Today's Papers


Everybody leads with the bloodless military overthrow of Pakistan’s democratically elected government. The majors all cite the same immediate background: While army commander Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf was out of the country (in Sri Lanka), the civilian prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, fired him. Thereafter army units quickly took to the streets and overran key government facilities. (USA Today and the New York Times front the same picture of troops going over the fence at the government TV station, mooning the world in the process.) Then Musharraf returned, and after placing Sharif and several other top officials under house arrest, announced that he was in charge.

The papers also agree on the main background factors: The army had been upset that this past summer Sharif, bowing to U.S. pressure, had called for the withdrawal of Pakistani-supported guerrillas from Kashmir, where they had been in a shooting war with Indian forces. The Washington Post has the most fine-grained causal list, adding as factors Sharif’s failure to authorize a military response to India’s July shoot-down of a Pakistani navy training flight, his promise to consider signing the comprehensive test ban treaty, and his plans to divert money from the military to housing for the poor. The Post also mentions the army’s distaste for Sharif’s attempts to cut ties to Afghanistan’s Taliban militia. Only the Los Angeles Times includes anything negative about Sharif, noting that he has jailed dissidents.

The papers report that India went on high alert upon hearing of the coup. Both the WP and LAT report that the Clinton administration had warned in recent weeks against any extra-constitutional ouster of the government. But the LAT says that there is no immediate concern in the U.S. government regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, because, explains USAT, they have been presumed to be in the military’s hands all along. The NYT says that if the U.S. government confirms the coup, it will no longer conduct business as usual with Pakistan. The LAT adds: If that happens, U.S. law requires cutting foreign assistance. (It would have been nice if the paper had said what law. How long has it been in existence?) The LAT, in case you had doubts, passes along word that Gen. Musharraf “has a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense soldier.” Just once Today’s Papers wants to read about a soft, all-laughs soldier!

Perhaps it comes as no surprise what the sports-addled press views as the day’s other big story: the death, at age 63, from an apparent heart attack, of Wilt Chamberlain. Every paper fronts this, with USAT and the LAT putting it top-front. USAT’s piece puts Chamberlain’s claim to have slept with 20,000 women in the seventh paragraph of its eight-paragraph story. The WP puts it in the fifth paragraph out of 25; the LAT in the fifth paragraph of 59. The NYT front-page effort never mentions the alleged feat. The LAT runs a story inside by one-time biographer David Shaw that provides a bit of evidence for the claim: Shaw writes of a time that he was out at a restaurant with Chamberlain and Chamberlain’s date when the player excused himself to get the phone number of a woman at another table. And another time, Shaw says, Chamberlain ushered him out of his hotel room in order to entertain three women simultaneously. (Shaw doesn’t say if he put these stories in his book.)

Both the NYT and WP report inside that the U.N. civilian worker killed in Kosovo two days ago was probably assaulted by Albanians after he responded to a question they posed to him in Serbian with an answer in Serbian. Both papers also report that in Burundi yesterday, several civilian U.N. officials were murdered by Hutu rebels.

The Wall Street Journal front-page news box dutifully reports that yesterday the Dow dropped 231 points–a reduction in value of 2.2 percent–on, it says, inflation worries. What’s particularly noteworthy, and a sign that the papers are maturing when it comes to market swings, is that, on a relatively slow news day, no other paper fronts the story.

The USAT front-page “Snapshot” gives an economic picture, based on Census Bureau stats, of the estimated 44 million Americans without health insurance. More than a quarter of whom, says the chart, earn more than $50,000.

The WP runs an AP report inside about the first documented actual Y2K glitch. It seems that the Maine state government has issued, according to a computer’s instructions, titles for model year 2000 cars and trucks identifying the vehicles as “horseless carriages,” a designation meant to be reserved for vintage vehicles produced before 1916. The state has spent, says the AP, millions in an effort to make its computers Y2K-compliant.