Today's Papers

Twist Plots

The aftermath of Monday night’s killer tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas leads at USA Today and the New York Times. (Portions of the states have been declared federal disaster areas by President Clinton, who will visit Saturday.) It’s also the top non-local story at the Los Angeles Times. The Washington Post, which off-leads the weather, goes instead with the latest on the air war against Yugoslavia, under the now-formulaic, TEMPO QUICKENS IN AIR CAMPAIGN. The fronts feature photos of stunning destruction. The most arresting are the wide aerial shots gracing the NYT and WP, showing much more widespread damage than has been visible in the Yugoslavia after-action shots. They raise the question, “Does NATO know how to start a tornado?”

The papers say the tornadoes left behind at least 43 dead and more than 500 injured. There was a smattering of new twisters on Tuesday, but most of the attention is focused on one particular monster storm that hit Oklahoma, an F5, the highest classification. USAT says it was of “historic proportions.” The NYT, USAT and WP say 1,500 homes/buildings were destroyed. The LAT says 2,000 homes were, in Oklahoma alone, and goes on to explain that despite being in Tornado Alley, many of the region’s homes are built on concrete slabs, which means people had no basement to go to and were reduced to cowering in closets and bathtubs while their houses slid right off their foundations.

According to one expert quoted in the NYT, the day’s dead were profoundly unlucky: the average life span of a tornado is less than ten minutes, but this one was probably on the ground for four hours, and the odds that the most powerful class of tornado will intersect with a person is 1 in ten million. The LAT says there was at least $100 million in property damage. Which sounds low, and sure enough, USAT quotes an insurance institute estimate of $500 billion. Which makes the reader wonder, Why don’t the papers include these sorts of cost estimates for the damage inflicted by NATO in Yugoslavia?

The WP lead says that the air campaign is now proceeding round-the-clock, at a 600-sorties-a-day pace, and that NATO has exhausted nearly half of its original 500 targets. But to keep the operation running at least several months longer, the paper says, several hundred more targets have been added to NATO’s list. Yesterday’s fighting also saw a U.S. F-16 fighter down a Yugoslav MiG-29, the Serbs’ most advanced airplane. Also, the paper reports, NATO is denying Yugoslav charges of the destruction of a passenger bus. A NATO spokesman didn’t deny that the bus was attacked, but suggested that it was the result of a KLA ambush. An inside Post story states that the B-2 stealth bomber has flown 45 missions in the war, dropping more than 1 million pounds of bombs. Interesting snippet: no non-U.S. allied planes are allowed anywhere near it in flight. The paper says this is to keep other countries from picking up “snippets of potentially valuable information” about the plane. Including, it should be added, the most valuable information of all: whether they can detect it on radar.

The Post lead also reports Tuesday’s chief diplomatic initiative: Viktor Chernomyrdin proposed to Al Gore and other administration officials that Russia provide the dominant military force in Kosovo after a settlement, with only a handful of NATO troops stationed there. The proposal was turned down. The well-Pentagon-plugged-in Wall Street Journal is reporting that today when Gen. Wesley Clark meets with President Clinton in Brussels, he will propose to Clinton that NATO send 60,000 troops into Kosovo when, as a result of the bombing, Yugoslavia no longer has the will or ability to fight on the ground. This is estimated, says the paper, to be in midsummer. Originally, says the report, the plan called for 90,000 troops.

A NYT inside story says that the U.S. is considering responding to the weekend release of the three Army POWs by releasing the two Serbian soldiers it has. A USAT front story says this will happen.

Yesterday, the WP reports, Kathleen Willey testified as a witness for the prosecution in the federal perjury trial of Julie Steele, the only criminal proceeding to come out of the Clinton sex scandal. Steele is accused of lying to investigators in the case to undermine Willey’s account of being sexually groped by President Clinton in the White House. Willey testified in open court that “He was very forceful. His hands were all over me….I couldn’t believe what he was doing.” The story’s placement speaks volumes: page 5.

The NYT passes along further evidence that the cops in Littleton, Colorado missed chances to prevent the school carnage out there. The Times says that the sheriff’s deputy who investigated the gunmen’s van break-in also took a telephone complaint shortly afterwards claiming that the two were setting off pipe bombs. The complaint was not pursued or made part of the break-in case record considered by the judge or the probation department.

The WP reports that media trend monitor S. Robert Lichter has just completed a study purporting to show that elected officials and civil servants have replaced businessmen as the least likable occupational group in prime-time entertainment television. Referring to examples of Lichter’s from “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill,” one Hollywood producer is quoted as responding, “I think…that all the cartoon politicians and civil servants should get out there and start writing letters of complaint.”