Today's Papers

Where the Elite Meet to Delete

USA Today

leads with the movement of U.S. naval forces towards the Persian Gulf, apparently positioning for a strike against Saddam Hussein, a story that is played on the Washington Post front above the fold, but inside at the other majors. The Los Angeles Times leads with a report that 36 state attorneys general are very close to a $200 billion settlement of the health cost claims they’ve raised against the major cigarette manufacturers, a story that the Wall Street Journal flags in its front-page news box. (The Journal says the deal could end up involving 46 states.) The New York Times leads with an exclusive: that during the recent Wye negotiations, the director of the CIA vowed to quit if convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was freed as part of any deal reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

According to the USAT account, some of the Iraq scenario is quite familiar: A dire threat to Saddam (this time issued by Secretary of Defense Cohen), President Clinton conferring with national security staff and several foreign leaders, and talk of Tomahawk cruise missiles as the likely weapon. But, notes the paper, there is a new wrinkle too: the State Department has ruled out any last-ditch negotiations. The paper doesn’t mention another one: unlike past stare-downs, this time neither France nor Russia is openly resisting U.S. military action.

The LAT lead explains that the proposed tobacco settlement doesn’t provide as much regulatory restraint nor as much money as the failed federal tobacco bill would have, but also offers the industry less protection from other lawsuits. In return for the billions and a ban on cigarette billboards, transit ads, and logoed merchandise. the bill would end most suits seeking recovery of Medicaid funds spent by the states on smokers. The settlement might be announced as early as next Monday.

The NYT lead says that before CIA director George Tenet took his stand regarding Pollard , President Clinton was seriously considering releasing him. The paper adds that Tenet’s vehemence was a direct reflection of the intelligence community’s depth of anger towards Pollard despite his conviction for spying for a friendly power. The paper notes that Pollard stole more top-secret documents than almost any other spy in American history (it would have been nice if the Times had said who had taken more), a take measurable in cubic yards, plus it is still unknown if any of them ended up in unfriendly hands.

The WP lead is a peek at the special alternative medicine issue of JAMA that’s being published today, the first such issue by a mainstream medical journal. According to the story, an estimated 83 million American adults used some sort of alternative medical treatment last year, up 47 percent over 1990. This mainly reflects the medical habits of baby boomers, most of whom said they pursued the alternative therapies more to prevent future problems than to treat current ones. The Post says Americans spent $27 billion on alternative treatment last year, most of it not reimbursed by insurance. USAT covers pretty much the same ground in its front-page “cover story,” although adding that insurance coverage of non-mainstream treatment is on the rise.

A front-page WSJ feature on the current upsurge in home buying notes a troublesome undercurrent. Yes, the increase in low-down-payment home loans has meant opening up home ownership to more low-income families and to more Hispanics and blacks. However, this new class of homeowner, being more financially strapped, might have a much harder time retaining homes through any significant downturn.

A front-page NYT piece identifies the real lesson corporate America is taking away from the Microsoft trial: old e-mail can be a minefield of legal liability. High-tech firms, long based on the free-flow and candor that e-mail encourages, are having second thoughts. For instance, with an eye towards the courts, employees are now encouraged, says the paper, to say “fair competition” not “slaughtering” when talking of business strategy. And to dump old e-mail whenever possible. The Times reports that recently offered free lattes to employees who quickly expelled from their e-mail all files not required for ongoing business or by law.

The WP reports that the recent DNA test revelation that Thomas Jefferson almost certainly fathered a child with one of his slaves has energized an Illinois family’s previous claim that it is descended from a liaison between a son of George Washington and one of his slaves. The family is now searching for known Washington descendants for the same sort of genetic testing used in the Jefferson matter. The story doesn’t say whether the Illinois family members view themselves as white or black. But if you think about it, if this sort of testing became a trend it would be a good thing no matter what the apparent race of the testers. If they are black, discovering a relationship to a Founding Father would tend to replace feelings of alienation often felt by minorities with feelings of proud connection. If they are white, discovering a blood relationship to a slave would tend to stimulate empathy for blacks. Either way, society wins.