Today's Papers

War Zeroes

The Los Angeles Times leads with Sunday’s round of NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia. The New York Times goes with the post-Littleton uptick in gun control measures in state legislatures nationwide. The Washington Post’s top non-local story is a sprawling survey (the first of two) of the five Mandela years in South Africa, focusing on how both the military and the black political parties have had their sails trimmed in the post-apartheid era.

The majors publishing today all report on NATO’s daylight raid against a bridge between Yugoslav cities, resulting in the deaths of nine civilians. But the NYT and WP put the story inside, the former finding front space instead for Manhattan’s new media stock millionaires, and the latter fronting the Kemper Open golf tournament. And unlike the LAT and the WP, the edition of the NYT available to this space doesn’t mention a second raid elsewhere that struck a convoy of western journalists, killing one driver and leaving three writers wounded. The NYT carries a “Media Talk” story inside further driving home the impression that the war is now in a bit of a media free-fall: Since the Littleton shootings, television coverage of the fighting has measurably declined, coverage of the plight of the war’s refugees even more so. On the other hand, the Times front does carry new testimony from Kosovars supporting the rumors that the 80 or so Albanians killed by a NATO bomb run against the town of Korisa early this month were indeed human shields confined there by Serb forces. All three papers mention the main issue raised by all these bombing incidents: whether or not NATO is restricting itself to militarily relevant targets. But the LAT goes it alone in flatly asserting, in the words of its headline, that “CIVILIAN DEATHS IN AIRSTRIKES ERODE NATO CREDIBILITY.”

The WP front reports that local police and the FBI are seriously entertaining the possibility that the gunshot murder of an Iraqi, his wife, and their teen-aged son last week in their McLean, Va., home arose from a business deal with Saddam Hussein gone bad. One government source knowledgeable about such matters tells the paper the slayings fit the modus operandi of Iraqi operatives, who, he says, “don’t hire lawyers.”

Sunday’s LAT introduced readers to a new feature of the paper–it now has a reader’s representative, who will investigate and report on readers’ complaints. Among the papers covered here, the LAT joins the WP in having such a person. This is great news for news. As for the others, TP can only say: Get with it! Of course, the true test of how good such an ombudsman can be is what happens when he or she takes a stand the publisher doesn’t agree with. On this, nobody has a better solution than Content’s Steve Brill: Have the publisher pay the readers’ rep several years salary up front. That strongly inhibits any tendency to fire him/her over a policy dispute.

The LAT’s “Column One” addresses a by-product of America’s recent reacceptance of the military’s warrior culture: the surge among late-middle-aged men pretending to be Vietnam war heroes. The story notes that recent ‘Nam fakers who’ve passed at least for a little while, often fooling real heroes, include an Ohio police chief, a military historian who lectured at West Point, and the ex-manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, whose fakery got him fired from the team. As a Memorial Day service, Today’s Papers passes along a pretty reliable test for made-up military derring-do, which comes from (war hero) David Niven’s marvelous autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon: If somebody tells of bullets whizzing by his head, he’s never been shot at. They don’t whiz–they crack. Have no fear about this citation rendering the test useless: only red-blooded honest Americans (and those of other nationalities who are similarly pure) read Today’s Papers.