Everybody leads with the war, although what is emphasized varies from paper to paper. The Los Angeles Times lead headline reads, “A SILENCE SETTLES ALONG BORDERS AS REFUGEES VANISH,” a reference to yesterday’s startling disappearance of thousands and thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees from holding camps along the Albanian and Macedonian borders. The story is accompanied by a large photo showing refugee detritus as far as the eye can see but no refugees. The New York Times header is “NATO BOMBERS HIT SERB FORCES; REFUGEE FLOW HALTS ABRUPTLY,” combining a reference to the sudden change in the refugee situation with the continuing increase in the air war’s intensity. The Washington Post goes with “MORE ALLIED FIREPOWER SOUGHT,” referring to the request NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark has made to the Pentagon. USA Today uses its headline to address preliminary discussions apparently underway between Yugoslav officials and the acting president of Cyprus concerning those three U.S. soldiers captured last week: “TALKS COULD FREE CAPTURED GIs.”
The papers report that humanitarian officials are reading the refugee reversal as very bad news. Their absence from the Macedonian border camps is variously attributed to the Macedonian government’s forcible removal of them to the Macedonian interior, to Albania, Turkey, Greece, and Hungary. The situation along the Serb-Albanian border is seen to be more sinister. “Whatever is happening, you can rest assured it is not to the benefit of these refugees,” a humanitarian observer tells the NYT. The leading theory is that they have been taken back into the Serbian interior to serve as human shields, a tack, notes the Times, Serbia employed during the Bosnian war.
The NYT front credits the numerous refugee accounts of Serb atrocities, citing their striking similarity and the Serb track record. The Wall Street Journal quotes Secretary of Defense William Cohen saying, “I think our worst suspicions will be confirmed.”
Polls on America’s level of support for the war break out all over. The headline of the USAT front section polling “cover story” oversells a bit with the headline, “NATION ADJUSTS TO REALITY THAT GROUND FORCE NEEDED.” Reality? A bit tendentious, especially for a headline over a news story, and certainly not something that a poll could establish. In a NYT op-ed, pollster Andrew Kohut points out that poll results about subjects like Kosovo that have received little previous public attention are quite sensitive to the wording of questions and the context in which they’re asked, and that as a result, it will take more than one wave of polling to show what the American public really thinks of U.S. involvement.
Everybody notes that yesterday’s combat included NATO’s first consequential use of air power against Serb armor: some bombers hit a tank column attacking Albanian civilians in Kosovo. The WSJ says the planes were A-10s and Harriers, 20-plus-year-old aircraft, by the way.
Front-page stories at the LAT and NYT report that an as-yet-unknown person used the Web page creation service on Lycos to mock up a site that looked just like Bloomberg News, and then put a bogus announcement up there about the tech company PairGain possibly being bought up. On this “news,” PairGain’s stock shot up 31 percent yesterday morning and was one of the day’s most actively traded issues. The LAT calls the contretemps “one of the biggest and most elaborate Internet stock scams yet.”
The WP continues to pick on Madeleine Albright’s Yugoslav acumen. A Post inside effort reminds that on the first night of the war, she went on television to say, “I don’t see this as a long-term operation,” but that 11 days later she told a TV interviewer, “We never expected this to be over quickly.”
A NYT inside story on Zhu Rongji reports that the visiting Chinese premier “with his poker face and acute timing, can be funny, especially when no one in the audience expects him to be.” The piece quotes a reference Zhu made to the China/nuclear theft scandal (furthered by today’s page one Times report of a possible second leak to China from U.S. nuke labs): “The Chinese army, he added, will consider stenciling on the sides of its missiles the words: Made in China, not in U.S.A.” What would Chinese dissidents say about such wacky humor? “Stop, stop, you’re killing us.” Question for the NYT–how long before we see that warm and fuzzy profile of Slobodan Milosevic?