Today's Papers

Iran: Ironic or Irenic?

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with a call by the president of Iran for a “dialogue” between his country and the U.S. USA Today leads with a report indicating that homelessness and hunger are on the rise. The Los Angeles Times goes with a report on a rift developing among anti-tobacco forces based on whether or not it’s okay to grant any sort of legal immunity to tobacco companies in return for public health gains–just the sort of deal at the heart of the proposed national tobacco settlement before Congress.

The WP Iran lead reports that Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi made the irenic remarks at a press conference, and described them as the most conciliatory made by an Iranian leader toward the U.S. since the Islamic revolution there in 1979. Khatemi said, “I declare my respects to the great people of the United States.” True, Khatemi also said that the U.S. mistakenly believes it is the sole world power, trying to “impose its will on the whole world at any cost,” but the paper reports that a senior Clinton official responded by saying the administration is ready to sit down and talk to the Iranian government if Khatemi’s remarks are “authoritative.” The NYT lead covers pretty much the same ground except that it mentions that Ali Khameni, not Khatemi, is Iran’s supreme ruler. But even the Times could have elaborated on this to help the reader try to decide what Khatemi’s statements are worth. The WP piece doesn’t even mention Khameni (although another Post front pager, on Iran’s loosening of domestic social restrictions, especially on women and intellectuals, does so in the course of an informative paragraph on the Iranian power structure).

Neither the WP nor the NYT mentions as a possible Khatemi motivation the desire for eliminating obstacles to Caspian-Sea-based oil deals involving U.S. petroleum companies, now hamstrung by anti-Iranian sanctions. (USAT and the LAT also have front-page coverage of Khatemi’s remarks.)

The USAT lead reports on a study just released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which found that the demand for emergency food and housing increased in 1997 for the 13th straight year. Cited as factors are: increased substance abuse and mental illness, the high cost of housing, low-paying jobs and reductions in federal welfare and food stamps. The WP carries this story on page 17.

The Wall Street Journal runs a front-page feature reporting that China’s leaders are responding to the general Asian downturn by putting off opening up their financial and currency markets and by overhauling the country’s central bank. Plus, interest rates will probably be cut by year’s end.

Harvard government professor Michael Sandel puts some NYT op-ed space to good use today with some useful homely examples suggesting what’s wrong with the emissions credit system the U.S. is advocating as a significant element in its greenhouse gas control approach. Turning pollution into a commodity to be bought and sold, he argues, removes the moral stigma that is properly associated with it. A fine means something a fee does not. If, Sandel wonders, a busy contractor used the handicapped parking near his work site and willingly paid the fine as a simple cost of business, isn’t he still doing something wrong?

The WP reports that according to Justice Department statistics, the 74 executions carried out thus far this year in the United States represent the highest number in any one year since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 and the most in four decades. Texas has had the most dead men walking, Virginia placing a distance second. All the executed were men convicted of murder: 44 whites, 24 blacks, and two “other.” The prisoners executed in 1996 had been on death row an average of 10 years and five months. Polling indicates, says the Post, that the percentage of those favoring the death penalty has nearly doubled in the past thirty years. (This piece is by George Lardner Jr., whose daughter was murdered a few years ago.)

Say it ain’t so. The NYT runs this headline: “Fraternity Members Among Heaviest College Drinkers, Study Shows.”