Today's Papers

Losing Their Nerve Gas

With America shutting down for the long weekend, overseas news dominates the papers that are still working. The Japanese government’s announcement of a plan to resolve its banking crisis leads at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. The Washington Post makes Japan’s banks its off-lead and goes instead with the pledge by Nigeria’s new leader to release all political prisoners, a story that’s the off-lead at the LAT and runs on the bottom front at the Times. A central issue confronting the country, the Post explains, is whether the long-suppressed southern-based Yoruba peoples can win a political role within any compromise with the northern-based Hausa-speakers who dominate the military leadership.

Japan’s bank plan, which must get the approval of Parliament before being enacted, is intended to address the country’s estimated $550 billion in troubled loans, and as the LAT notes, to assuage the rising tide of international complaints, especially from the U.S. and China, about Japanese inaction. The NYT explains that since the plan will let some banks fail, it is a departure from Japan’s “convoy” system via which all banks support one another.

All three of the big dailies working today feature front-page stories about Time/CNN’s retraction of its allegation that nerve gas was used against American defectors by U.S. troops in Laos in 1970, with considerable additional coverage inside. (Question: why is it only the LAT’s headline that mentions that Time made a retraction too?) Media retractions are rare enough, but this case produced something rarer still: firings and resignations arising from poor journalism. Two producers were cut loose, another resigned, and bigfoot CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, was, according to the Post, “given a stern reprimand” by the CNN chairman. The retraction was based on the findings of an outside consultant, media lawyer Floyd Abrams, who concluded, say the papers, that the journalists involved “ignored or minimized” information that conflicted with the nerve gas theory.

Even in the retraction and the papers’ coverage of the retraction there is plenty of residual bad journalism. The stories make it seem that the only organized criticism came from Floyd Abrams–there’s not even a whisper indicating that all the key questions were raised the day after the story aired by Slate’s Cyrus Krohn. (That babyish desire not to credit others is incredibly deep-seated. “Today’s Papers” was shocked to learn that the LAT piece about genetic research in Iceland lauded here last month was wholly derivative of a prior Mother Jones piece, which was not even mentioned by the LAT.) And although everybody now offers tons of reasons for what the mission was not, nobody seems at all interested in a coherent account of what it *was*. All the lemming-like movement first towards and then away from the story leaves plenty of worthwhile questions on the table: Was nerve gas ever used in Vietnam or Laos? If not, then why does everybody now admit that there were tactical munitions canisters called CBU-15s, and that they were in-country? Were missions (nerve gas or no) ever conducted against U.S. servicemen or defectors?

The WP and NYT report that the federal government yesterday ordered states to pay for Viagra under their Medicaid programs for the indigent and disabled, on the grounds that under Medicaid, prescription drug coverage must include any medication approved by the FDA. The upshot, notes the Post, is that the government is now having the states pay for Viagra for men but not for birth control or infertility treatments for women. And not, the Times quotes one source as saying, for medical equipment needed to keep quadriplegics and people with cerebral palsy out of nursing homes. The NYT especially emphasizes states’ concerns about the current lack of knowledge about side effects, and reports that New York and Wisconsin say they will defy the Viagra directive.

Two days ago, USAT broke the story of a defector from Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, who as part of his process of seeking asylum in the U.S, told authorities that his country had contemplated a nuclear first strike against India. The story got some follow-through coverage yesterday, but now comes the NYT reporting that the man is not a scientist at all, but “a low-paid accountant for a company that makes bathroom tiles.”

The WP says that Newt Gingrich’s publisher still has 100,000 copies of the Speaker’s worst-selling novel “1945” taking up space in a warehouse. “You’d think,” he tells the paper, “there are 100,000 Republicans out there who would want one.”

The WP reports that Jack Kevorkian’s lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, is running for governor of Michigan, and making a strong and entertaining go of it. When asked if Kevorkian might have a place in his Cabinet, Fieger said no: “Can you imagine a man with more skeletons in his closet?…”