Today's Papers

Nobel Committee High on Grass

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the radiation leak from an uncontrolled chain reaction at a uranium processing plant not far from Tokyo that hospitalized three workers, contaminated dozens more, and forced 300,000 nearby residents to stay indoors. The Washington Post seems to think that George W. Bush’s criticism of GOP budget proposals that defer tax credits to low-income earners is more important–it runs that story across five columns at the very top while tucking the nuke puke underneath. Nobody else fronts Bush. USA Today goes with the Census Bureau’s finding that household earnings reached record (inflation-adjusted) levels last year–a median of $38,900. The new stats indicate particularly strong income surges in the South and the suburbs and among children and Hispanics. The LAT fronts the story, while the WP and NYT stuff it. Most of the income headlines muddy the real news point somewhat. The LAT says CENSUS REPORTS BROAD U.S. GAINS IN INCOME and the NYT (online at least) has RISING INCOMES LIFT 1.1 MILLION OUT OF POVERTY. The WP, seizing on the 13.5 million poor children cited in the report, somehow manages to come up with a headline saying in part that POVERTY CHANGES LITTLE. USAT bigprints it best: POVERTY AT 20-YEAR LOW. The LAT and WP front and the NYT reefers Gunter Grass’ winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Japanese accident was caused, say the papers, when too much uranium was poured into a purification tank. (This is not the only simple mistake leading to a big one in the news today: the papers all cover NASA’s admission that the reason the Mars Orbiter was lost last week was that some engineers did calculations for the mission using pounds and feet, while others used the metric system.) The consensus among the papers is that the Japanese mishap is nowhere near as environmentally threatening as either the meltdown at Three Mile Island or the far worse Chernobyl catastrophe. However, the LAT quotes a nuclear safety expert saying that the three most seriously hurt workers may have received more radiation than their counterparts at Chernobyl, and maybe as much as the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The NYT emphasizes that the incident may well have political, as well as real, fallout, noting that Japanese commentators are already predicting a strong public opinion backlash against industry and the government, which was seen by many Japanese as responding to yesterday’s events rather slowly.

All the papers report that in response to yesterday’s AP story about an alleged U.S. massacre of Korean civilians in the early days of the Korean war, fronted by the NYT and LAT, the Pentagon has promised to undertake a thorough investigation. The WP front-pager on this states that for five years, the U.S. Army “brushed aside” these very allegations, and the LAT’s front effort calls the military’s current stance an “abrupt about-face.”

Only the WP fronts Russia’s launching of a major ground offensive inside Chechnya yesterday (the NYT reefers it). The Russian government has cloaked the operation in secrecy, saying only that ground fighting is already underway, and indeed, says the Post, that some Russian troops had been fighting just inside the Chechen border for two weeks. The Wall Street Journal reports that in a speech today, State’s Strobe Talbott will urge Russia to end “indiscriminate” bombing in Chechnya and to ease off on roundups of Chechens in Moscow, while offering U.S. help in combating Russia’s growing terrorism problem.

The WP and NYT report inside that despite the likelihood of a presidential veto, the House yesterday passed a bill that would establish new criminal penalties for anyone who injures or harms a fetus while committing another federal offense. The politically loaded aspect of the bill, explain the papers, is whether or not it establishes a measure of legal standing for fetuses that could be used to chip away at Roe v. Wade.

The WP reports inside on the Jesse Ventura interview in the newest Playboy. In the interview, Ventura takes a Nietszchean line on organized religion, calling it a sham and crutch for the weak, and says the charges against naval aviators in the Tailhook scandal were “much ado about nothing.” The comments were condemned by the Reform party chairman, but were defended by the party’s Minnesota chairman.

A letter to the WP points out a worthwhile approach to the current gun imbroglio that’s not been mentioned much: the availability of increasingly effective non-lethal weapons, such as electronic stun devices and chemical sprays, effective at much greater ranges than earlier versions. The writer is absolutely right and his observations might have carried more rhetorical impact if the paper had told readers via an ID line that he is a former government researcher in this area.

The WP reports on, but hardly seems to notice the irony in, the Office of Thrift Supervision’s decision to budget $50,000 in government funds so that OTS employees can in the coming months celebrate the office’s tenth anniversary at various outings, including a jazz brunch cruise down the Potomac. The paper quotes an OTS official saying, “We consider it reasonable considering what OTS employees have gone through in those 10 years,” but never bothers to tell the reader what those hardships were.