Today's Papers

The Plane Truth

USA Today

, the Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times lead with the nearly nil prospects for John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and her sister. The New York Times, as it did Sunday, chooses to lead with something else: This time, it’s Israeli P.M. Ehud Barak’s announcement of a 15-month deadline for peace in the Middle East. The Times notes that Barak’s time horizon for simultaneous talks with the Palestinians, the Syrians, and the Lebanese was chosen in part to accomplish something substantial before the height of the American presidential campaign, when Americans will be focused on domestic politics and it will also be harder for President Clinton to actively influence negotiations. The Times by the way, is alone in running formal obituaries of JFK Jr. and his wife.

The papers report that by last night the odds are that the Kennedy party’s time in the water alone would have been a cause of death, and therefore the Coast Guard was moving from survivor rescue to body recovery. (The early edition of the WP said that a signal from the missing plane’s emergency locator beacon had been received, but the paper’s later edition and the rest of the coverage report that this was a misinterpretation by searchers.) The WP reports that on Friday evening at the time of JFK Jr.’s approach to the Martha’s Vineyard airport, haze would have significantly reduced visibility. Everybody reports that radar tracking information indicates that his plane made a rapid descent shortly before disappearing.

The papers turn over considerable front and inside space to the apparent tragedy, not without some hyperbole. One USAT headline says, “IN A LIFE FRAMED BY TRAGEDY, JOHN HAD ELUDED THE CURSE,” and one on the LAT front refers to him as a “nation’s icon.” A WP inside effort seems to be rummaging aimlessly in saying, “The Kennedys’ first child, a daughter, was stillborn 15 months before Caroline was born. What if she had lived? Caroline’s little brother Patrick, born premature, died when she was 5, three months before their father was assassinated. What would he have become if he had lived?”

USAT fills in an important hole regarding JFK Jr.’s aviation background: Private pilots like him need only be age 17, fluent in English, and have logged 40 hours of flying time. (The WP says JFK Jr. had around 100 hours when he tested for his license in April 1998.) But nobody explains why you can legally fly at night and over water with only a basic “visual flight rules” rating.

A front-page WP story reports that according to World Health Organization figures, of the 170 people killed or injured over the past month in Kosovo from ordnance, just over half were due to Serb mines, with nearly as many caused by unexploded NATO bombs. Many of the victims were children attracted to bright yellow cluster bombs.

The LAT, continuing a year-plus of Pulitzer-caliber whistleblowing on the California state correctional system, fronts the news that last week a bill that would have put the state attorney general in charge of prison guard brutality cases (instead of the local prosecutors in the prison’s jurisdiction) was defeated by intense lobbying by the guards’ union. The blandishments included, says the paper, $105,000 in campaign contributions to one legislator.

The WP and NYT run an AP item stating that violent crime in the United States dropped 7 percent last year, its lowest level since the statistic was first collected 26 years ago, and the continuation of a downward trend that started in 1994.

The Wall Street Journal and NYT report that Israel has closed a deal for 50 F-16 fighter planes. The Journal stresses that the deal was a triumph for Lockheed over Boeing, whose F-15 was passed over. The NYT has that information down low, but emphasizes instead that the purchase will be Israel’s biggest arms deal ever. (Is that in inflation-adjusted or nominal dollars?)

The Sunday column by the LAT “readers’ representative,” Narda Zacchino, addresses the “hundreds” of reader complaints about the paper’s story about the Air National Guard service of George W. Bush. Zacchino concludes that the story was legitimate but probably was not worthy of being played so prominently (front-page, above-the-fold) or at such length. And, she wonders, why didn’t any reporter on the story ask Bush “the obvious question: If he wanted to be a combat pilot, why didn’t he join the Air Force?”

The WP reports inside that during the first six months of this year, White House employees–nine in all–gave $8,250 to the Gore campaign. The list of donors includes several presidential advisers and Hillary’s chief of staff. However, it does not include Bill and Hillary.