Today's Papers

Shotgun Logic

The wrap-up of the NATO summit leads everywhere. Pretty much the same information is conveyed by all, with the only difference being what NATO decisions are emphasized in the headline and in the copy. The Washington Post goes high with the alliance’s vow yesterday to lead a major reconstruction effort, a Balkans Marshall Plan, in southeastern Europe once the Kosovo fighting is resolved. The New York Times goes with President Clinton’s telephone conversation Sunday with Boris Yeltsin while the NATO meeting ended with pledges of more and harsher air attacks against Yugoslavia. The most concrete upshot of the Clinton-Yeltsin talk was to agree to keep talking. The Los Angeles Times focuses on NATO’s pledge to use all necessary force to defend the seven countries on Yugoslavia’s borders if the Kosovo fighting should spill over into them. Given previous developments at the summit, the USAT headline–NATO NEARING OIL BLOCKADE–may seem like old news. (Saturday’s NYT lead headline was: NATO APPROVES NAVAL EMBARGO ON OIL GOING TO SERBS.) But not quite– USA Today is saying that NATO members are near agreement about how to implement the embargo, that is, near a “visit and search” procedure for ships inbound to Yugoslavia. Also, the paper reports that the White House is confident Russia would abide by such an embargo.

The NYT says that the U.S. views Russia’s attempts to intervene with the Serbs to be in good faith and that during the call with Clinton, Yeltsin described some of the conditions that might be accepted by the Serbs according to his envoy, just returned from talks with Slobodan Milosevic. The elements appear to be: Serb agreement to allow the return of Kosovar refugees, to withdraw forces from the region, and to accept some sort of international presence there. Both the NYT and USAT report that the talk of when and how ground troops might be introduced to the Yugoslavia fighting faded during the conference. A key reason for this is cited by a WP front-pager: In one-on-one talks at the White House last Wednesday, Clinton appealed to British PM Tony Blair not to push the issue. And at the summit, Blair didn’t mention it once.

The consensus off-lead is the Littleton school shootings. The USAT front features a close-up from a class picture in which the killers, right next to each other, pretend to aim weapons at the lens. A WP editorial says that President Clinton should seize the moment created by Littleton to “stand up for a national ban on the general sale, manufacture and ownership of handguns.” However, a gap in the editorial’s reasoning is pointed out by fresh reporting in the Wall Street Journal. It turns out, according to the Journal, that none of the weapons used in the shooting were handguns. Rather, they were two sawed-off shotguns (just traced, says the Journal, to a female friend of the killers who bought them at a gun show), a semi-automatic carbine (a short-barreled, lightweight rifle), and a Tec-9, a semi-automatic gun, viewed by most as an assault weapon. The sawed-off shotguns are already illegal and, depending on whether or not it was modified after sale, probably the Tec-9 was too. What’s more, according to a Journal front-page feature, police believe that most of the fatal wounds at Littleton came from the shotguns. There is still a case to be made against handguns–Today’s Papers would say it has to do with concealability, which handguns will retain even if trench coats are banned–but the Post doesn’t come close to making it.

Last Friday’s Post carried word that an Air Force officer had pleaded guilty to various infractions arising out of his affair with an enlisted woman and noted that in doing so the man faced up to 27 years in prison. Today’s Post reveals that he got a somewhat milder sentence: 15 days. The same pattern is often featured in reporting about monetary damages awarded by juries: a big splash about the jury’s largesse, a much smaller piece about what the judge finally whittled it down to. Remedy: In the original story, mention historically relevant final results right alongside the more newsy first development.

Another similar press tic is on display elsewhere in the Post. The paper reports that two of the McGaughey septuplets are suspected by doctors of having cerebral palsy. Now, the papers didn’t scrimp on front-page space when these babies were born, when they came home from the hospital, and when they appeared to be healthy. By contrast, today’s report is on Page 8.

A small AP item in Sunday’s NYT reports that President Clinton departed the NATO summit so quickly that his motorcade abandoned his military aide who carries the briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes. The aide re-established this nation’s nuclear readiness by walking the four and half blocks back to the White House.