Today's Papers

Dot Commie Plot?

USA Today

, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the continuance of the deadlocked Middle East talks in Queenstown, Maryland. The Washington Post carries that story inside and goes instead with another struggle between sworn enemies–the DOJ anti-trust suit against Microsoft, which goes to trial today.

The three Middle East leads all quote a State Department spokesman’s information-free comment that the Queenstown atmosphere “justifies continuing these discussions.” The main issue is whether or not Israel will cede a further parcel of land in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority in return for various security guarantees, but there’s no clear sense in the reporting of where things stand. The NYT quotes an official saying real bargaining is taking place, while the LAT and USAT state that right now, U.S. officials are just anxious to find some sort of an agreement that all sides could declare a success. The NYT says that failure to reach an agreement would be a “devastating blow to Clinton’s prestige and to the search for a Middle East peace.” The paper is alone in pointing out another source of pressure: the Oslo accords, which govern the entire Palestinian/Israeli peace process, require a final settlement of Palestine’s borders by May 4th.

The three papers report that Arafat and Netanyahu, while remaining at the conference compound, have not met face-to-face for several days. The LAT communicates the dimmest view of what’s behind this, referring to “once-bright hopes” for the summit, and saying there are “ominous signs that things were not going as well as the U.S. mediators implied.” Citing Israeli press reports, the paper says when the two leaders did last meet in person, the atmosphere was “tense and at times insulting.” In particular, Netanyahu was adamant about using the biblical terms for the West Bank preferred by Israeli settlers, and he complained to Arafat about the region’s Arab car thieves.

Like last Friday’s USAT story on DOJ vs. Microsoft, the WP’s lead surveys the case from both sides and says that a key issue will be just what happened at a 1995 meeting between Netscape and MS officials. But also like that USAT story, the Post effort doesn’t explain why if the case pits Bill Gates against the feds and twenty states, Gates won’t be present in the courtroom. A story in the paper’s “Style” section essays to compare the antagonists’ cultures, claiming along the way that the DOJ has large, drab offices while MS has large, cheery offices. Well, at Slate at least, most of the offices are small and cheery.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart has sued over what the Arkansas-based retailer says is an attempt to obtain the trade secrets of its computer system for identifying and mining customer preference data. Besides the on-line book retailer, personally named in the suit is Amazon’s chief information officer, whose previous job was at…Wal-Mart.

The off-lead at the NYT follows up on the paper’s earlier reporting on the transfer of satellite technology to China during the Clinton administration. The paper describes how quite generally, liberalized trading rules worked for by Clinton, not only generated increased sales for America’s high tech companies but also may have allowed China to obtain a wide range of sophisticated technology that has already been put to military use.

Sunday’s LAT led with an enterprise piece about how the California prison system is unique in the entire country in using deadly force to break up inmate fights. Since 1994, state guards have killed twelve inmates who were fighting. This is the latest installment in the paper’s repeated looks in the past year into the dark corners of California’s penal system, all the more commendable because this degree of follow-up is so unusual. In a profession obsessed with scoops, it’s nice to see some digging instead. Pulitzer committee, take note.

On the other hand, the LAT dedicates thirty-some column-inches to a “Column One” story about widespread plagiarism in political speeches. The story points to instances of word theft involving FDR, JFK, Reagan, Bush and a host of California politicians. The piece retells in some detail for the umpteenth time the story of how Sen. Joseph Biden was ridden out of the 1988 presidential election for what the paper calls “burglary.” Yet the LAT never mentions any of the well-documented instances of plagiarism by journalists, even though many of them are more recent and at least as flagrant as Biden’s.

Absence-minded. The NYT runs the following correction: “An article on Friday about the New York Senate race misstated the congressional voting record of the Democratic candidate, Charles E. Schumer. He was present for about 77 percent of the votes this campaign year; he did not miss 77 percent of the votes.”