Today's Papers

Hear Them Roar

The Washington Post leads with the black women’s march in Philadelphia. The New York Times leads with a House committee’s condemnation of the Pentagon’s handling of Gulf War veterans’ medical problems. The Los Angeles Times’s lead is a report that the U.S. strategy of isolating Iran and Iraq from the world community is failing as our allies’ desire to make business deals weakens their support.

The WP summarizes the rally’s agenda: investigation of the CIA’s role in “allowing black communities to be flooded with crack cocaine,” programs to help women prisoners make the transition back to society, the establishment of black independent schools, and the release of political prisoners. In discussing crowd size, the Post uses as a reference the size of the Million Man March, but, curiously, doesn’t refer to the Promise Keepers rally of a few weeks back–even though the paper gave PK massive front-page coverage.

The rally coverage signifies an odd new journalism trend. In their extensive front-page coverage, the Post, the NYT, and the LAT dutifully report the size of the rally as “hundreds of thousands,” yet they each persist in referring to the event as the “Million Woman March,” apparently because that’s what the organizers called it. So look for the Pentagon to call its next use of force “Operation Only Objected to by Draft-Dodging Reporters,” and don’t be surprised when next summer’s would-be blockbuster is called “The Best Movie You’ll Ever See.” (Question for William Safire: Why isn’t it “Million Women March” anyway?)

The NYT lead is written off a copy it has obtained of a House committee’s report to be released this coming week that says the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs should be stripped of their authority over Gulf soldiers’ sickness because of their mishandling of the issue. The report states that Congress should either create or designate an agency to take over. The paper also reveals that a separate forthcoming study by a White House panel will be nearly as critical of the DOD.

Last week, the WP ran a front-page story about the problems under welfare reform faced by a woman fresh off the rolls whose 15-year-old daughter has had two babies in rapid succession. The story was accompanied by a front-page picture of the daughter sucking her thumb and staring blankly at television while holding one of her kids. That picture has drawn a firestorm of protest from readers, many of them black women. Now, the Post distinguishes itself by being the only paper covered here that has an ombudsman who writes a regular column, and today she takes up the issue and concludes that “deciding not to put that picture where we did would have better served the truth.” Avoiding the truth is more like it–the Post didn’t turn on the TV or tell the girl to suck her thumb.

In the run-up to Jiang Zemin’s visit, there is a lot of China action today. The WP, in a story about American-based Chinese political exiles, runs the following precis of China’s recent human rights record: “After the Tiananmen Square crackdown, a decade of public political debate in China came to an end. Hundreds if not thousands of demonstrators died. Hundreds were jailed, and scores of dissidents fled abroad….Most [had been] beaten or tortured. All have seen family members harassed, even persecuted to death.” Today at least, the NYT seems fixed on looking the other way. It runs an op-ed piece about China that asserts “while individuals and special-interest groups are free to give human rights absolute and unqualified priority, governments are not,” and which reports that “the number of political prisoners in China currently is 3,000–which is 0.00023 percent of the total population.” Meanwhile, a Times front-page piece details how Jiang loves to break into song and play the piano and recite poetry, all of which, says the paper, “points to an unpredictable, wacky side.” (Homework assignment: find a single front-page piece in the entire history of the NYT emphasizing Hitler’s fondness for animals and children.) “Oh, Jiang,” says one student protester to another, “stop with the wacky stunts, with the piano, with the poetry. You’re killing us here.”