The continuing violence in East Timor leads at USA Today, the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The New York Times off-leads the story, choosing instead to go with Janet Reno’s selection, to be announced today, of ex-Sen. John Danforth to head up an independent executive branch re-investigation of the FBI’s 1993 operations at Waco. The NYT says that the choice of the Republican ex-senator is an effort to quell bitter Republican criticism of Reno, exemplified by Wednesday’s call by Sen. Trent Lott for her resignation. Lott vs. Reno is the Post’s off-lead, but it’s not on the LAT or USAT fronts. Nobody besides the NYT fronts Danforth.
The USAT lead goes high with the U.N.’s decision, driven by a fear of abandoning East Timor to murdering militias, to buy some time by delaying until Friday the planned evacuation of its remaining personnel from East Timor. The paper also detects the first outside military stirrings, however faint: a British ship steaming to the area, and talks between the U.K. and Australian militaries. But, the coverage notes, despite what the WP calls a “scorched earth” situation in Dili, the U.S. is not ready to send in troops. The NYT says the Clinton administration is willing to support the multinational peacekeeping force that Australia has volunteered to lead but only if it is invited in by Indonesia.
The NYT Timor front-pager focuses on the Washington tempo, noting for instance that the Department of Defense is taking the lead there, with the Pentagon’s top soldier trying to jawbone Indonesia’s top general into personally taking firm control of the situation. (The Times notes that threatening to halt U.S. military aid to Indonesia isn’t much of a stick: this currently totals $476,000.) The paper also observes (as does the LAT) that the IMF may serve as a powerful brake on Indonesian misbehavior, in that it has promised, but not yet delivered, tens of billions in emergency financial support. The WP lead leans more toward on-the-ground details. Like: “A UN convoy that had left the headquarters to retrieve water from a warehouse turned back when it was attacked by militia members with M-16 assault rifles, machetes and clubs. Indonesian soldiers stood by as thugs dragged a driver out of a truck and threatened to kill him.”
It’s the LAT lead that writes the story from the most basic humanitarian point of view. Its very first sentence throws down the moral gauntlet: “Six months after leading NATO into a 78-day air war campaign to stop ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Kosovo and serving notice that it would not let such human-rights atrocities go unchallenged again, the Clinton administration has decided to limit its military role.” The NYT comes close to this pitch at times, referring to the U.S. “calculation” favoring “mineral-rich” Indonesia over impoverished East Timor. Next to these challenges, the official U.S. explanations for military inaction seem lame. “Because we bombed in Kosovo doesn’t mean we should bomb Dili,” Samuel Berger, the Clinton national security honcho, “explains” to the NYT. An unnamed senior administration official (=Berger?) tells the LAT that “East Timor is not Kosovo because … Milosevic is a repeat offender. Democracy doesn’t exist in Serbia. [Indonesia’s president] Habibie has brought democracy to Indonesia.”
The NYT fronts, and the WP runs inside, yesterday’s telephone conversation between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in which the Russian president said the corruption charges against him are politically inspired. Once source tells the Times that in response to a direct question from Clinton, Yeltsin flatly denied the charges. But another says Yeltsin’s repudiation was less than categorical.
Tip #6: Wait Until Yom Kippur, When They’re Weak From Hunger The WP reports that the Southern Baptist Church has this week released a pocket-sized prayer guide for its members that offers tips about how to evangelize Jews during their High Holy Days when, the Post explains, “they are sensitized to spiritual matters.”
A recurring feature in the WP that revisits items from the paper’s archives today covers an entry from Sept. 9, 1974, the day after Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. The 25-year-old report contains an unjustly ignored example of the fine old political art of deceiving without lying: When Ford was asked at his vice-presidential confirmation hearings if he would ever pardon Nixon if he became president, he replied, “I don’t think the country would stand for it.”
The Wall Street Journal’s “Business Bulletin” reports that a new Internet bank in Florida intends to focus on making loans to gay men and lesbians. The item quotes an expert’s assessment: “To succeed, G&L Bank will have to be competitive on products and rates and offer more than lip service.”