Today's Papers

Princes Die

The papers print an early, unofficial round of eulogies for John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette, presumably downed in a single-engine aircraft Friday night en route to a family wedding at the Kennedy family compound. As the papers went to press, the Coast Guard had confirmed the discovery of airplane debris near Martha’s Vineyard, as well as luggage bearing Lauren Bessette’s name. The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times feature aggressively elegiac front pages, each with full-stretch headlines and three Kennedy-related stories. The New York Times is more restrained, printing only one front-pager and leading instead with upward revisions of the death toll in Kosovo.

The NYT story is relatively light on Kennedy lore but heavier on flight details, including the observation that he performed his pre-flight checks in the parking lot instead of on the runway as usual. Meanwhile, the WP and the LAT meditate on the Kennedy propensity for tragedy. “This family’s saga is the story of the whole American Century,” which is “like all human life, a path slatted with gloom and sunlight,” intones the WP. Both papers tick off each and every Kennedy scandal, from Chappaquiddick to William Kennedy Smith’s rape charges. But they portray JFK Jr. as more honorable and responsible than many of his clan, citing his clean-cut athleticism, dedication to public service, and criticism of his cousins as “poster boys for bad behavior” in George magazine. The papers don’t make the explicit comparison (yet), but their coverage is uncannily reminiscent of that of the death of Princess Diana two summers ago, emphasizing the deceased’s royalty, physical attractiveness, common touch, public following, and alternate attempts to embrace and flee the spotlight.

Both the LAT and WP note recent speculation that Kennedy’s magazine, George, won’t be renewed by its current publisher. WP media critic Howard Kurtz predicts that without its founder and main figurehead, the magazine will flounder even more quickly.

The NYT leads instead with the fluctuating tally of victims of Serbian killing in Kosovo. Working together for the first time, war crimes investigators, NATO troops, and NGOs put the number at 10,000, more than double the U.S. State Department’s May count of 4,600 victims. The piece notes that some American and NATO officials had quietly disagreed with the State Department tally at the time, also producing estimates around the 10,000 mark. While noting that hard numbers are elusive–many bodies were burned, reburied, or simply lost–the report doesn’t explain the State Department’s apparent lowballing (did they use different methodology? Were they just being conservative?) or consider its implications (if more deaths had been confirmed, would the U.S. have escalated the war?). Two stories inside the WP describe the body counting process in arresting detail. One visits a makeshift U.N. autopsy lab, where doctors tear though one patient per hour; another describes a truck mounted with cameras that wheels through Kosovo, looking for evidence to use in war crime trials.

A NYT front-pager reports that Rep. Michael Forbes, a Republican from Long Island and a virtual party outcast, will jump ship to the Democratic Party. Democratic leaders Dick Gephardt and Charles Rangel courted him assiduously and will probably award Forbes a leadership position for his pains. The story wonders how his conservative views–Forbes is anti-abortion and anti-gun control–will square with the rest of the party. “This is one that would be done holding our noses,” says an unnamed New York Democratic honcho. But a WP insider says that Gephardt is spinning the move as ideological: “he feels a moderate in the Republican party has no place.” The WP also notes that this is the first defection since the Republicans assumed control of Congress five years ago.

Two days after the opening of the copulation-chocked film Eyes Wide Shut, the LAT explains how the Motion Picture Association of America actually assigns film ratings: It pays a secret 12-person jury to watch and rate every film released in America. The seven women and five men vary by age, race, and level of education, but all are parents. Instead of adhering to hard and fast guidelines, they are encouraged to react subjectively to what they see on screen. The creators of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut suggest that the board’s sensibilities may be less than current. The ratings board dinged their original title, South Park: All Hell Breaks Loose, because it contained the word hell, but approved the blatant penis joke the filmmakers proposed instead. “They just didn’t get it,” chuckled the directors.

A NYT “Week in Review” piece prints samples of an award-winning advertising campaign commissioned by an anonymous Floridian. Over 10,000 billboards and bus stations across the country display one-line quips such as “Need Directions?” and “We need to talk.” The sponsor must think well of himself, because each of the statements is signed “God.”