It’s almost a clean sweep of the papers for John Glenn–his last Tang go leads at USA Today, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. USAT’s front page is All Glenn All the Time and includes a huge spectacular blast-off photo. The Los Angeles Times gives almost half of its front page to Glenn, but leads with the death of L.A. County Sheriff Sherman Block (the nation’s highest paid elected official) from a brain hemorrhage in the midst of a re-election campaign where the main issue was whether he was in good health. Only time will tell if the LAT’s reporting was insufficiently aggressive when, earlier in the week after Block underwent emergency brain surgery, it ran a headline saying that Block’s “survival is expected.”
The papers see the Glenn launch, viewed by hundreds of thousands of spectators and carried live on just about every television station, as a magic unifying moment for the whole country. “Captivated Nation Cheers” is how a USAT headline puts it. The Wall Street Journal reports that 71 percent of voters hold a favorable view of Glenn. And both the WP and the NYT note that the euphoria all but smothered criticisms that Glenn’s presence was merely a publicity stunt. True, in a separate story, the Post does note that the mission has marketing tie-ins (for which Glenn refused compensation) with Kodak and with Mattel’s “John Glenn Action Pack”–toy figures of the astronaut cum senator cum astronaut. And the NYT follows up yesterday’s curmudgeonly editorial describing the mission as “a testament more to past eminence than present value” with today’s “Editorial Observer” saying that even Glenn’s original blast-off wasn’t that important. But otherwise, the NYT is pretty much in step, running no fewer than six Glenn stories inside. Remarkably, even when discussing the potentially dangerous loss during the launch of a protective metal panel, there is no mention in any of the Glenn leads of the space program’s last “special” astronaut, Christa McAuliffe.
The NYT off-lead reveals that as part of the case federal prosecutors are building against terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden, they have filed still-secret charges against an Egyptian-born former U.S. Army Green Beret. The ex-soldier is alleged to have switched from being a U.S. anti-terrorist specialist to being an anti-U.S. terrorist. The article all but comes out and says the man was a CIA asset, in that it cites his odd military record–he apparently joined the U.S. Army as a non-citizen while in his mid-thirties–and puts him in Afghanistan during the CIA-managed anti-Soviet insurgency there.
The LAT and NYT fronts report that yesterday, an Israeli soldier died using his jeep to take an explosion a Palestinian suicide bomber intended for a bus full of Israeli school children. (The story is carried inside at the WP and USAT.) The papers say that the event is the first real test of Yasser Arafat’s determination to honor his recent commitment to increased West Bank security. He seems to have passed, by immediately condemning the bombing and placing the spiritual head of Hamas, the terrorist group implicated in the attack, under house arrest. He has also rounded up other Hamas members.
The political story of the week–those Republican Lewinsky-driven anti-Clinton ads–continues to develop on the front pages. The WP elaborates on a point first made by yesterday’s NYT–that Newt Gingrich had a hands-on role in the ad campaign. But leave it to the WSJ to observe that for all the press hoopla, very few voters have actually seen the ads, because so far, they have only aired in ten states.
Tom Shales, in his WP review of the Glenn launch television coverage, probably speaks for many when he sees the event as a magic opportunity to escape a relentless political scandal. Perhaps the LAT is wryly doing the same when it quotes an Angeleno’s description of Glenn as a hero who has managed to be in the American imagination for almost 40 years “without a stain.”