Today's Papers

The Language of Bombing

The WP-srv/WPlate/m-frontpage.html”>Washington Post leads with a pessimistic report from Belgrade. The Russian mediation effort is probably kaput. The New York Times take on this story, its second lead, is more upbeat. But both say that the indictment of Milosevic and his deputies as war criminals Thursday isn’t helping matters. The NYT lead is from Washington: The GOP House contingent has “collapsed in disarray.” The Los Angeles Times goes with 800 doctors at its county hospital unionizing. Its chief non-local story is about a private relief group’s plans to do airdrops of food and supplies to Kosovar refugees.

The difference in the handling of the Yugoslavia story by the NYT and WP is a study in how a situation made complex by myriad military and diplomatic difficulties and alternatives can be seen in different ways. The Post is harsh on the Russians: Moscow isn’t supporting NATO’s main demands. The story says negotiations are on “the brink of failure.” The NYT is softer on Moscow: The situation is merely “clouded,” and the lead paragraph has envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin “voicing modest expressions of hope” after what the NYT says was nine hours of talks between him and Milosevic. The Post makes it a full 10 hours and features a much more mournful Russian. “I don’t feel very well,” he’s quoted as saying. Also in the Post, Strobe Talbott says he doesn’t care what Chernomyrdin thinks: “We are not talking to Milosevic except in one language, and that is bombing.”

A silent supporting player is Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. (Finland isn’t a NATO country.) He was supposed to talk with Milosevic too, but didn’t show. In the Post he was said to indicate he wasn’t coming because of the wide division between Russia and NATO. In the NYT, this feeling was attributed to “Yugoslav officials.” Chernomyrdin himself says Ahtisaari didn’t come because the Finn was mad about Milosevic’s indictment, but this sounds like the Russian envoy is projecting. For now NATO’s united, but the stories also contain evidence that negotiations may in the end suffer the death of a thousand bureaucratic cuts. NATO, the UN, the G-8 countries, and the European Union are all involved.

Back in April, the Washington Post had a big report making the case that the gutting of Kosovo was planned and carried out systematically. The NYT does the same thing on a much larger scale today with a package of six stories – “HORROR BY DESIGN” – totaling close to 10,000 words. About the only good news in the litany of horrors is that at this point there isn’t conclusive evidence of systematic rapes.

The NYT lead about the GOP details the various ways the party’s various factions aren’t getting along. To make matters worse, Democrats have been outflanking the Republicans every way they turn. It really hasn’t been the conservatives’ year.

The NYT fronts a report on hackers having a little good clean fun with a couple of government Web sites. In both cases–the FBI and Senate were hit–the targets were just PR constructions, with no sensitive material at risk. There are two things wrong with the NYT account and the inside one in the Post. For the first, both stories say the hackers left an “obscene” message on the Senate site. In fact, the message was something less than obscene, just derisive of recent government anti-hacker moves. Secondly, neither story explains what exactly the hack was. Today’s Papers assumes that a visitor to the Senate site would have been presented with the hackers’ white-on-black manifesto, but the stories don’t say. Lay readers would be left wondering what form the mysterious attack took. Twenty grafs down in the NYT story, a flack for the Senate says: “We had the very latest protective software installed and updated as recently as two weeks ago.” Perhaps the Senate should call up “Server Protections ‘R’ Us” and get its money back.

On a diverse Saturday front page, the LAT has writer Robert Rosenblatt explaining why Social Security, despite a huge government surplus, might not be the subject of a bipartisan fix this year. Both Bill Clinton and House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer want to do something, but there are lots of political reasons their colleagues won’t help them. “Many of their usual allies hope they will fail. They probably will. And that says a lot about how Washington works–or, more precisely, doesn’t work.” Other stories visit Nigeria, where a new civilian president promises improvements there, despite the odds; provide a poetic look at some environmental research in the Pacific Northwest; profile the enthusiastic neighbors of a nerve-gas plant in Missouri; and report on how temporary workers have become the norm in factories and warehouses.