Today's Papers

Just Say No Comment

Everybody leads with the decision by Indonesia to allow an armed external peacekeeping force into East Timor. Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times headlines say that it’s a U.N. force that’s coming. The Washington Post headline calls it “Australian-led.” USA Today’s headline notes U.S. support for the development but also the absence of American ground troops. The NYT front gives plenty of space to a large picture of Andre Agassi exulting over his win of the U.S. Open and to a story-with-picture about the New York Jets. The LAT gives a big chunk of its front to its hometown professional sport: show business awards. This time it’s the Emmys.

The LAT calls Indonesia’s acceptance of foreign troops a “stunning reversal of policy.” The WP adds that it is “in some ways humiliating” for Indonesia’s president and top general. Although the majority of the peacekeepers figure to be Australian–4,500 out of 7,000, the papers say–the coverage mentions that the Indonesians would prefer a predominantly Asian force. (The Wall Street Journal mentions that perhaps the force will even include Indonesians.) The Post quotes one Indonesian military analyst saying that indeed, there is anti-white sentiment in East Timor which could make things dangerous for Australian troops. And, wonders the LAT, what will happen to the militias?

A WP front-pager reports that an examination of records reveals that in 1997 eight federal appeals court judges took part in at least 18 cases in which they, or their spouses or trusts they managed held stock in one of the parties involved. (The story is a follow-up to one done last year in the Kansas City Star, by the same reporter, now with the Post.) The judges, says the paper, attributed their participation to innocent mistakes or memory lapses about their finances. One case cited gives a feel for the amount of lapse required: The husband of a judge who participated in a ruling favorable to Wal-Mart held up to $50,000 worth of stock in the retailer. Some of the offending judges are quoted saying that they are “chagrined” and promise “to try to be more careful.” The story doesn’t call the practice “illegal” (a related editorial does, though) and doesn’t explain to the reader why the judges aren’t looking at criminal charges, civil suits, or at least discipline from within their profession.

The WP runs an AP dispatch of a Fox News interview with former President George Bush, in which he supports his presidential candidate son’s decision not to answer questions about alleged youthful drug use. A suggestion: If the press is looking for embarrassing questions to ask presidential candidates about their long-ago past, how about this one, arguably much more relevant to presidential performance than ancient drug use: What were your SAT scores? The real issue isn’t who used dope; it’s who is a dope.

The NYT runs a piece about the 87-year-old great-grandmother revealed by a forthcoming book to have been an undetected KGB operative, active from the early ‘40s until the early ‘70s. The little old lady fessed up this past Saturday, saying that she had been trying to help Russia keep abreast of Britain, America and Germany. But she added, “In general, I do not agree with spying against one’s country.” The Times says the British press is saying that soon up to a dozen more Britons who spied for Soviet intelligence will be unmasked, including a now-dead prominent public figure.

The WP legal columnist, David Segal, makes a sharp observation upon a visit to the new Web site of Washington D.C.’s premier lobbying outfit, Patton Boggs. The hype text says at one point, “Patton Boggs was the first national law firm to recognize that all three branches of government could serve as forums to achieve client goals.” How, wonders Segal, does the firm lobby the judiciary?

The NYT’s William Safire has a wicked version of President Clinton’s account of Hillary’s recusal from his FALN clemency offer: “I want you to listen to me. I never discussed clemency for terrorists with that woman, Ms. Clinton. Not a single time; never.” Safire also asks a properly pointed question: If federal employees can’t even accept a lunch from an outsider, what of President Clinton’s acceptance of a house loan guarantee worth about a grand a month?

Last Thursday’s USAT ran an op-ed piece worth looking up. It recounted a wacky trend in shady political campaign contributions: maximum donations “by” children and even infants. George W. Bush recently received separate $1K donations from twin three-year-olds, the grand children of a Utah multimillionaire. Lest you think that Dubya has cornered the market on this form of cribbing, the piece reports that in 1996, the ranks of Clinton-Gore donors included an 11-year-old.

Today’s NYT runs a correction saying that an August 24 story about money added by Congress to appropriations bills favoring specific universities “referred incompletely to the source of the $797 million figure” which is this year’s total for such funds. Now reading that, wouldn’t you think the original story said something about that source? Well, it didn’t. That figure was calculated by The Chronicle of Higher Education in its own story on the topic, but in the August 24 Times story, the $797 million appears unattributed in the second paragraph, and the Chronicle shows up in the fourteenth, and without being connected to the figure. Hence today’s newspaper deconstruction: “referred incompletely to the source” means “referred to the source, without mentioning that it was the source.” These baroque newspaper corrections are to a mistake what a comb-over is to baldness.