July 12, 2007

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Lady Bird Johnson’s death captures nation’s newspapers

Death, destruction and deceit typify news reported on today’s Front Pages – basically what most people discuss on a normal day. The death that’s making history is of a former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. She was 94 years old, living in Austin, Texas. The Austin American- Statesman stated, “Texas’ Lady Bird is gone, Mrs. Johnson helped refine our vision and expand our vistas.” Many of the nation’s newspapers echoed her passing. “Lady Bird Johnson, first lady, dies,” said The Birmingham (Ala.) News. “American icon passes,” reported The Arizona Republic.

But the big news on Page One of The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville is “Council’s Sunshine could cost you.” The investigative article tells of the city council’s “culture of blatant disregard for open meetings laws.” Apparently, council members have been hiring private lawyers to defend violations of open-meetings laws and charging taxpayers for the attorney’s fees. The article is part of a Times-Union series on the city council’s tendency not to inform citizens of meetings it would rather keep quiet. The paper gave Lady Bird a head shot and referred to an inside obituary. It was serious news only at the Times-Union, which also headlined a new intelligence report on the resurgence of al-Qaida. Many newspapers carried this grim news. Across the state, the St. Petersburg Times ran the intelligence analysis with a banner “Al-Qaida thrives, U.S. says.” It’s another banner day in the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal with its headline, “U.S. report: Al-Qaida has regained strength.” Still, the Daily Journal gives nearly half of the front-page real estate to “Losing Lady Bird.”

In Long Beach, Calif., the Press-Telegram declared, “Lady Bird Johnson, first lady, made Texas beautiful.” But leading the news in Long Beach is a story headlined, “L.B. Port rolls out cleaner trains.” This one’s about “green” locomotives on the rails at Long Beach’s shipping port. Not only are the locomotives eco-friendly, but a local councilwoman is quoted saying they are “very nice-looking.” Maybe eco-friendly car makers will catch that train. The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Calif., felt that Lady Bird’s influence reached beyond Texas. It says “She sought to beautify America.” But The Desert Sun led with what appears to be an environmental theme too: “Lizard woes might hinder local projects.” Lizards and developers are at a crossroads. If a permit loophole for developers isn’t fixed soon, builders will have to seek actual environment permits. This is certainly a common theme as cities steadily expand into nature. It’s doubtful we’ll see a follow-up headline that says, “Lizards win! Builders leave desert alone.”

The Denver Post ran Mrs. Johnson’s photo on Page One, but shocked with a banner headline announcing: “Insurer offers healthy bonus.” This news may herald a trend. The story is about one of the first insurance plans in the country to offer financial incentives to people who keep their blood pressure low, don’t smoke and meet other healthful lifestyle benchmarks.

In Little Rock, Ark., front-page news is focused on war. “Bid to give GI’s more rest fails in Senate vote,” says the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Included is “Ignore subpoena, Bush orders ex-counsel Miers.”

In Hawaii, attention is on a local 16-year-old golfer. “Tadd’s turn to go pro,” The Honolulu Advertiser announced. No mention of al-Qaida, but Page One carries Lady Bird’s obit and a local investigative piece on the State Bureau of Conveyances favoring big title companies. The free press is working today across the United States.

In another land, where news content is government-controlled, the Gulf News of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, reports “Sheba’s shock for Israelis, UN cartographer says farms captured in 1967 war belong to Lebanon.” The daily gossip in the oil-rich Emirates: “Divorcee ‘weds’ Bin Laden’s son after romance.”

Tim Friend is senior content specialist for exhibit development at the Newseum.

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