Today's Papers

Kosovo Kiss-Off

The Los Angeles Times leads with the renewed outbreak of fighting between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo as the peace talks in France falter. The New York Times off-leads that development, but leads with a story first tipped by the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the Clinton administration’s decision to reject the sale of a $450 million satellite to a Chinese business consortium because of concerns about hurting U.S. security and boosting Chinese military capabilities. This story is also on the LAT front. Both Times run top front pictures of refugees fleeing from the fresh Kosovo fighting, documenting that their number includes horses and babies. The Washington Post also off-leads Kosovo but its lead is yesterday’s signal from the House Republican leadership that despite recently endorsing a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut, it will no longer press very hard for it, because, says the paper, of stiff opposition from GOP members of Congress who fear the plan is too costly and politically risky because it smacks of favoring the rich. Into this breach, explains the Post, will go an attempt to scale back the marriage penalty paid by many two-earner couples, and other targeted tax relief proposals. USA Today goes with the upswing in federal health care fraud prosecutions, resulting in unprecedented numbers of doctors and administrators going to prison. Sixty percent of these cases involve bogus Medicare billing. The story’s headline–“Feds Triple Health Fraud Cases”–commits the sin of a vacuous comparison, but the body explains that the baseline year for the comparison with current prosecutions is 1993.

The LAT lead describes the erosion of the Kosovo talks. It spells out the stumbling blocks: the Albanians want an eventual referendum on independence written in, and the Serbs are balking at the interposition of a NATO peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, according to the LAT, the tactical situation is likewise deteriorating. The Yugoslav army and police are now moving large numbers of troops and vehicles around Kosovo in violation of the October cease-fire. And some of the 1,300 unarmed monitors of that agreement have come under attack from Serbian mobs, and some have been beaten by uniformed Serbian police.

It’s becoming clear from the coverage that the U.S. negotiating strategy–to get the Albanians on board and then threaten the Serbs with airstrikes–has come a cropper because U.S. and NATO diplomats have been, in the NYT’s words, “flabbergasted” by the Albanians, especially by the Albanian guerrillas in the delegation. The LAT says the Albanians frequently argue among themselves. The paper notes that they’ve never had to make collective decisions before. And as one U.S. official tells the WP: “We can’t jam the Serbs until we get the Albanians on board.”

The NYT points out that the administration suppression of the China satellite deal reverses its years-long policy of promoting such commercial sales, making it likely that China will interpret the quashing of this transaction as a fundamental retreat from U.S. policy encouraging expanded economic relations. The paper says the Commerce Dept. approved of the sale, but that State and Defense opposed it on the grounds that the technology involved could result in making China’s ICBMs more accurate. The paper pushes down to the 18th paragraph news that State’s concerns included questions about the behavior of Hughes Electronics, the satellite vendor, in the consummation of prior Chinese satellite deals, in which questionable briefings to Chinese scientists and a questionable hiring of a son of a Chinese general took place. This suppression of news is particularly odd here because these very relevant facts were turned up in previous Times stories.

The WP and NYT go inside with news that in an alternative universe would be explosive–a federal judge’s finding that two cabinet secretaries, Interior’s Bruce Babbitt and Treasury’s Robert Rubin, are in civil contempt for failing to produce records of accounts held in trust for Indians by the government. The Times doesn’t mention the names of the two men until the sixth paragraph. Also, the paper never mentions that the judge in this case, who suggested the failure to produce smacked of official deceit, had previously harshly ruled against the administration in the matter of whether or not closed meetings of the Hillary-led health care task force were illegal, levying a $300,000 fine against the government. The Post goes right out of the box with mentions of Babbitt and Rubin, and cites the judge’s previous ruling.

In reporting on the news that blue jean manufacturer Levi Strauss is downsizing, headline writers have trouble finding a new, er, wrinkle. USAT opts for “Company Cuts Jobs, Closes Plants, As Sales Shrink, Popularity Fades.”

Reader Kerry Lauerman, senior editor at Mother Jones, alerted Today’s Papers to something odd about yesterday’s LAT story in which Rep. J.C. Watts’ father was quoted comparing blacks voting Republican to chickens supporting Colonel Sanders. It turns out that this is not a fresh quote, but rather has been attributed to Watts’ father in newspaper articles going back at least to 1997. Yesterday’s instance wasn’t even the first time the quote has appeared in the LAT this year. It’s bad enough that TP missed this, but shouldn’t an LAT editor have noticed?