Today's Papers

The Times Puts Them Out

The New York Times leads with new worries in the China nuclear spy dust-up: that the chief suspect in the case, scientist Wen Ho Lee, may have, by improperly transferring huge amounts of secret data from a tightly controlled computer network at Los Alamos to a much more widely accessible one, “compromis[ed] virtually every nuclear weapon in the United States arsenal.” The Los Angeles Times goes with the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday that lavishing gifts on federal officials does not ipso facto constitute bribery–there must also be some specific official act by the recipient. The paper points out that this removes the main legal threat to lobbyists who operate just short of bribery. The Washington Post and USA Today lead with a war development that’s been in the offing for more than a week: President Clinton’s order to the Pentagon to call up some 33,000 reservists. This is also carried on the LAT front, but runs inside at the NYT. The USAT lead also reports that yesterday an International Red Cross team, including a doctor, visited the three U.S. POWs and pronounced them apparently healthy. The three received letters and were allowed to fax replies. Excerpts from the letter sent to the mother of the POW from Los Angeles are fronted by the LAT.

The NYT points out that the latest Los Alamos revelations substantially expand the scandal’s dimensions. Originally, attention was focused on allegations that Lee may been the instrument for China’s getting its hands on one specific warhead design in the mid-’80s. But now it seems as if the full range of U.S. nuclear weapons was being targeted through the mid-’90s as well. The story also says that once the bomb data was placed on the more lax computer network, there is evidence that it was accessed by someone improperly using a password. The NYT says it held this story for one day at the request of the FBI. The LAT’s off-lead reinforces the iceberg theory of Chinese nuke spying, reporting that the congressional committee investigation into the subject, which is yet to be released, says the Chinese effort stole “the crown jewels” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and “continues to this very day.”

A front-page WP story reports that likely presidential aspirant and leading campaign finance reformer Sen. John McCain has $2.7 million in his campaign war chest, much of it from PAC donations, which puts him second only to George W. Bush in the GOP presidential money field. Why is McCain getting this sort of financial play if he’s somewhat of a presidential longshot? Because, explains the Post, when it’s all over, he’s still chairman of the Commerce Committee.

Besides noting the now-familiar development that a female friend of the Littleton killers is linked to some of their guns, the NYT fronts the fresh disclosure that the two brought 51 pipe bombs with them to the massacre. Incidentally, Today’s Papers should have noticed that what it called yesterday’s big development in the Littleton story–that at least one boy’s parents had complained to the cops about the vile behavior of one of the soon-to-be killers–was actually last Friday’s big development in the NYT. The detail was included in a very good piece by Jodi Wilgoren and Dirk Johnson. However, the item was in the story’s 42nd paragraph. Given that the detail is the first hard-core evidence that the disaster could have been prevented, such placement demonstrates a real instinct for the capillaries.

The NYT and Wall Stret Journal report that the NYT has decided to drop tobacco advertising. This is, by the Times own figures, not that much of a sacrifice: Last year cigarette advertising amounted to less than 1 percent of the newspaper’s $1 billion in ad revenues. More than a dozen papers refuse tobacco ads. Also, notes the Times, cigarettes are not the only legal products the paper eschews promoting. There’s also handguns, Mace, and tear gas. The WSJ observes that it and USAT (and the WP and LAT, by the way) do accept tobacco ads, which means that the NYT is the first national newspaper to turn them down.

Back to Littleton: The NYT says that one of the killers, Eric Harris, had hoped to join the Marines and did well on a preliminary interview with a recruiter, but then was turned down for having been on psychiatric medication. The story quotes the recruiter: “In Eric’s case, the system worked. … We caught someone who didn’t qualify for the Marine Corps.” The Times doesn’t notice that the Marine “system” didn’t catch or care about the boy’s criminal history.