Today's Papers

Bret? Don’t Fret

All the papers lead with weaker-than-expected Hurricane Bret, while continuing to front updates on relief efforts in the Turkish earthquake zone.

Thousands of residents along the southeastern coast of Texas fled in advance of the hurricane, which lost strength Sunday afternoon and made landfall in a sparsely populated area south of Corpus Christi and north of Brownsville. Bret spawned winds as high as 140 mph but was itself rather slow, heading north and then northwest across the Gulf of Mexico at 7 mph before coming ashore about 6 p.m. local time in Kenedy County, population 420.

That lumbering pace, though, has raised new fears of flooding in southern Texas. Meteorologists are now predicting more than a foot of rain in some areas–plus a sea surge of up to 15 feet along the Texas coast between Corpus Christi and the Mexican border–as Bret takes its time moving out of the Gulf region. The papers offer detailed reporting on the sections of Texas in Bret’s path. USA Today quotes a pregnant woman interviewed while videotaping the approaching storm on a rain-drenched Corpus Christi beach, while the Washington Post notes that in Kenedy County and adjacent Kleberg County the “cattle … vastly outnumber the humans.” But all the papers fail to explain how a storm qualifies as a hurricane (once its top sustained winds pass 74 mph) as well as the quaint method by which tropical storms and hurricanes are named (an alphabetical system that starts over each year with a name beginning with “A” and is planned years in advance, so that we already know that the first such storm of 2002 in the Atlantic region will be called Arthur, the second Bertha, and the eighth Hortense).

According to USAT and the Los Angeles Times , Turkish clean-up efforts turned to clearing debris and stemming the spread of disease as it became clear, five days after the quake, that few if any victims remain to be discovered alive. The New York Times reports that divers searching the Sea of Marmara Saturday, for the first time since the disaster, found more than 150 bodies, apparently those of Turks who lived in houses facing the water. The paper also describes the growing profile of the Turkish military in relief work, and says anger among citizens at slow government response to the quake is still quite strong. One Turkish newspaper, Cumhurriyet, published a front-page editorial calling for governmental accountability that carried the headline “A Complete Change of Mentality Is Needed.” The WP devotes its front-page quake coverage to the story of 40-year-old Yuksel Er, who was pulled from the wreckage of his apartment building south of Istanbul Saturday after spending 97 hours trapped beneath rubble.

On the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, conservative stalwart William J. Bennett calls on George W. Bush to tell the nation directly whether he has ever used cocaine. “An honest declaration would serve him, and the nation, well,” Bennett writes. But Bennett is also clearly dismayed that the national press, which failed to pursue with any energy what he considers credible charges that President Clinton raped a woman in the 1970s, has not let up on the question of George W. and coke. “Whatever happened to ‘scandal fatigue’?” Bennett wonders. “It appears that many reporters have gained their second wind.”

The LAT’s “Column One” reports that Southern California bounty hunters who follow fleeing bail-jumpers to Mexico are increasingly winding up behind bars themselves. In the last 18 months, 11 Americans searching for fugitives in Baja California have been jailed. Mexican cops “often winked at” bounty hunters’ tactics in the past, the paper says, but now consider those efforts rogue police work and a serious violation of national law.

A NYT front-pager suggests that a byproduct of aggressive policing in New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been a rise in the number of what the paper calls “flawed arrests.” City prosecutors tossed out arrests last year at a rate more than twice as high as four years ago, with drug charges more likely than any other kind to be dropped. New York is also paying more to settle lawsuits claiming false arrest–a median amount of $12,500 per plaintiff for the first four months of this year, up from a 1998 figure of $8,000.

A USAT “Cover Story” gets the dirt on Jerry Baker, a self-styled “master gardener” whose folksy radio shows, how-to books, and PBS specials recommend dousing plants with mixtures that include chewing tobacco, mouthwash, and bourbon. A former undercover cop who began writing a gardening column in the 1960s, Baker is adored by older PBS viewers–and by PBS executives, since he ranks as one of the three most successful on-air fundraisers for public television. Scientists, on the other hand, call him a huckster whose advice could be unhealthy for plants and humans alike, and imply PBS puts him on the air primarily because he’s so good at getting viewers to pull out their checkbooks along with their trowels.