Audit Notes: A WSJ Winner, BPA in Canned Goods, AIG

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Rupert Murdoch and Robert Thomson watered down the Journal’s print Pulitzer-winning prowess but got the paper its first Pulitzer for photography?

That’s very plausible after seeing the amazing photo on page one today (and I think the paper’s excellent work on BP will be in the running for a Pulitzer next year).

It’s a stunning picture of a GI in Afghanistan leaning over a wounded comrade, reading from Psalm 91 and holding a smoldering cigarette to the man’s mouth. The headline:

‘You Will Not Fear… the Arrow That Flies by Day’

It’s one of the very best pictures out of either war in the last decade. And it’s exclusive to the Journal: “Ricardo Garcia Vilanova for The Wall Street Journal.”

Staff Sgt. Edward Rosa reads the Bible and extends a cigarette to Pfc. Jorge Rostra Obando, who was stunned by an explosion in Afghanistan’s Arghanab Valley. One comrade was killed and two injured in the blast. Pfc. Rostran asked the sergeant to read Psalm 91, a favorite from his childhood.

It goes without saying that pre-Murdoch the Journal never had a real photography presence. You were more likely to see a company-provided photo than anything exclusive to the paper. While I think the paper’s better off with the old dot-sketches than, say, an A-Rod photo, this Afghanistan image makes the Journal a better paper.

And, yes, it’s the kind of thing that makes folks fork over their two bucks at the newsstand.

Reuters reports that bisphenol A, the chemical in plastic bottles that’s caused so much controversy in the last couple of years, is in metal cans, too.

What Sprague didn’t realize is that BPA, or bisphenol A, is ubiquitous. Simply put, just about anything you eat that comes out of a can — from Campbell’s Chicken Soup and SpaghettiOs to Diet Coke and BumbleBee Tuna — contains the same exact chemical.

The exposure to BPA from canned food “is far more extensive” than from plastic bottles, said Shanna Swan, a professor and researcher at the University of Rochester in New York. “It’s particularly concerning when it’s lining infant formula cans.”

Can makers spray it on the metal to put a layer between the food and the can lining. But:

The studies by Taylor are certainly eye-opening. They have shown that the chemical alters the way DNA operates, a process known as an epigenetic change.

The can industry says the amounts are far too small to matter and that it has reduced food-poisoning deaths. But it’s good that Reuters is pushing this into the open.

— McClatchy reports that AIG’s problems were far worse than the Bush administration knew or let on, and that its insurance subsidiaries needed bailing out:

After the taxpayer bailout, McClatchy found, AIG distributed $20 billion in securities lending losses among its insurance subsidiaries, and then offset the red ink by booking similarly sized capital contributions that only could have come from taxpayers. That lifeline kept seven life insurers in the black, according to their regulatory filings.

However, AIG then assessed several of the insurers $7 billion, cobbling that together with government cash and loans to finance a $43.7 billion settlement that returned the bonds to the insurers and left taxpayers holding risky mortgage securities.

W.O. Myrick, a retired Louisiana chief insurance examiner who’s studied AIG, criticized state regulators for allowing the insurers to “falsify” their balance sheets by continuing to list the bonds as assets while they were loaned to banks.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.