Today's Papers

In Peking, Duck

Everybody leads with the continuing protests at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, which have kept the U.S. ambassador and many of his staff trapped inside. The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times also front Nurembergs on how the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade came about.

The WP and LAT quote Ambassador to China James Sasser’s Sunday chat show comment that he was a “hostage” of the Beijing protesters, many of whom, the papers report, hurled rocks and debris at the embassy building. The WP reports that crowds also attacked the British and Albanian missions. The Post emphasizes Sasser’s domestic situation, noting that he complains that his wife and son have been separated from him in another embassy building without U.S. Marine protection. The paper doesn’t say why the Marines can’t get to them.

The WP says the Sunday protests were harsher than those on Saturday, with the NYT adding that on Monday, they calmed down a bit. The NYT and WP say that an American reporter was hit with a rock, but neither paper identifies her (why not?). The NYT also says that an American student was beaten by a group of protestors when he tried to explain that Americans were sorry about the bombing. The papers report that U.S. diplomatic facilities in three other Chinese cities have also been attacked. Although President Clinton sent a letter of condolence to Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, the NYT and Wall Street Journal report that it wasn’t carried in the Beijing newspapers.

The papers capture the heat of the protesters’ emotions, with the WP telling the reader that one slogan heard was “Remember the Korean War!” and the NYT reporting that some of the homemade signs carried the slogan “Blood for Blood,” and that another common item was an American flag with swastikas where the stars should be. A 25-year-old graduate student is quoted by the Post as saying he wanted to “kill Americans,” as he marched towards the embassy saying, “Kill the big noses!” Not surprising then that the LAT says the State Dept. has issued an advisory telling Americans in China to remain in or close to their homes of hotels and–tall order in China–avoid crowds. A WSJ front-page feature and one of the paper’s editorials take the position that the Chinese Communist government is using the protests to rally the Chinese people behind it, domestic control being even more important than smooth relations with the U.S.

The emerging consensus in the press on why China’s embassy got hit is that the CIA misidentified the embassy as a military arms facility by working from an outdated map. The papers note that the mistake wasn’t caught because the several other agencies involved in target selection also had inaccurate maps. In that the ordnance involved was the U.S.’ most accurate: satellite-updated bombs coming off a B2–the mistake reminds Today’s Papers most of the shootdown of an Iranian airliner in 1988 by the newest, most sophisticated class of U.S. cruiser. (Indeed the NYT runs a list of previous intelligence snafus that includes this episode.) The press and the Pentagon both tend to emphasize hardware too much, when in fact it’s the software–how military people use their hardware–that usually proves decisive.

USA Today fronts a Louisiana bus crash that killed 23 people who were on a senior citizens trip to a casino. The other papers run it inside. The reporting makes it clear that many of the dead were flung from the vehicle, and the NYT notes that only the driver on a bus is required to have a seatbelt and that these passengers didn’t. But what could possibly be the rationale for this? The papers don’t say.

The NYT front continues the paper’s press on security leaks to China, today reporting that in a talk a scientist gave in Beijing, he divulged American secret techniques for using radar to track submarines. The man was not prosecuted for espionage, the paper reports, because the Navy was loath to get into the specifics of the technology in court. The man ended up pleading guilty to the far less serious charge of making a false statement to investigators.

The NYT runs a story inside about today’s youth and violence conference at the White House. The story includes this “it’s not me” quote from David Geffen: “If you’re looking for violence, what about the evening news? America is bombing Yugoslavia; it’s on every day. It’s not a movie, it’s real.” Well, maybe the difference is that in the war, our pilots aren’t stabbing and disemboweling beautiful girls in front of their parents, laughing all the while, like the bad guys do in such fare as Scream. The Times seems in general not to take the movies-foment-violence point seriously enough. The paper ran a piece yesterday reporting that most academic researchers believe there is a demonstrable link between media violence and the real thing–on page 23.