Today's Papers

Large Kurd Cheese on Ice

A story that had been lurking in the back pages for weeks–the saga of on-the-lam Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan–explodes today into everybody’s lead with Ocalan suddenly in Turkish custody following his dramatic capture by Turkish operatives in Kenya, and Kurds across Europe rising up in often violent protest.

The target of the rioters’ wrath was not primarily the Kurd’s principal foe Turkey, but mostly Greek and Kenyan embassies throughout Europe, because Ocalan was in Kenya under the protection of Greek diplomats when he was seized. The papers report on street riots and several cases of protesters’ self-immolation resulting in serious burn injuries. The New York Times says the Kurds’ violence exhibited “extraordinary coordination,” and the Los Angeles Times sees it as “disciplined.”

The papers do a good job of providing the historical context to all this– that the Kurds, numbering some 25 million and without their own country, have sought one since the 1920s. (But only the NYT mentions the Treaty of Sevres or the Ottoman Empire.) For more than a decade, Ocalan has been leading the 12 million Kurds living in Turkey in a war for autonomy, most recently from a base in Syria, which expelled him late last year under Turkish military pressure. Turkey, the papers say, holds Ocalan responsible for the approximately 30,000 deaths occurring during the Kurdish insurgency. Which is why Ocalan faces the death penalty in the trial Turkey is now preparing.

The papers note that the U.S. insists it had no direct hand in Ocalan’s capture, but also that White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said that the government is pleased with his apprehension. The LAT observes that in none of this is the U.S. saying it didn’t help locate Ocalan.

The Washington Post runs as its off-lead a story nobody else fronts–the comment by the federal judge who oversaw the Paula Jones lawsuit that she will explore the possibility of imposing civil sanctions against President Clinton for providing misleading testimony about his affair with Monica Lewinsky in the case. The Post points out that a finding of civil contempt could force Clinton to pay tens of thousands of dollars and might even jumpstart any attempt by Kenneth Starr to indict him.

An oddity in the Post story: It claims that “for the president’s weary defenders,” the judge’s remark was a “dispiriting development.” Yet the piece goes on to note that calls made by the paper to the White House were referred to Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett, who had no comment. So how does the Post know the president’s defenders were dispirited? It doesn’t.

Inside stories at both the WP and NYT take a look at a new troubling report about U.S. Customs operations that the agency has filed with a House committee. The Times stresses the agency’s findings that it is very vulnerable to drug-related corruption. The Post covers the corruption angle too, but also has some discouraging information on the personal searches Customs conducts: Whereas ten to fifteen years ago, the hit rates on these searches bordered on 100 percent, of the 2,076 passengers who had to take off part of their clothing for a Customs inspection in fiscal 98, only 21 percent were found to be carrying illegal drugs.

Stories in the Wall Street Journal and the WP describe a study coming out today in JAMA concluding that doctors examining young children frequently miss head injuries linked to child abuse. The study holds that doctors were especially unlikely to identify such abuse-suggesting injuries if the parents were married and white. And the USA Today front reports that strollers and mattresses that can injure or kill small children will be recalled today by Cosco and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A story in the WP business section illustrates the profound degree to which U.S. defense contractors now depend on sales of weapons to foreign countries. For instance, this year Lockheed Martin will sell only one of its F-16 fighters to the U.S.–its production line for the aircraft is being kept alive by sales to the United Arab Emirates, of a model more modern than those in the U.S. Air Force. And F/A-18s were recently sold to Thailand sporting a missile so deadly that it had previously been restricted to NATO allies.

Yesterday’s column pointed out that a WP review of Elizabeth Dole’s tenure as president of the Red Cross found that it was marked by her tendency to put political allies on her payroll. The Post mentioned as an example Mari Masing Will, who it identified as Bob Dole’s 1996 communications director. But the Post made a telling omission here. Because the paper did not say that Ms. Will is also the wife of George Will, the Post opinion columnist. In other words, the paper exhibited the all-too-typical journalistic tic of exposing potential conflicts of interest involving politicians while ignoring those involving journalists. Homework assignment for the next political cycle: find a George Will column critical of Liddy Dole.