Today's Papers

Di No More

The lead story all around is the death of Princess Diana, which posed difficulties because it broke just about the time the East Coast papers were closing. Indeed, the early edition of the Washington Post only had Diana “hurt.” And there’s another, bigger challenge: How to handle the dirty laundry? Say nothing and look naive or say what everybody was saying yesterday and look mean. Editors will continue to struggle with this one in the days ahead, but the edge will eventually go to mean, because newspapers hate to look naive.

The New York Times has a front-page piece stating that the first formal migration study sponsored by the U.S. and Mexican governments has just concluded that there aren’t nearly as many undocumented Mexican workers settling in the United States as “some politicians have suggested”–only about 105,000 a year. In light of this finding, the Times cites as examples of bad information several comments by Pat Buchanan, including a 1993 Washington Times op-ed in which he refers to “the soaring cost of services for illegal aliens, perhaps a million of whom walk into the United States every year from Mexico.”

The Times admits that in 1995, U.S. law enforcement detained 1.3 million aliens from all countries trying to enter the U.S. illegally at the U.S. border, and tries to mitigate that figure and square it with the new study by pointing out that “thousands of migrant workers are detained and sent back to Mexico several times.” Nor does the law enforcement figure, says the NYT, account for the thousands of undocumented Mexicans who cross the border each year, work for a time in the U.S. and then go back voluntarily to Mexico.

But the Times seems to be forgetting that the original point for introducing these statistics is concern about whether our economy is being saddled with the care, schooling, jailing etc. of those here illegally. Even if illegal immigrants are here only temporarily, to the extent that they create more than a million episodes of border crossing, then they might still be a powerful drag on the government and the economy. Those revolving door detention cases cost law enforcement dollars, for instance. And so what if a Mexican family’s two kids go back home every summer if they’re always here for the public school year?

The point isn’t that this clearly means that only the most draconian stance on immigration is justified. Rather, it’s that the NYT’s coverage of this study shouldn’t have overlooked these details. That it does smacks of using the release of the study as a device for pushing for a looser point of view about illegal immigration. Which is OK for the editorial and op-ed page, but not for the front page.

The WP starts a five-part series today about life in the “new world of AIDS”–the world, that is, in which death rates are flattening out, in which the disease has become much less about being gay and much more about being poor and using drugs, and in which new medicines are prolonging life. Today’s installment mentions one unintended consequence of the new therapies. “I’m seeing more and more depression and substance abuse,” a psychiatric social worker says. “People are kind of stuck in a perpetual limbo because they’re not healthy and working, but they’re not necessarily so sick they can’t get out of bed.”“

The Post also has an inside piece about Bill Clinton’s new social whirl, on ample display these days at Martha’s Vineyard. (This theme was explored earlier in the week by the Wall Street Journal.) The most frightening picture painted by the story has to be this: Among the entertainments arranged for Clinton this week was Sylvester Stallone flying in to perform a scene from “Copland” with Vernon Jordan.