Today's Papers

Cox and Bull Stories

USAT and the LAT lead with pick-overs of the Cox report on China’s twenty-year-plus nuclear espionage campaign against the U.S. The stories quote President Clinton’s belief that despite the report’s findings, engaging China is still best for U.S. national security. The NYT goes with NATO’s decision yesterday to create a heavily armed peacekeeping force of 50,000 troops, mostly to be stationed in Macedonia and intended to be sent into Kosovo, either after a formal peace agreement is signed by Slobodan Milosevic or after his forces in the region have been decimated to the point that they are no longer a factor. The story is fronted at USAT and the LAT, but is stuffed inside at the WP, which leads instead with the mood swing in the House towards new gun controls, which is also reefered by the NYT and is in addition the topic of USAT’s front page “cover story.” Two stories that get covered by everybody, including the WSJ’s front-page news box: Democratic fund-raiser John Huang’s decision to plead guilty to covering up foreign contributions to the DNC, and Kenneth Starr’s decision not to retry either Susan McDougal or Julie Hiatt Steele.

The USAT account of the Cox report sticks close to the report’s findings, the upshot of which is that China has via its spy effort greatly enhanced its nuclear capability, and that this effort continues apace. There is little sense in the paper’s version that this conclusion inspired much political bickering, especially given that it quotes a Cox committee Democrat as saying that the whole episode amounts to “one of the worst counterintelligence failures in U.S. history.” But rancor is precisely what the LAT account emphasizes, saying in its first sentence that some of the panel’s conclusions “were immediately challenged as misleading or unsubstantiated by the administration, outside experts and even some members of the committee.” To a lesser degree, both the NYT and WP also emphasize the political angle (the latter high up noting that five Republican candidates for president used the report as a vehicle for attacking President Clinton), with all three noting that a Democrat member of the committee questioned the report’s claim that China’s espionage has put it “on a par” with the U.S. nuke-wise. The LAT account also suggests that the report’s research is a bit thin with its observation that despite its assertion that some 3,000 Chinese “front companies” are cogs in an vast network designed to covertly obtain U.S. military technology, in 1997, the State Dept. could only identify two such, with outside experts estimating no more than thirty. Furthermore, reports the LAT, no such companies are identified by name in the report.

The Cox coverage includes a tidbit that might give readers pause about the papers’ basic reporting abilities: USAT says the report has 900 pages; the LAT says 1,016; and the WP settles for 700.

The WSJ notes some significant bystanders in the lawsuit brought by several California cities against gun makers. Los Angeles County and Long Beach have not joined the suit yet, preferring to continue to study the law more first. And San Jose and San Diego are not likely to join, for a simple reason: low crime rates making it hard to establish the degree of damage that makes a suit feasible. For example, San Jose, the paper notes, population 900,000, had 29 homicides last year, about 30 percent below other comparably sized cities.

The WP lead editorial comes out for doubling the pay of future presidents, taking it to $400,000 a year. It’s a classic bit of Washington-think. Even the headline, “30 Years Without a Raise,” is misleading–every living president has seen his income rise since 1969, the year of the last presidential salary raise, through increases in official office expense accounts, through book deals and all the other good things that come to ex-presidents from pals and suck-ups. The Post admits that the president has all sorts of perks and that folks don’t do the job for the money, (but doesn’t admit that the perks–free housing and free travel–make the job worth millions), but then spells out the real reason it’s for the raise: so that federal officeholders and senior civil servants, whose salaries must remain sub-presidential, can get raises too. But the Post should have noted that now you’re talking about a significant federal budget item because these tens of thousands of folks get inflation-adjusted pensions based on their salaries and often can retire in their fifties.

The oddest detail in the Cox report coverage comes from Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, as quoted by the LAT: “I can assure the American people that their nuclear secrets are now safe at the labs.” That “now” is priceless–Richardson might as well have said, “I can assure the American people that the barn door is now closed.”