Today's Papers

Double Dutch Drubbings

The Taiwan earthquake leads with three columns at the New York Times   and is fronted by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today (which puts it below the fold). (The Wall Street Journal   puts the earthquake atop its “Worldwide” box.) The Post leads with news first hinted at in President Clinton’s State of the Union message: According to anonymous sources, the federal government will file a massive civil racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco industry to reclaim billions of dollars of health payments for tobacco-related illnesses. This story is the top non-local lead at the LAT, which adds that the suit would be the largest ever brought by the Justice Department. USAT leads with a Senate Y2K report, to be released today, stating that New Year computer glitches “will cause more inconvenience than tragedy” (the report is also fronted by the WP). Most foul-ups will be isolated, the report says, with the education, oil, construction, agriculture, food processing, and health care industries being the most vulnerable. A panel of experts assembled by USAT predicts Y2K will not be more disruptive than Hurricane Floyd, which dislocated millions and killed several dozen.

The Taiwan quake–which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale (7.7 says the NYT)–has killed over 1,700, with 2,700 still trapped and over 4,000 injured. There have been more than 6,000 aftershocks, including one that registered 6.8. Despite the enormous casualties and continued neighborhood blackouts, much of the city was up and running the day after the quake, including major highways and the airport. The Journal notes that the quake may cause a spike in the price of computer chips–one of Taiwan’s main exports–though a similar report in the LAT is more optimistic. The Post and NYT both front an astounding photograph of a Taiwanese apartment building perilously perched over the street like a giant Tower of Pisa.

With four articles, the LAT coverage is the most thorough. One story helpfully notes that the 7.6 quake was actually twice as powerful as the 7.4 quake which killed 16,000 in Turkey last month. (To learn how the Richter scale works, click here; to learn what damage will typically result from a given Richter reading, click here.) The LAT also says that the spate of recent earthquakes has nothing to do with geology (they happen with the same frequency as they always have) and everything to do with demographics and geography (more people live near fault lines).

Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley attacks the administration’s Russia policy on the Journal’s editorial page. Bradley argues that Clinton has personalized the relationship with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, set too-high expectations for democratization, slacked off on nuclear security, and failed to properly monitor economic aid. Meanwhile, the Post reports that Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers defended Clinton’s Russia policy on Capitol Hill. “At every step, we have been clear-headed in endeavoring to strike a careful balance between … what is best economically and is also politically realistic,” he said.

The NYT fronts the revelation that the FBI “unequivocally opposed” the president’s recent release of Puerto Rican criminals. In a draft letter (released at a congressional hearing yesterday) to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote that the clemency would “return committed, experienced, sophisticated and hardened terrorists to the clandestine movement” for Puerto Rican independence. In another letter released at the hearing, President Clinton provided his first detailed defense of the clemency. Interestingly, the Post’s story, run on Page A2, is the inverse of the Times’: It highlights Clinton’s defense, and leaves until the 15th paragraph Freeh’s opposition. (The story was reefered by USAT.)

The LAT fronts the news that seat belts on school buses do not save lives, and may actually do harm. A computer re-creation of several bus crashes by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that school-bus seats are too flat and slippery for the belts to do any good. In some cases, the belts simply exacerbated whiplash. The NTSB recommended that the seats be redesigned, and Gov. Gray Davis, D-Calif., promised to re-examine a school bus seat-belt law passed by the California legislature earlier this month.

The NYT and USAT reefer the closing arguments of the Microsoft trial, which concluded after a lengthy recess. No new evidence was presented. (To read Slate’s dispatch from the trial’s last day, click here.) 

The Post gets its hands on an advance copy of Edmund Morris’ controversial new biography of Ronald Reagan, Dutch, as well as the transcript of a forthcoming Morris interview with American Enterprise magazine. The paper does not pronounce a verdict on the book (appropriate, since presumably it has had the book for less than 24 hours), but it does note Morris’ general bewilderment with his subject. Among other things, Morris alleges that in 1938 Reagan flirted with joining the Communist Party; Morris fails, however, to reach a conclusion about Reagan’s involvement in Iran-Contra. His provocative use of fictional narrator personas grew out of an “epiphany” that, “after several years of deep research I was, in an almost occult sense, there when Reagan was younger.”

The Post’s Michael Kelly gives one of his inimitable drubbings to would-be GOP apostate Patrick Buchanan. “Recently in this space, I wrote unflatteringly of the entertainer Patrick J. Buchanan, suggesting that his material was old and that he was perhaps overly preoccupied with the subject of Jews and money,” Kelly writes. “Buchanan [now] threatens to bolt the Republican Party. Republicans, hold the door open for that man, grease the skids and give him a helpful boot down the steep, swift road to sure and deserved oblivion.” (To read Slate’s take on Buchanan, click here.)