Audit Notes: WSJ Drives BP Story, NYT is better on Wal-Mart, Insurance, Alabama, Da Bears

—The WSJ continues its strong BP coverage, a story on which it has simply excelled.

Today my old paper examines the final hours before the rig blew in April and reviews in granular detail the confusion and arguments over a key pressure test that should have alerted worker that something was seriously wrong. The reporters, Russell Gold and Ben Casselman, who have been all over this story, offer this key insight about oil-rig safety:

The oil industry employs extraordinary cutting-edge technologies. BP uses some of the world’s fastest computers to locate oil reservoirs. Underwater robots tinker with wells beneath a mile of water.

But the truth about the modern oil industry is that it often relies on the judgment and instinct of men….

—But nobody’s perfect. If you want the context behind Wal-Mart’s decision to appeal a landmark sex-discrimination ruling to the Supreme Court, read the Times and skip the Journal, which briefs it.

I guess the latest step is procedural—anyone can ask, but it doesn’t mean the court will agree to hear the case—but the class-action does have sweeping implications for Wal-Mart workers, and, as the retailer argues, plenty of other companies as well.

Besides, I’m partial to labor reporting and am glad the Times’s Steven Greenhouse, author of a terrific book, The Big Squeeze, on the deteriorating work life of millions of Americans, is still on the beat.

Here he interviews the lead plaintiff:

The case began nearly a decade ago with one woman, Stephanie Odle, who was upset to discover that the top manager at the Sam’s Club where she worked as an assistant store manager had been administering a promotion test to the three male assistant store managers but not to her.

That came after Ms. Odle discovered that a male assistant manager at a previous Sam’s Club where she worked had been earning $23,000 more a year than she was. When she complained, she said, the district manager responded, “Stephanie, that assistant manager has a family and two children to support.”

“I told him, ‘I’m a single mother, and I have a 6-month-old child to support,’ ” she recalled in an interview.

—If there is a major daily that covers insurance better than the L.A. Times, I’ve yet to come across it. Here’s one about California insurance regulators clearing the way for a 14 percent rate hike for Anthem Blue Cross after public protests beat back a higher proposed hike earlier. It’s not sexy, but I find relentless beat coverage like this is really valuable.

—Over the SABEW transom, Jeff Amy of the Mobile Press-Register in Alabama does some good legwork to find that paper companies have been reaping billions in environmental tax credits in recent years for doing what they had happily been doing on their own for decades: using a byproduct of pulp-and-paper making to fuel their mills.

Critics say it’s an abuse of credits intended for makers of fuels such as biodiesel, meant to replace petroleum fuels, not for a routine reuse of a byproduct (weirdly named “black liquor”). As a group of environmental organizations protested in a letter to the EPA:

“Instead, paper companies brazenly crafted a creative yet crude way to dip into the pockets of U.S. taxpayers, and are being paid billions for what they have been doing for over 75 years, and would continue to do without the credit.”

Having covered the paper industry myself, I know that’s not exactly the most profitable business, but that doesn’t mean its entitled to alternative energy tax credits.

Hail, fellow SABEWians: keep ‘em coming.

And, finally, in sports, Forbes analyzes my hometown Chicago Bears and finds they’re as hapless off the field as they have been on it.

That’s fine, as far as it goes. On the other hand, Forbes’s money-generating ideas include premium seating, aka, squeezing fans, and selling Soldier Field’s name. Dunno. Money isn’t everything.

(NOTE: I noticed I forgot to reset the timestamp before I posted. This is closer to when it went up.)

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.