Today's Papers

Afghan Hounding

Everybody leads with the U.S. cruise missile strikes (generally thought to involve 75 missiles, although the Los Angeles Times says it could have been up to 100) against terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. There was other news today, but not much: Monica returned to the grand jury. The Unabrother got a $1 million reward, which he says he’ll distribute to the victims’ families. A study shows that sons of absentee fathers are twice as likely to do jail time as those raised in two-parent homes. The Prom Mom, who confessed to knowingly killing her child, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and as a result, could be out partying again in three years.

The Washington Post, LAT and USA Today run banner headlines across their tops, while the New York Times holds itself to a four-column header, leaving room for two columns for its off-lead about Monica’s second grand jury shot. But there is no Lewinsky story on the USAT front and she’s driven below the fold at the WP and LAT. The USAT headline boils things down the most: “U.S. Strikes Back.” The WP and NYT opt for straight, analytical headlines, although neither mentions the African embassy bombings. The LAT does mention them, although at the cost of omitting the location of the strike targets. But with its top line, the paper does best communicate the government’s sense of urgency: “U.S. Targets Heart of Terror.”

The NYT says the operation was the most formidable ever undertaken by the U.S. against a private sponsor of terrorism. Both targets–terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a chemical weapons factory in Sudan–are associated with Osama bin Laden. USAT, the Wall Street Journal and NYT report that an arrested Palestinian suspect in the bombings provided irrefutable evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the African embassy bombings, a story that from the day of his arrest, the WP pushed harder than the other big dailies. The NYT reports that there were multiple sources for the bin Laden ID. The Post states that in a briefing on August 12th, the director of the CIA told Clinton that bin Laden was behind the embassy bombings. The NYT reports that Clinton tentatively approved the mission on August 14th, with the final go-ahead coming in a 3 AM phone call yesterday morning.

The WP quotes a spokesman for the Taliban, the Afghan ruling group, saying that bin Laden had not been hurt in the strikes. Everybody reports that U.S. officials insist that bin Laden wasn’t personally targeted in the raids. But why this fuss? True, the U.S. government has adopted a policy against assassinating heads of state, but bin Laden is not one. So why not try to kill him? Also, this space noted yesterday that in its story emphasizing U.S. diplomatic efforts, the NYT reported that there was no evidence that the U.S. was considering military action against the bin Laden compound. Today’s Papers doesn’t care whether the NYT just missed the story, or was misled by its government sources as part of a cover and deception plan, or like a congressional leader, was let in on the deal with the promise to keep quiet until afterwards. It’s all good–scumbags don’t have the right to a heads-up.

Everybody notes that in his address to the nation from Washington, President Clinton cited evidence suggesting that bin Laden was planning further attacks against American facilities overseas. The WSJ says the evidence included electronic intercepts of communications relating to a planned truck-bomb attack on an undisclosed facility as well as to U.S. targets in Pakistan. Everybody reports that yesterday was chosen for the action because intelligence indicated a major gathering of terrorist leaders was to take place at the Afghan site. The LAT says the group numbered “several hundred.”

But USAT quotes Sen. Arlen Specter saying the reason was that Clinton wanted to “focus attention away from his own personal problems.” And the NYT has Sen. Dan Coats saying Clinton’s record “raises into doubt everything he does and everything he says.” The WP describes such comments as “unusually swift criticisms” and reports that Secretary of Defense William Cohen “responded stonily” when asked about the comparison to “Wag the Dog.” Everybody runs “Wag the Dog” stories. Their basic form: there is no evidence for the “Wag the Dog” comparison of course, but here’s the comparison. A more apt commentary appears on the LAT op-ed page in the form of a cartoon depicting a reporter asking President Clinton at a press conference, “How do we know these attacks aren’t meant to distract us from distracting the country?”

The LAT op-ed page features a column today arguing via learned appeals to Catholic doctrine and English royal history that what was really wrong with President Clinton’s speech the other night is that he didn’t humbly ask forgiveness for his bad behavior. The author? Gerald Uelmen. Funny, don’t recall much of that from his client, O.J. Simpson.