Today's Papers

Sudden Death

USAT leads with a Jasper, Texas jury’s quick death sentence for John William King, which the WP puts on page 3, while the LAT runs it on page 28. The NYT leads with a Guatemalan commission’s finding that the U.S. provided money and training that enabled the Guatemalan military to commit “acts of genocide” against Marxist-led Maya Indians during the country’s 36-year civil war. The LAT also fronts Guatemala, as its top non-local story. The WP leads with the NRA’s quick response to the threat of local government lawsuits against gun manufacturers: engineering legislation that makes such suits illegal. A NRA official tells the Post that as many as 30 states are being targeted for such bills. An example highlighted by the paper is the bill currently advancing in the Florida legislature that would make it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine for any local government official or employee to file suit against gunmakers–consequences rarely suffered, it should be noted, by those convicted of illegal gun possession or discharge.

USAT describes King upon his condemnation as “unrepentant and smirking,” and notes that he is the first white person to face execution for killing a black person in modern Texas history. The paper goes on to report that since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, nationwide eight whites have been executed for killing blacks while 123 blacks have been put to death for killing whites. Presenting this statistic without also saying the total number of convictions of crimes of each sort leaves the reader ill-equipped to determine what it really means. Also, the papers don’t mention it, but this story should give pause to anyone who thinks the death penalty is a deterrent. The unspeakable crime took place in the state that leads the nation in executions.

The WP front follows-up on a story it broke inside yesterday: a vicious on-air reference to the Jasper crime by Washington, D.C. talk radio host Doug Tracht, aka “The Greaseman.” On Wednesday, Tracht followed up a Lauryn Hill song with the comment, “No wonder people drag them behind trucks.” The Post reports that Tracht was fired yesterday (not only from his radio gig, but also from his position as a volunteer deputy sheriff). The true mystery of the whole episode is, Why wasn’t Tracht canned in 1986 when he referred to the Martin Luther King holiday with the line, “Kill four more and we can take a whole week off”?

The NYT lead says that while the broad outlines of U.S. aid to Guatemala’s military have been known, the report confirms that the CIA’s training of Guatemala’s military in counterinsurgency techniques “had a significant bearing” on the human rights violations it committed, including torture, kidnapping, and execution. The Times catches the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala spinning: “I believe that the report’s focus is appropriate, that these were abuses committed by Guatemalans against other Guatemalans–the result of an internal conflict.” The difference between the NYT and LAT stories is striking, with the former high up stressing the U.S. role, while the latter only mentions it in passing.

The WP’s longtime foreign affairs op-ed columnist Stephen S. Rosenfeld, an advocate of U.S. intervention in Kosovo, has the intellectual rigor to nonetheless play out the arguments against the unilateral presidential commitment of forces there. His column takes on the demand being raised in the House of Representatives over the signatures of 40 members that President Clinton obtain authority from Congress for any such venture before embarking upon it. The toughest argument against Rosenfeld’s position, which he doesn’t really answer, comes when he notes that the administration’s position is that Bosnia and Somalia are examples of presidential use of force without prior, formal congressional authorization. The problem is that unlike in Yugoslavia, in neither of those cases was the recognized government where our forces deployed opposed to our being there. In response, Rosenfield cites pressing humanitarian concerns in Kosovo. But the response to this obvious: if those concerns are substantial, they will hold up just fine in the congressional debate the Constitution and the War Powers Act requires.

The WP reports that as part of its deal to purchase advertising space on stadium billboards, the US Postal Service received the use of luxury suites at football, baseball and hockey venues around the country. The postal official quoted in the story miraculously can’t provide an estimate for the regular cost of the suites. But he does say the suites were used to promote customer relationships and to reward outstanding employees. The Post ought to try to see how many actual letter carriers ever saw the inside of a suite.

The WSJ airs out some rumors about who may yet be called to appear as witnesses in the Microsoft trial. Candidates bruited about include Michael Dell for Microsoft and Steve Case for the government. And there’s always the “Hail Mary pass” of calling Bill Gates in the flesh.

The WP reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey concluding that people living in neighborhoods they perceive to be unsafe are less likely than those living in safer areas to engage in physical activities like walking a dog or pushing a stroller. For this, we needed a study?