Justice Department Goes Bananas

Banana company Chiquita Brands International was charged Wednesday with doing business with a terrorist organization.
The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

Chiquita, the world's largest banana producer, became the first major U.S. company to be charged with having financial dealings with terrorists this spring when it pled guilty to paying off Colombian guerrillas who threatened to kill its plantation workers.

Now federal officials may hold the banana king's audit committee head and some of his colleagues personally accountable, even though they turned themselves in to authorities in 2003. Today's front pages have two different takes on why that's important.

For the Wall Street Journal, the investigation into Roderick Hills, former head of Chiquita's audit committee, "illustrates the recent posture taken by U.S. authorities to prosecute aggressively even when companies turn themselves in for breaking the law."

The case has become a something of a "political football" that has prompted Democrats to call for more investigations into other companies' dealings with terrorist groups.

Separately, the Washington Post focuses on the supine role played by Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, a former law firm colleague of Hills' who then served as assistant attorney general.

Hills believed Chiquita was caught between a rock and a hard place since stopping the illegal payoffs risked the lives of its employees. So he went to his old buddy and explained the situation.

Chertoff "affirmed that the payments were illegal but said to wait for more feedback," reports the Post. No feedback ever came, so Chiquita kept making payments to the guerrillas for another year. Now Hills is getting hung out to dry.

The Post notes that the government had very little to gain from ruling either way: "the Bush administration was pulled in competing directions, perhaps because its desire to avoid undermining a newly elected, friendly Colombian government conflicted with its frequent public assertions that supporting a terrorist group anywhere constitutes a criminal offense and a foreign policy mistake."

Given this dilemma, perhaps Chertoff had one of his famous "gut feelings" that it was best not to touch this one with a ten-foot pole.

All Giuliani, All The Time

Rudy Giuliani and Fox News chief Roger Ailes are buddies, and Giuliani's got the face time on Fox News to prove it, the New York Times reports.

The two have been pulling for each other for two decades, according to the paper. Ailes was the media consultant to Giuliani's first mayoral campaign in 1989, and Giuliani officiated at Ailes' wedding and intervened on his behalf when Fox News was blocked from securing a cable station in the city.

"They grew close enough that when Mr. Ailes was hospitalized in 1998, Mr. Giuliani showed up at his bedsidce bearing gifts: a book about New York landmarks and an issue of Wine Spectator," the paper reports.

The relationship has paid great dividends in free publicity for the candidate. This year through July 15, Giuliani has appeared for 115 minutes for interviews on Fox. Giuliani's on-air time on Fox was 25 percent more than that of his Republican competitor Mitt Romney, and nearly double that of Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Times reports.

"It's circular," notes Thomas Patterson, a Harvard professor. "The more coverage you get, the easier it is to stay up in the polls. You stay up in the polls, you get more coverage."

Buck up, America. It's not as bad as you think. Really.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to a WSJ/NBC News poll, more than two thirds of Americans believe the U.S. economy is either in recession now or will be in a year "despite the fact the economy has experienced sustained growth with low inflation and unemployment and generally rising stock values ever since the recession that ended early in President Bush's tenure."

Americans were most bummed out by the cost of health care, with 44 percent ranking it as the top economic problem. In addition, the poll showed "a lack of confidence in economic leaders," including "the financial industry, large corporations in general and energy, drug and insurance companies in particular."

"There's a combination of anxiety and loathing," Democratic pollster Peter Hart said. "There's a sense that every single one of these institutions is totally out for their own betterment, versus the public they serve."

Detroit Slips To Number 2

Meanwhile, pessimism appears to be an indisputably appropriate attitude to take toward the American auto industry. The LA Times reports that foreign cars outsold domestics for the first time in July, which is notes was "a miserable month for the industry."
Foreign cars accounted for 52 percent of the sales in July.

"Housing sales are in the tank, and now we're seeing the same in auto sales," said gloom harbinger Erick Merkle, analyst with the consulting firm IRN Inc. "What else is there? You can't support an economy on grocerties and gasoline."

FBI Now Taking Tokers

If all this bad news is making you feel the need to self-medicate, don't worry. You can still become a special agent. USA Today reports that the FBI has loosened its drug policy amid a campaign to hire hundreds of agents.

"The bureau's pot-smoking standard, in place for the last 13 years, was revised after internal debate about whether the policy was eliminating prospects of drug experimentation," the paper reports. The policy disqualified candidates if they had used marijuana more than 15 times. The new policy "encourages honesty."

The old policy, not surprisingly, "created problems for applicants who couldn't remember how many times they had smoked pot."