Today's Papers

NATO Airs Its Grievances

If General Sherman was right, then the papers continue to go to hell. The early editions of the Washington Post and USA Today lead with the disappearance of three U.S. soldiers after an apparent ambush. The Wall Street Journal runs the story in its front-page news box, adding that Serbian television showed a videotape purporting to be of the three. The later-closing Los Angeles Times is more definitive still, leading with “SERB TV AIRS FOOTAGE OF 3 CAPTURED U.S. SOLDIERS” atop pictures of the Serbian video captures of the Serbian actual captures. The early edition of the New York Times fronts the story of the missing soldiers, but leads with NATO’s intention to bomb Serbia for weeks. The paper quotes the closest thing yet to an official declaration that toppling Milosevic is an aim of the campaign–a German general’s remark that “We clearly intend to loosen his grip on power and break his will to continue….”

The LAT take on the TV pictures of the captured American soldiers is that their faces were “apparently bruised or dirty.” The WSJ sees less nuance: “Their faces were bloody and marked with bruises.” The LAT has excellent detail about their capture: the peacekeeping troops were part of a convoy doing rugged terrain training in Macedonia about three miles south of the Yugoslav border when they became separated from the other vehicles. The LAT mentions that the Pentagon did not make the names of the three soldiers public pending notification of relatives, but never mind, the paper had already given their names higher up in the story. None of the papers mentions a possible problem the new POWs represent: human shields.

The papers note that yesterday NATO bombers struck for the first time at the heart of Belgrade. (Even though yesterday’s NYT credited the WP for first reporting this change in bombing strategy, it turns out that actually if Slobodan Milosevic was reading his WSJ carefully, he would have gotten a heads-up about this from last Monday’s edition of that paper.) Targets included a key Serbian secret police unit. The WSJ observes, “Bombing the ministries of a European capital was to many Europeans unimaginable just a few days ago.” The WP emphasizes more than the others how bad weather is constricting air operations. Another constraint is NATO: the NYT reports that in widening the air war, the alliance’s decision makers have for now ruled out bombing Yugoslavia’s TV system and Milosevic’s presidential palace–it contains, notes the paper, a Rembrandt. The Times points out that the theory of neutralizing a rampaging dictator through air power was tested and found wanting during the Gulf War.

Everybody notes that the administration official line is still no ground troops. The NYT, USAT and the WSJ note that President Clinton said as much to Dan Rather in an interview to be shown soon on “60 Minutes II.” But the WSJ says some U.S. military planners are pondering how to bring in the 82nd Airborne to create a safety zone for Albanian refugees. In this scenario, says the paper, that outfit would eventually be relieved by a heavier tank division.

Other developments: The papers report that the forceful ejection of Kosovar Albanians by Serb forces continues at a furious pace. The WP and LAT report that Serb units have pounded the ragtag Kosovo Liberation Army. Russia is sending a small force of naval vessels into the Adriatic to monitor the Kosovo situation. The NYT is alone in making the point that the intelligence collection ship involved could pass on to Belgrade information it garners about NATO operations. The papers also report that hackers in Belgrade have done a number on NATO’s web site and email system.

The NYT off-leads the arraignment yesterday of four NYPD officers on 2nd degree murder charges in the shooting death of African immigrant Amadou Diallo. All four pleaded not guilty. A large crowd materialized at the Bronx county courthouse for the event and when the men came out after posting bail, they were greeted, says the NYT, by cries of “Murderers” from demonstrators and “We Support You” from fellow cops. Meanwhile, the WP reports in an inside AP story that the U.S. Customs Service transferred out a white supervisor after allegations that black passengers at the Atlanta airport were being unfairly targeted for inspections. The paper cites a local TV story that said 90 percent of those sent from the airport to local hospitals to be X-rayed for drugs were black, but only 20 percent of blacks detained were found to be carrying drugs. An important and difficult question left unanswered by the story: “Would this race-based procedure be okay if it scored a much higher percentage of hits?” Could a procedure be both race-based and probative? And if so, should it still be discouraged?