No doubt about it–today’s top story is Hong Kong. The Los Angeles Times puts it across all six columns of the top of its front page and puts two more related page one stories below. USA TODAY leads with it and has a news section “cover story” on it as well. The Wall Street Journal dedicates its “World Wide News” front page space to the topic and does a column one take on Hong Kong tycoons. The Washington Post gives four columns at its top over to two stories about the event. The New York Times runs a banner headline across its top front and just underneath that, two big pictures: on the left, exiting British Governor Chris Patten, head bowed, holding his country’s folded flag, and on the right, newly arrived Chinese soldiers raising theirs.
In general, the Hong Kong reporting focuses on two themes: the pageantry of the handover ceremonies and the open political questions that remain. There’s some pretty efficient limning of the historical context, but some linguistic and reporting overkill too. The LAT for instance, tells its readers that, “awash in fireworks and fired-up patriotism, China celebrates the end of 156 years of ‘national disgrace,’ regaining a tiny patch of land ceded after a humiliating war and eyed enviously for a century,” while the NYT can’t keep to itself about the police band members at the ceremonies in their “snow white tunics” and the attendance there “of representatives of each of the territory’s services, from the Correctional Services Department to the Auxiliary Medical Service.” The paper also tells us that Patten’s favorite song is “Highland Cathedral” and that the last ceremonial meal under a British flag was “Scottish salmon, stuffed chicken breast and a red fruit pudding with raspberry sauce.”
There are certain staple Hong Kong turnover details every paper tells us: that Jiang Zemin is the first sitting Chinese leader to visit the colony, that Madeleine Albright snubbed the Chinese, that the Chinese snubbed the British, and that the Chinese are saying they will preserve Hong Kong’s free economy and open political system for fifty years. But none of today’s accounts really explains where this number comes from.
Among the big papers, the Post is alone in keeping the Mike Tyson story on page one, detailing there how on Monday, Tyson apologized to Evander Holyfield for biting him on both ears. Here too, there seems to be more reporting than the story needs. The Post tells us that Tyson’s prepared statement lasted “4 minutes 16 seconds,” and includes the detail that “President Clinton, an admitted boxing fan, expressed revulsion at Tyson’s actions in the ring.” The paper then goes on to relieve whatever anxieties are currently being suffered by libertarian fight fans: “The president, however, stopped short of suggesting federal intervention in boxing.”