Today's Papers

A Wonderful Life

This is one of those days where what the papers are telling us is most newsworthy via their use of the traditional tools of placement and headline size is mostly spinach–important sure, but…yecch. Yes, the top right-hand column of the New York Times tells us that France will give in to President Clinton and agree to limit the expansion of NATO to just three former East Bloc countries for now (that’s the national edition–the Metro edition uses that prime print estate for a story about New York Governor Pataki’s decision to abandon a major welfare cutback). Sure, the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY give prominent play to an oil tanker called the Diamond Grace making a big mess in Tokyo Bay. And yes, the Washington Post uses its top right to report “President, Congress Close in on Tax Deal.” The majors also dutifully tell us that today’s New England Journal of Medicine concludes that power lines probably don’t give you leukemia. But, c’mon, today’s real news leader is a little further down on the front page–Jimmy Stewart (except at the Los Angeles Times that is, where naturally, it leads). The editors front the story as high as they can because they know there really was a loss here, of a combination of talent and a larger sense of purpose that is utterly absent from entertainment today.

And the obit staffs do some good reporting. (Although there is a discrepancy about the cause of death. Most of the papers say it was cardiac arrest. The NYT and Associated Press go with a blood clot in the lung.) USAT relates that in 1940, when Stewart won his first Oscar, for “The Philadelphia Story,” he had voted for his friend Henry Fonda (in “The Grapes of Wrath”), and reveals that for Stewart’s famous filibuster scene in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the actor had a doctor apply a mercury solution to his vocal chords to give him a raspy throat. The NYT reports that Stewart left Hollywood stardom to join the Air Force nine months before Pearl Harbor, and that one of his stepsons was killed in Vietnam.

Down below the fold on the front page, the NYT breaks the story of an Air Force officer, William Kite, who faces a court martial for fraternizing with an enlisted person and lying about it to superiors. Who did he fraternize with? His wife. The Times story illustrates the sense in which the military has lost perspective on personal relations (if it ever had it). It reports that the investigation that led to the charges against Kite was initiated by the base chaplain, and that Mrs. Kite’s mental health records and even the date of her last menstrual cycle have been entered into evidence. Keep an eye on this one: after all, it’s by the same reporter, Elaine Sciolino, who uncovered the Kelly Flinn case in the Times last May.

In a related story, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen asks a really good question in his op-ed today about the Pentagon’s search for a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs with no sexual baggage: “Would you choose your doctor on this basis?”