Today's Papers

Lethal Weapon II

Additional Indian atomic tests on Wednesday and U.S. sanctions against India lead all around. President Clinton justified the economic countermeasures–stopping all American foreign aid, government credit and most U.S. bank loans and opposing all international bank loans–by citing the “dangerous new instability” the blasts have created in the region. To head it off, Clinton telephoned Pakistan’s prime minister to urge him not to test nukes too. The papers report that Clinton received no assurances. The New York Times claims that Pakistan is preparing for an underground test as soon as this Sunday.

The Washington Post stresses that the second round of Indian explosions was just as much a surprise to the world as the first. The NYT emphasizes the defiance of the second round. The

Post’s reporting suggests that Indian motivations are not crystal clear, with one senior aide to Prime Minister Vajpayee quoted as saying that the tests were scheduled a month ago and were not intended as a rebuff to international criticism, while another stated, “The news of the day is: India defies world opinion.” Officially, report the Times, the Post and the Wall Street Journal consider abiding by some of the provisions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and repeated its rejection of Clinton’s demand that it sign the treaty.

An inside story at the WP describes the U.S. intelligence failure in the India matter, and editorials at the Los Angeles Times and NYT decry it. The NYT editorial argues that besides our spies, the policy folks at State and the White House fell down on the job too, given that the new Hindu nationalist government of India talked openly of its interest in nuclear weapons. There is a real problem here, but the newspapers aren’t exempt. Yes, the intelligence agencies and the national security staffs are too readily distracted by the current crisis, whatever it is, but the dailies are also too crisis-oriented in their coverage. Today’s NYT has at least nine articles on India. Last Saturday’s Times, published on the eve of trouble, carried exactly zero.

Characteristically, the WSJ and the NYT include coverage of an easily overlooked aspect of the world’s tensest nuclear crisis since the end of the Cold War–its impact on the Bombay, New Delhi, and Madras stock markets.

A piece deep inside the WP brings news that a Russian missile specialist has warned that the nuclear ICBMs aboard Russia’s older submarines are wearing out so badly that their continued deployment threatens “hundreds of Chernobyls.” These comments come, says the Post on the heels of an apparent Russian nuke sub emergency in the Barents Sea just over a week ago. Despite official reassurances, when the sub was brought back to its base there was widespread panic in the neighboring cities.

The WSJ says although only 17% percent of CEOs say they regularly watch television, 72% plan to watch tonight’s “Seinfeld.” The WP reports that yesterday’s Boston Herald ran the basic story line for the episode: Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer witness a carjacking and are put on trial for failing to report it. But the paper doesn’t claim to know how things turn out. Is it just “Today’s Papers” that wonders how it can be that witness testimony before just about any federal grand jury is on the front page in twenty-four hours and yet a sitcom plot remains a state secret?