Today's Papers

Anatolian Toll

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with the political and public health aftershocks of the earthquake in Turkey. The Washington Post carries the story as its top non-local piece.

Although the numbers are still rising, the papers agree that over 10,000 people have died and 34,000 have been injured (the LAT says 35,000, reflecting both its later closing time and the speed with which the numbers are climbing). The WP story documents how shoddy building standards exacerbated the effects of the earthquake. Rescuers sifting through the rubble have found thinner-than-recommended steel rods and cement “filled with so much sand that it crumbles in [the workers’] hands.” Muslim leaders, the media, and the government are vociferously blaming building contractors for violating safety standards. But the piece explains that Turkey has virtually no standards to violate. Once construction begins on a building, it is never subject to state-mandated inspection.

The NYT story covers the public health angle. The country is feverishly scrambling to bury its rotting corpses before they spawn disease. Muslim clerics have allowed Islamic customs to be disregarded for the sake of speedy burials, and the Prime Minister ordered that bodies be buried as soon as they are found (relatives will have to identify their dead through a pre-internment photo). But the World Health Organization has announced that the corpses themselves are not a health hazard; open sewage and lack of water are far more dangerous. This caveat gets only a single sentence, and no further explanation of Turkey’s possibly misplaced priorities.

A WP front-pager continues the review of the U.S.’s strike on the Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings. Today’s story contends that the U.S. bombed the El Shifa pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan despite the CIA’s warning that it hadn’t yet confirmed that the plant was producing chemical weapons ingredients. An “unnamed official” tells the Post that the administration has since backtracked on its initial assertions that a toxic substance was manufactured at the plant and that its owner was a terrorist. The story admits that the bombing may have required a difficult judgment call, asking, “Just how certain does the government need to be before it uses force against a suspected terrorist group overseas?”

The papers print virtually identical stories about CIA Director George Tenet’s revokation of the security clearance of his predecessor, John M. Deutch, for transferring classified material to an unsecure PC at his home. All papers note that Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee was fired in March after allegedly transferring classified computer files to his own computer. The WP implies that the revocation is a P.R. stunt, intended to convey the government’s tough line on security. Deutch played along, swallowing his medicine without protest and even issuing contrite remarks about the security measures he should have taken.

A NYT cover story tracks how Joe Park, proprietor of the Tokyo Joe financial chat room, may have suckered his day trading followers. All week, Park touted an obscure e-commerce stock as “the next” The stock rose wildly until midday on Friday. But when it began to drop, subscribers were suddenly disconnected from the Tokyo Joe site. Park weakly blamed a failed server. Later that afternoon, Park boasted that he had made a quarter of a million dollars off the stock’s fall.

An WP inside piece reports on the indictment of 13 smugglers and pimps who brought hundreds of Asian girls–some as young as 13 years old– to the U.S. as indentured servants and forced them to work as prostitutes until they repaid their debts. The smugglers had duped many of the women into thinking they would be working as seamstresses or masseuses. In a fit of numerical detail, the Post calculates that a typical victim had to have sex with 428 men to pay off her $30,000 debt.

The NYT reveals that one of Gov. Jesse Ventura’s most ardent boosters is leading a drive against Web sites that support a Ventura presidential candidacy. He is doing so because Ventura has no plans to run and fears that Ventura will disappoint–and lose the support of–his fans. “If Jesse Ventura can participate in [the wrestling event] Summerslam,” said one defiant follower, “then I can put up a Web site.”

A front-page NYT story profiles a particularly splenetic radio talk show host. He trails Rush Limbaugh in the ratings, but he heaps similar scorn on his callers. “There is something deranged about you,” he told one guest. “Either you don’t read the newspapers carefully enough or you’re so prejudiced and biased that you block out the truth,” he railed at another. The host is none other than New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.