Today's Papers

Arafat Chance

The Albright mission to the Middle East continues to get big play, leading at the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and topping the Wall Street Journal worldwide news-digest box. The release of official Army studies revealing widespread sexual harassment in the service leads at the New York Times. And USA Today leads with the Senate’s passage of a national educational testing plan.

What’s most interesting about today’s coverage of the Albright story is the amount of story-shaping on display. The same picture of Albright shaking hands with Arafat accompanies the WP and NYT stories. It shows Arafat beaming and Albright anything but. Which raises the question, was this really the best picture they had or were the editors trying to “say” something with it? And although these papers and the LAT all communicate the same basic facts about yesterday’s events–that Arafat responded to Albright’s demands by promising full cooperation in the fight against anti-Israeli terrorism and that Netanyahu was very cool toward her entreaties to him to cease land confiscations, home demolitions, settlement building, confiscation of IDs and the embargoing of tax revenues belonging to the Palestinian authority–their headlines differ in what they emphasize. The LAT runs its story under “Arafat Promises Albright a Steady Anti-Terror Effort,” while the WP uses “Albright Urges Israeli Restraint” and the NYT runs it under “Albright Asks Israel To Take a ‘Timeout’ on Settlements.”

The NYT’s lead reports that the Army’s largest-ever investigation of sexual misconduct in the ranks found that it was very widespread and that the service leadership was to blame. Also, investigators concluded that most female troops were unwilling to report instances of sexual misconduct out of a well-founded fear that they, and not their harassers, would be punished. Both the Times and WP stories quote statistics from the studies about how soldiers perceive the atmosphere they serve in, such as “47 percent of the female troops polled reported that they had experienced ‘unwanted sexual attention,’ ” or “22 percent of the women and 7 percent of the men said they had been sexually harassed in the last year.” These are good examples of a chronic newspaper gaffe: the uncontextual stat. The reader doesn’t know what such claims say about the Army because he or she doesn’t know the corresponding numbers for the same claims in other lines of work. And the papers fail here (as they often do) to provide them.

The Post treats this as purely a story about workplace gender bias. For the most part, the NYT does the same until late in its piece when it observes that the problems unearthed are “evidence of a larger breakdown of trust between soldiers.” It’s USAT that recognizes this as the most damaging detail, emphasizing it above all else in its headline–“Soldiers Lack Confidence in Their Officers”–and lead: “Soldiers have deep misgivings about their commanders and don’t feel confident about following them into combat, a harsh Army report said Thursday.”

Perhap’s today’s biggest story is nobody’s lead–another in the WP’s series of investigative pieces on campaign fund raising. This morning’s effort by Brian Duffy and Bob Woodward reports that Janet Reno and the directors of the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency yesterday told members of the Thompson committee that they had credible intelligence indicating that Ted Sioeng, a prominent Los Angeles-based businessman, acted on behalf of China to influence 1996 election races via illegal campaign contributions.

The fronts of USAT, the WP, and the NYT bring news of a government report saying that AIDS deaths dropped 26 percent last year and that the disease is no longer the No. 1 cause of death among Americans ages 25-44, as it had been for the previous two years.

The WSJ “Washington Wire” reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “advises its staff not to comment on inquiries about whether Princess Diana could have survived her car crash if she had worn a seat belt.”