Today's Papers

Chechens and Balances

The Washington Post leads with the intensifying Russian air assault against Chechnya, now in its fifth day (a story the New York Times had previously covered more than the other dailies). USA Today goes with the revelation that last week, Russia’s intelligence agency turned down the U.S. Department of Justice’s request for bank statements, other documents and audiotapes relating to the suspected diversion of nearly $15 million from Russia to U.S. and other banks. Russian officials described the request, says the paper, as an “unnecessary intrusion.” This contrasts with previous claims by Russian officials of complete cooperation with the bank probe. The Los Angeles Times leads with the California governor’s signing into law a patient-oriented rewrite of the state’s HMO regulations, one that could serve as a stimulant to similar managed care reform around the country (Texas, the story points out, already has similar laws). The NYT fronts the California reforms, but leads instead with local news: The chairman of that Brooklyn museum that’s become the target of Rudy Giuliani’s wrath for exhibiting a dung-stained picture of the Virgin Mary on Monday discussed with city officials withdrawing the work, only to back out when the officials revealed the talks to the media. The Times off-leads another New York story: The city’s just-identified mosquito-borne West Nile virus has stricken nearly twice as many people–37–and over a much wider area than was previously thought. The virus has now accounted for four deaths. The chief evidence for the new dimensions of the problem, explains the paper, is that mosquitoes become carriers of the virus by biting infected birds, and scores of dead birds are in evidence from Connecticut to Long Island. The WP carries the story inside, but look for more intense coverage in the days to come, for two reasons: 1) New York’s birds are about to fly south and 2) So many of the nation’s media elites live inside the virus zone.

The WP lead reports that among the targets of Russian jets are properties belonging to the Chechen guerrilla commander. The bombing has created thousands of refugees. The Chechen president, who denies any affiliation with the guerrillas, has requested a sit-down with Boris Yeltsin, but for now the Russians aren’t having any of it. One of the reasons for Russian persistence, says the paper, is that the Russian military is trying to reverse the fumbling image it picked up from the 1994-95 attempt to best the Chechens. Both this story and the NYT’s inside piece point out that the air-only campaign seems modeled on NATO’s war against Yugoslavia.

Both Times explain that the new California HMO laws mandate plan coverage of such previously uncovered areas as cancer screening, give Californians the right to sue their health plans, to obtain second medical opinions, and to appeal treatment funding decisions to an independent review board–in short the key features now being debated by Congress in its attempts to arrive at a patients’ bill of rights. One important grain of salt that the LAT waits until the 32nd paragraph to sprinkle: HMOs still can (and the implication is, will) prevent patients from suing under the bill by requiring their agreement to binding arbitration as a condition of treatment.

A front-page Wall Street Journal feature notes one political upshot of the managed care imbroglio: It’s turned a lot of doctors into Democrats. Solid numbers are hard to come by but, examples the Journal, the AMA recently contributed to Ted Kennedy for the first time ever.

A front-page LAT story reports that the current New England Journal of Medicine carries a favorable review of two hair-loss products without disclosing that the paper’s author has some financial ties to the drugs’ manufacturers, a situation expressly forbidden by the journal’s guidelines. The author’s explanation to the LAT seems Pharisaical at best: she stopped consulting for the drug companies when she embarked upon the article, although she expects to resume doing so now that it’s been published.

Everybody reports inside that Linda Tripp yesterday sued the White House and the Pentagon, contending that both violated her privacy by unlawfully disclosing information about her from her personnel file and other government records. An example Tripp gives in court papers is the unflattering New Yorker profile that revealed her teen-age grand larceny arrest and also that Tripp didn’t disclose the arrest in her Pentagon security clearance form. Among the people named in the suit, not as defendants, but as having “engaged in communications” about Tripp is Hillary Clinton. Tripp claims that as a result she suffered a loss of income. None of the papers mention a fact about Tripp that makes this last claim puzzling: During the time frame she’s referring to she remained one of the DOD’s highest-paid employees, making $90-plus K. She even got a raise.

The LAT front reports that in Missouri, the KKK has gone to court to try to win the right to participate in the state’s Adopt-a-Highway program, and to become a sponsor on the University of Missouri’s radio station’s “All Things Considered” broadcast. The paper points out that the highway program already includes the Boy Scouts, who exclude girls and gays, and the Knights of Columbus, who exclude non-Catholics.

The NYT runs an AP story saying that 1999 has already seen the largest number of executions in the U.S. since 1954–76 snuffers snuffed. The story notes though that between 1930 and 1967, the nation averaged more than 100 a year.

The NYT features a tart op-ed by Gail Collins wondering about the priorities involved in George W.’s decision to skip the California Republican Party convention to go watch the Ryder Cup. Not to mention his decision once there to meet with the team and inspire the players to victory by comparing the final day’s competition to the Alamo.

Gore appeals to the center. In an apparent attempt to lock up the inarticulate mesomorph vote, Al Gore last night, says the WP, got the endorsement of Shaquille O’Neal.