the same as causing the death.

If you ever doubted the value of friends in high places, listen to The Washington Post. It traces the international lobbying campaign that led Bill Clinton to pardon fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich, infuriating people who pursued Rich for alleged wrongdoing. Clinton's staff was divided on what to do, the paper says.

YOUR NAME HERE. After lawyers got their share of the $248 billion 1988 tobacco settlement, bankers found a way to get a cut of the cut: by "securitizing" the legal fees, which were to be paid out over many years. The San Jose Mercury News says that's a first for legal fees. The bonds thus created will pay up to 8%, and the bankers will get $1.5 million up front.

At least "FedEx Field" trips off the tongue. "Invesco Field at Mile High" -- the proposed name for Denver's new football stadium and the reason for this Denver Post article on the selling of names of public buildings -- will take getting used to. One source even (jokingly) suggests that cities should sell their names. As if it hasn't been done. The citizens of Hot Springs, N.M., wanted to appear on a radio game show several decades ago, which is why one can now spot Truth or Consequences, N.M., on any map.

If you live in a service economy, bad service really stinks. The Dallas Morning News says customer service is waning in various industries, and that the cost is measured in money: It usually costs far more to replace a customer than to retain one.

Tens of thousands of livelihoods and a Cleveland landmark are at stake as Bill Bricker tries to save LTV Corp. Bricker, once a Cleveland-basher who moved Diamond Shamrock out of the city, served on LTV's board. Now CEO, he'll be a local hero if he pulls this off, the Plain Dealer says.

MANAGEMENT MEANIES. Better to be a museum than a dinosaur, evidently. The former Bethlehem Steel is about to be reborn as an Industrial Era theme park. The project, dubbed Bethlehem Works, will combine history, recreation, and shopping. To Pennsylvania, it's as important psychologically as economically, The Baltimore Sun says.

We all know that commercials are part of the fun of the Super Bowl. The Chicago Tribune says they not only boost sales for advertisers, but can deliver far-reaching benefits such as enhanced recruiting power and brand recognition.

The Trib also notes that with layoffs rising again there's a right way and a wrong way to let people go. Too often, it adds, employers are mean -- and workers never forget it.

The next time a stranger strikes up a conversation, I'll wonder if he's working for the Federal Reserve. The St. Petersburg Times interviews John C. Robertson, research chief at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and finds that he gathers tea leaves like journalists do, based on a anecdotal evidence. Edward Lotterman of The St. Paul Pioneer Press also notes that policymakers in places such as Colorado are resorting to barely-scientific data gathering methods when the info they really want is unavailable.

The present slump in telecom isn't the end of the industry, says The Orlando Sentinel -- but it could be the end of some companies. Still, the paper argues that investors are too bearish, and that what's needed is a more balanced view of the industry's still-phenomenal long-term prospects.

ECONOMICS OF OBESITY. Californians might not believe it, but electricity deregulation works, says The Boston Globe's David Warsh. In New England, Warsh contends, deregulation will bring cleaner, more plentiful -- and, eventually, cheaper juice. One Oregon legislator, however, doesn't want to hear it. The (Portland) Oregonian says Rep. Peter De Fazio will introduce legislation to repeal the 1992 law that set deregulation in motion.

Maybe economists can make the world a better place in ways we don't normally associate imagine -- in understanding obesity, for example. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says economists who have studied obesity find that the feast-or-famine anxiety experienced by poor people can lead them to binge, even as they remain malnourished.

Its stork mascot was cute, but Vlasic Foods International can't survive as a spinoff from Campbell Soup Co. and is looking for a buyer, says The Philadelphia Inquirer. The reason: pickles and frozen dinners aren't the global lure that management imagined.

Finally this week, if you're in Seattle on a Friday or Saturday between Feb. 10 and Mar. 3, check out "21 Dog Years: Doing Time@Amazon.com," a hilarious-sounding play by Mike Daisey, a former employee of the online merchant. Opening day happens to be the day his nondisclosure agreement expires. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a preview. For tickets call the Speakeasy Backroom at (206) 444-4336.

Hübler reports for The Denver Post

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