Today's Papers

Terrifying Turkish Temblors

The earthquake in Turkey takes center stage as the death toll skyrockets–over 2,100 dead, over 13,000 injured, and over 10,000 missing. The New York Times, which reefered initial quake reports yesterday, goes with a four-column headline. All the papers lead with the quake except USA Today, which off-leads it. Instead, USAT goes with the FDA’s decision to prohibit over 200,000 people from giving blood in order to preclude a theoretical risk that transfusions could spread mad cow disease–a story fronted by no other paper. The ban affects anybody who spent over six cumulative months in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Channel Islands from Jan. 1, 1980, to Dec. 31, 1996. The American Red Cross said the restriction will decrease the blood supply by 2.2 percent per year.

The 45-second temblor struck at 3 a.m. Tuesday in the populous region surrounding Istanbul. Turkish seismologists said it measured 6.7 on the Richter scale, but American seismologists said it may have peaked at 7.8. (This is a bigger difference than it seems: The Richter scale is logarithmic, not linear, so a 7.8 is more than 10 times as strong as a 6.7. None of the papers explains this. To learn how the Richter scale works, click here; to learn what damage will typically result from a given Richter reading, click here.) Some papers report that the quake may be downgraded to a 7.4. There have been more than 250 aftershocks.

The Los Angeles Times notes that so many people died in the Turkish city of Izmut–located 65 miles east of Istanbul and perched over the epicenter–that the mayor turned the local ice skating rink into a backup morgue. Because it took government rescue teams nine hours to arrive there, survivors at first attempted to dig out victims with pickaxes and sledgehammers. (The LAT and the Washington Post appear to be the only papers with reporters in Izmut, and it shows.) Only USAT notes that a Turkish quake in 1939 killed 40,000 people. (Note: USAT calls yesterday’s temblor “one of the worst earthquakes this century,” but what does this mean? Do they mean in Turkey or the world? Do they mean fatalities or the magnitude of the shockwaves?)

The NYT and LAT front the announcement by former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov that he will head a center-left coalition designed to win the December parliamentary elections and put forth a presidential candidate. The coalition, called Fatherland-All-Russia, was created two weeks ago by the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov. With Primakov’s support, analysts now expect the coalition to win the parliament–now controlled by the Communists–and the presidency–now controlled by the outgoing Boris Yeltsin, who last week chose new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as his preferred successor. The Fatherland-All-Russia presidential candidate will be either Primakov–whom Yeltsin fired as prime minister three months ago–or Luzhkov.

The Wall Street Journal and the Post report that defense experts appointed by the Indian government have drafted a proposal outlining India’s nuclear weapons policy. India would never be the first to strike, and it would retaliate only against a nuclear power that had used nuclear weapons against it. The proposal also envisions a large nuclear command-and-control system consisting of land-, sea-, and submarine-based missiles, and it would limit nuclear strike authority to the prime minister or his designate. Experts speculated that the announcement of the proposal–which cannot become policy until after parliamentary elections later this year–was aimed at warning Pakistan against a first strike and at reassuring the world of India’s sense of nuclear responsibility.

The LAT fronts a story documenting unexpected spin-off drugs from AIDS research. Many doctors have long criticized the research as disproportionate to actual suffering–when compared to more common diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, for instance–but the advances in virology, microbiology, and immunology brought about by the research have now led to several non-AIDS-related medicines. These drugs–such as a new flu treatment and a valuable treatment for hepatitis B–have been effective against many chronic viral diseases, historically among the hardest to cure.

The NYT gives above-the-fold treatment to allegations by the former counterintelligence director of Los Alamos that the espionage investigation of Wen Ho Lee is racist. It waits until the seventh paragraph to credit the Post, which broke this story yesterday. For its part, the Post does not even mention yesterday’s NYT’s report on the theft of $1 billion in international relief to Bosnia.

Correction: On Aug. 12, “Today’s Papers” stated that a NYT article on Warren Beatty’s possible presidential bid did not mention the movie Bulworth. It did. TP regrets the error.

Several months ago, Slate’s “Chatterbox” columnist wrote about the extremes to which the WSJ will go to give a story an economic spin. In this spirit, the lead paragraph of the Journal’s earthquake article merits quoting in full: “A powerful 45-second earthquake cut a swath through Turkey’s industrial heartland, killing thousands of people, shutting businesses, wrecking major power lines and jolting national confidence just as the economy showed signs of leaving 1999’s recession behind.”