Today's Papers

Pulp Fictions

The Washington Post leads with another Iranian challenge to U.S. economic sanctions–negotiations on a $2.5 billion deal with the British-Dutch conglomerate Shell hard on the heels of its recently consummated $2 billion offshore gas deal with a French company. The New York Times goes with an apparently surprising crime statistic. And the Los Angeles Times leads with President Clinton’s call for Hollywood to avoid making drugs look cool.

The NYT reports that, according to FBI data, property crime has fallen sharply in this country since 1980. Indeed, burglary rates are down by almost half. New York, the paper reports, now has a lower burglary rate than London. San Diego is, fortunately for Times roving crime reporter Fox Butterfield, a city with one of the most precipitous drops in burglary, larceny, and auto theft, so he could rove there instead of Duluth to find out what’s going on. Theories bandied about by the various experts he quotes include: improved police tactics, a decline in the teen-age population, longer prison sentences and greater community involvement with law enforcement. Perhaps the most plausible explanation offered is this: American criminals increasingly tend to commit violent crimes rather than non-violent ones. For example, London and New York have nearly the same population, with London having 66 percent more thefts and 57 percent more burglaries but only one-fifth as many robberies and only one-tenth as many murders. In other words, maybe the headline to this article shouldn’t have been “Property Crimes Steadily Decline, Led by Burglary,” but rather, “American Criminals Becoming More Violent.” And then the question is, “Why does a newspaper pick the one over the other?”

In his Saturday radio address, says the LAT in its lead, President Clinton urged the entertainment industry to “do its part” by avoiding the depiction of “warped images” that promote drug use. Addressing the movie and music video industry, Clinton is quoted as saying, “Never glorify drugs, but more importantly, tell our children the truth. Show them that drug use is really a death sentence.” The “Industry” will no doubt raise all the usual First Amendment points in response, but more to the point, is Clinton’s challenge really relevant to current movies, as opposed to those made 25 years ago? In most films nowadays, drug use is practically a convention for showing that a character is seedy or at least going to seed. Things aren’t looking up for Henry Hill in “Goodfellas” when he starts using coke and we know it. And what was attractive about Uma Thurman’s habit in “Pulp Fiction”? It’s interesting that the president, who knows movies quite well, doesn’t give any actual examples of what he’s decrying.

Both the NYT and WP have run stories recently about the impugning of a collection of alleged JFK private papers that were being used for an ABC documentary and a Seymour Hersh book. Today’s NYT develops the story further, breaking the news that about 140 investors, had, before the controversy arose, bought dozens of these documents, forking over a total of perhaps as much as $5 million. The Times says the investors include sports figures and a network news anchor (could that be Peter Jennings, would-be host of the now-in-doubt ABC documentary?), and says that although some experts have discredited the papers, others continue to insist on their authenticity–despite the discovery of such anachronisms as mention of a ZIP code and evidence of lift-off correcting tape.

The WP today starts an occasional series about genetics with a fine first installment on the controversies surrounding cosmetic gene therapy. According to the piece, many sorts of this type of therapy–for say, getting taller, thinner, stronger, tanner or unbald–could be practicable within just a few years, yet no regulations govern them, and the NIH and FDA only recently discussed them for the first time. The piece raises doubts about the basic distinction of “cosmetic” vs. “medical” here: Why isn’t a genetically-induced permanent tan just a form of melanoma protection?