Today's Papers

Mining: Our Own Business

The USA Today lead is President Clinton’s statement Wednesday demanding changes in the national tobacco deal, a story that the other papers handled yesterday on the basis of White House background leaks about what he would say. At the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times, the lead is the U.S. decision to not join a proposed international land-mine ban. (And this is the second lead at USAT.)

The U.S. decision to withdraw from negotiations being conducted by 89 countries in Oslo, Norway, was defended by Clinton on the grounds that the ban could put U.S. troops at risk in time of war. The WP says the decision was “greeted with jubilation and relief by humanitarian groups and countries that support the ban” because they feared the United States would dilute the treaty at the last minute. The treaty arrived at without U.S. participation prohibits all anti-personnel land mines. Signatories will have four years to destroy their inventories and 10 years to clear areas that have been mined. It will probably become international law within two years.

The WP says the ban will be “the first arms control treaty to limit a conventional weapon.” But the Post is mistaken, and give credit to the NYT for providing the correct historical background: In 1863, exploding bullets were banned, in 1899, so were dum-dum bullets. Poison gas was outlawed in 1925, and in 1995 it was ixnay on blinding lasers.

Of all the papers covering the ban today, only USAT mentions the momentum derived from the death of Princess Diana, who embraced the cause shortly before her death.

The overall mining coverage is fairly steeped in the arcana of international treaties and weapons systems, giving it a rather remote flavor. One wonders if the papers would have been this low-key if it were–Qaddafi, say–standing almost alone against the world in clinging to a maiming technology.

The other story that gets most everybody’s attention is the testimony yesterday before the Thompson committee of ex-NSC aide Sheila Heslin. Heslin told the senators of pressure applied to her by the likes of Thomas “Mack” McLarty and other senior officials to make her help a once and future Clinton presidential campaign donor, Roger Tamraz, in connection with his pet oil project. The LAT reports that Heslin’s voice was “full of anger” as she described being called a “Girl Scout” when she resisted what she saw as inappropriate attempts to help Tamraz. The NYT reports that, during the testimony, McLarty issued a statement declaring that he did nothing improper in the matter, but the paper also says that Heslin was “received as one of the most compelling witnesses yet.”

The Wall Street Journal brings word today of an Internet defamation lawsuit. The printing technology company Presstek Inc. is suing three people it identified as short-sellers of its stock, who, Presstek says, posted defamatory and inaccurate statements about the company in various online chat groups in an attempt to drive down the stock price.

Thomas Friedman’s NYT column is an entertaining speed tour of how the Internet has come to the various countries of the Middle East. One of the stories he includes is how Israel’s Yediot newspaper recently went to Moscow and bought Russian spy satellite photographs of new Scud missile bases in Syria, and then hired a private U.S. expert on satellite photos to analyze the pictures. As a result, Yediot published the package as a scoop, without ever quoting a government official. Friedman’s gloss on the episode: “Good news: In today’s global market you can buy anything. Bad news: Syria is still preparing for another war.”