Today's Papers

All Bright in Gaza

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the agreement reached by the Palestinians and Israel to resume peace processes outlined in the Wye River accord signed last fall. The agreement requires the withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the West Bank and calls on both sides to refrain from taking unilateral action, which ensures the Palestinians won’t declare statehood and the Israelis won’t build settlements in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. It also lays out an ambitious plan to achieve permanent settlement between the two sides in one year.

All three papers praise Madeleine Albright’s shuttle diplomacy: Albright is given credit for salvaging the agreement, which hit a snag on Thursday after Israel refused to release an extra 50 prisoners as part of the deal. Uncowed by the posturing and brinkmanship attributed to both sides, Albright quickly switched gears, from passive envoy to diplomacy maven. The WP explains that Albright, heeding an Israeli request that the U.S. play a back-seat role in the negotiations, had been reluctant to interfere but plunged into the fray with decisive mediation. Meanwhile, the NYT reports that Albright, positioned in front of a painting of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, seemed anxious to stress that her role was minimal, insisting she was neither a mediator nor a facilitator, but a “handmaiden” (her word). The NYT notes that Albright’s starring role has given her a much-needed boost as she travels to Syria to try to jump-start negotiations between that country and Israel.

All three papers front stories about independence-election results in East Timor, where voters overwhelmingly chose to break away from Indonesia. The NYT and the WP focus on the violence expected to follow the official announcement: Anti-independence militias who have been terrorizing citizens of East Timor for nine months have said they will reject the results of the referendum. Both the NYT and the WP report that foreigners and journalists have left the country or have plans to leave. Only the LAT points out that as many as 100,000 Timorese, fearing for their lives, could flee the country, too. The LAT draws a connection between the arrival of Indonesian army troops, sent to “restore peace,” and the imminent refugee crisis: It was the army that trained, paid, and supported the anti-independence militias who’re leading the killing rampage.

The top-front NYT story is basically a recap of the law-enforcement controversy plaguing Janet Reno, who pledged yesterday to find the truth behind the now-public FBI tapes that show agents firing combustible tear gas rounds at a building on the Waco compound. The NYT does report that a second videotape, released yesterday, supports the government’s claim that the tear gas canisters did not penetrate the bunker, and that Sen. John D. Danforth, a Republican from Missouri, has agreed to lead Reno’s investigation into a possible FBI cover-up. Neither of the other papers fronts the story, but the WP carries a similar story inside, and reminds us that Danforth, best known as Clarence Thomas’ chief defender, will need to pass a background check before being officially appointed. No word on who (the FBI?) will perform that background check.

The WP off-leads with the $10 billion class-action suit brought by employees at the Department of Energy’s Paducah, Ky., uranium plant. The suit accuses former managers of misleading workers about the whereabouts of radioactive material stored at the plant, thereby exposing them to illegally high doses of radiation. The WP also reports that its own investigation into conditions at the plant, which prompted a full-scale probe by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson last month, has spurred other discoveries. Last week, a computer with dangerously high radiation readings was almost donated to a local school or nonprofit group.

The LAT off-leads with a report on the “soft growth” of jobs in August, which represented the smallest increase since May but drove unemployment down to 4.2 percent, giving investors hope that the Fed won’t raise interest rates at the next policy meeting, in October.

A WP front-pager reports that damages awarded to 500,000 Floridian smokers in a class-action suit could not be paid in a lump sum, saving the tobacco industry from a multibillion dollar verdict that might have forced some of the small companies to fold. It was bad news for anti-tobacco activists, but good news for stockholders: Philip Morris gained $2.25 a share.

Inside, the NYT reports that a cancer patient’s will to live is influenced most strongly by physical distress and can fluctuate wildly in the weeks before death. Both right-to-die opponents and right-to-die proponents have found ways to embrace the study. An opponent points out that if the desire to die can be controlled with treatment, it should not be taken at face value; a proponent points out that if the desire to die is caused by reasons other than pain, it should be heeded.

More flak on the SAT. After mentioning that The Washington Post Co. owns Stanley Kaplan, the expensive SAT test-prep company, a WP editorial dismisses ETS’s new “Striver” category as “troubling.” The idea, explained in Wednesday’s Today’s Papers, is that the new system would recognize SAT achievement relative to a test-taker’s social and economic background. What does the WP think about SAT achievement relative to a test-taker’s (undisclosed) access to Kaplan? No easy answers here.