Today's Papers

Shootings Now Automatic, Camp

The Los Angeles Times leads with a gunman’s automatic weapon attack on a day camp in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, which wounded an adult, a teen-ager, and three small children. The story off-leads the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today. Big pictures of police leading children to post-attack safety adorn the fronts. The NYT and WP run versions of the same striking photo, a quintessential L.A. news helicopter POV depicting a chain of kids holding hands on their way to safety, recalling an icon of pre-Uzi school days–a string of paper dolls. USAT leads with the nations’ governors warning both the White House and Congress not to cut domestic spending. The WP lead is that with party control of the House of Representatives at stake in the next election, fund-raising for congressional races is off to an early and record start. The NYT runs a similar piece inside, leading instead with a story it has paid more prominent attention to than any one else–the on-the-ground situation in postwar Kosovo. Today’s effort claims that recently, U.N. peacekeeping forces have made strides in containing the KLA and in establishing civil administration, especially by paying judges and other bureaucrats who’ve gone months without. The thin line being tightroped by the U.N. explains the paper, is to assert its sole administrative authority without turning the KLA into an opponent.

In their shootings stories, both the LAT and the WP make the near-ritual “it could have been worse” point–in this case because many of the children ordinarily at the center were off on a field trip. The papers frame the episode with all the other mass shootings that have made news in the past year or so, and report that President Clinton, the governor of California, and the mayor of L.A. did the same. The LAT lead editorial tries to apply the emotion of the moment to the cause of tighter gun control, but the effort is stalked by a lack of tighter prose control. The paper claims that “all of Los Angeles became family” through following the incident. And then wraps up wondering, “Will it take the shooting of innocents in every congressional district before national lawmakers” do something?–as if all those shootings hadn’t already happened.

As of press time last night, the white male middle-aged shooting suspect remained at large, and the authorities released his name and said he was a resident of Washington state. Because the day camp was in a Jewish community center, the FBI is investigating whether or not the shooting was technically a hate crime. The WP says that as yet there is no evidence supporting this. The LAT, taking advantage of its time-zone-based later close, reports that there is: In a van linked to the shooter, police found a book written by a former member of the American Nazi Party. Both the Times report that there was also a very large amount of ammunition found in the vehicle–3,000 to 4,000 rounds, the LAT says.

Citing KING-TV in Seattle, the NYT says that the suspect was arrested for a knife assault last November and was also a suspect in the theft of ammunition from Fort Lewis. Citing the TacomaNews-Tribune, the LAT says he pleaded guilty in the knife case. The LAT notes that also in the van was a U.S. Army Ranger handbook. Nobody notes that Fort Lewis is an Army Ranger base.

The LAT and NYT top-front India’s shoot-down of a Pakistani plane, resulting in the deaths of 16 aircrewmen. The WP puts this inside. The shooter was a jet fighter and the bogey was an unarmed reconnaissance propeller plane. The Indians claim the craft was on a mission in Indian airspace. The Pakistanis claim that it was on a routine training flight in Pakistani airspace. The coverage stresses that this episode is bound to ratchet up friction between the two countries, who’ve already had a ground war earlier this summer.

The papers report that according to the Department of Education, expulsions for bringing a gun to school dropped by about a third in 1997-98 compared to the year before that. In the coverage, this result is treated as confirmation that despite sensational campus shootings, in fact the risk of school violence is on the decline. But there is hardly any discussion of the idea that it may just mean students are getting better at not getting caught packing. For instance, this possibility is not even mentioned in the NYT piece until the ninth paragraph of a 12-paragraph story.

The WP reports that the nation’s largest association of black lawyers has complained about Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s singing of “Dixie” at a judicial conference, something he’s done more than once. The story was reported in yesterday’s USAT, which added an observation based on its own reporting–that in his 28 years on the Court, Rehnquist has never hired a black law clerk.

A Wall Street Journal front-page feature describes the rise of foreign hand-gun manufacturers importing to the U.S. (a topic done well earlier in the summer by the WP) via a look at the Brazilian company Taurus. One quote from a company official speaks volumes. At one point, he says, the firm tried to branch out from guns into motorcycle helmets, but was soon hit with a $100,000 legal judgment paid to the family of a young man who died in an accident while wearing a Taurus model. “Product-liability law for helmets in the U.S.,” he says, “is just crazy.”

In his WP column, also appearing at the top of the LAT op-ed page, George Will takes out after George W. Bush. Will picks over the interview Bush gave to Talk, seeing it as suggesting that Bush “has a seriousness deficit.” In Will’s mind, most seriously non-serious seems to be that Bush used the f-word on the record with a reporter.

The NYT and USAT report that the Navy is coming close to resuming its former formal relationship with the Tailhook Association. By way of reassuring that his outfit has really changed, Tailhook’s president tells the Times, “We’ve had color coordination seminars for the wives. … We’re really trying to improve our image a bit.”