Today's Papers

.30-.30 Hindsight

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times lead with the Senate GOP’s abrupt reversal on gun control: just one day after engineering a defeat of a Democratic-sponsored bill that would have required background checks on buyers at gun shows, Senate Republicans decided to back a measure–due for a vote today–that would appear to do precisely that, and also backed other restrictions on gun commerce. The papers see the head-snap as proof that Republicans are finally getting that gun control post-Littleton is a whole nother deal. USA Today off-leads the story but goes instead with the government’s filing of an anti-trust suit against American Airlines, accusing the carrier of engaging in aggressive price-cutting for the express purpose of driving small discount competitors out of routes. The American Airlines story is fronted by everyone else.

The papers report that the gun-control measures that passed last night prohibit both the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons to those under age 18 and the import of high-capacity ammo clips for them. The NYT and LAT point out that just last year, the latter provision was defeated. The LAT and USAT are alone in stating and stating high that the vote on the law governing 18-year-olds was a runaway (the former says 97-2, the latter 98-2). The coverage says that the fine print on the GOP background check bill shows it isn’t as strong as the defeated Democratic version. For instance, it doesn’t require any record keeping, and loosens rules on crossing state lines to make sales at gun shows, while eliminating background checks at pawnshops. The LAT reports that another Republican initiative that purports to prevent juveniles from owning certain assault weapons exempts them if they are used for “target practice,” but fails to note that this renders the entire bill nugatory.

A major flaw in the reporting: with the exception of the WP nobody says how long the bill allows for the background checks it prescribes. The Post spells it out: 24 hours.

The LAT sees the GOP shift as “a major policy reversal,” and it and the WP report it as being primarily caused by the opposition to Wednesday’s vote expressed by President Clinton and Janet Reno. NYT and USAT give more credence to the role of outraged constituents, even though the WP quotes a congressional staffer as saying that there was no great deluge of constituent phone calls. Even so, the paper sees the votes as the first skirmish in a political battle that will continue through the election season.

The NYT off-leads word that China is close to deploying a nuclear missile with a warhead design based on stolen American secrets. At the very top of the story, the paper credits “United States intelligence officials.” But the Wall Street Journal runs a story on the same weapon and attributes to “a senior U.S. official” the view that “It’s hard to conclude that the [weapon] is based on U.S. designs….The Chinese could have developed it on their own or possibly gotten it from another country.”

The NYT page-ones a phone interview with President Clinton on Al Gore’s campaign to this point. Clinton tells the paper that he understands why Gore usually doesn’t mention Clinton by name on the hustings. “I think it’s smart,” he says. Clinton’s campaign advice: “I told him to go out and have a good time.”

The WP and NYT both give ample space to obits for Meg Greenfield, the Post’s editorial page editor for years, who died of cancer yesterday at age 68. A PostStyle section piece calls Greenfield “the most important woman newspaper editor in American history.” The story contains a nice inside detail that communicates a good deal of what Greenfield must have been like around the office: In the room where the Post editorial board meets, formal portraits line the wood panels. Greenfield’s photo shows her, like many of the other depicted male luminaries, brandishing a smoking pipe. And, says the story, she introduced Bill Gates to Warren Buffett.

A pretty chilling experiment is conducted on the NYT op-ed page. A woman describes a test conducted at her son’s day-care center, involving guns and kids from ages 4 to 7. Despite preparatory lectures from parents and a visiting policeman about what to do if they came upon a gun, when left alone with real (unloaded) handguns, the kids “picked them up and shot everything in sight.” In light of such results, how exactly is it that in the land of the childproof cap it’s legal and even customary to keep a loaded unlocked gun in a house with children?

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The WP runs a “Letter from China” depicting the current anti-American protest scene. The story contains the gimlet observation that as they marched this week, many of the protesters in Beijing chatted into their mobile phones, chugged Coca-Cola, chewed Wrigley’s gum and were wearing Levis.