Today's Papers

The Empire Strikes Back

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with Russia’s fiercest attack on Chechnya yet, a story the New York Times puts inside. The Times goes instead with word that Federal Trade Commission officials have OKed the Mobil-Exxon merger.

The papers announce that Russia is pummeling Chechnya and environs with new intensity and new equipment and quote Russian threats to finish off the Chechen fighters. The LAT reads the statements the most savvily, saying they provide the first indication that Russia wants to annihilate, not merely isolate, the rebels. The 100,000 Russian soldiers in the region have faced only light resistance so far from their 6,000 Chechen counterparts, but now Chechen commanders are threatening a counterattack. The LAT reminds readers that in 1996, 1,500 Chechen fighters were able to seize back their capital from 12,000 Russian troops, and that this humiliating defeat is fueling Russia’s current ferocity. The Post emphasizes Russia’s decision to use scary-sounding “incendiary” bombs. But Russia hasn’t explained how these differ from ones employed previously, and the paper doesn’t seem to know either.

The NYT explains that the FTC assented to the $81 billion Mobil-Exxon merger, the largest in history, after the two giants agreed to the largest divestiture the agency has ever seen. The companies will have to sell about 2,400, or 15 percent, of its stations. Things don’t look as rosy for the BP Amoco’s proposed $29 billion purchase of Atlantic Richfield. Since both dominate exploration in Alaska, federal and state officials are worried that a merger might deflate competition and raise prices in the area. The story notes that all four companies were part of the Rockefeller oil empire that was broken up by trustbusters in 1911. Competition for new oil reserves is much more robust these days, which is why the companies are being allowed to rejoin.

The Post fronts a fascinating examination of one of the faith-based social programs supported by George W. Bush the governor and now touted by George W. Bush the candidate. A small prison in Texas is running a pilot project called Inner Change that aims to convert inmates into better citizens–that is, better citizens who are fundamentalist Christians. The program’s founder, Charles Colson, found God while serving time for involvement in Watergate, and has since devoted his life to helping prisoners do the same. Bush claims that overtly religious programs work better than their more secular counterparts because they use “the transforming power of faith.” The program is too young for a verdict on its effectiveness, but its participants are notably more serene and cheerful than other convicts. 

Recent polls have Gore and Bradley running neck-and-neck in some Northern states. But an LAT front-pager puts the Bradley hype in perspective by describing his deep unpopularity in the South. Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes–a Gore supporter–calls Bradley a “Northeastern, elitist, old-time liberal.” Even more insultingly, an Emory political scientist shuns him as a “Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale.” Even Bradley’s jock credentials don’t mean much in Dixie: “The sport in the South that borders on being a religion is football,” another analyst points out. As the story admits, it’s impossible to isolate the source of Bradley’s unpopularity: does he really rub Southerners the wrong way, or are they just intensely loyal to Gore?

Lachrymose stories in all three papers chronicle yesterday’s 20-16 football win by Texas A&M over the University of Texas. The LAT and WP stories, on the front pages of their respective papers, are written in prose much purpler than the NYT account. All three papers note that the game drew the largest crowd for a football game in Texas history. None says the obvious–that it would have been heartless for UT not to let the Aggies win.

Yesterday morning, says an LAT front-pager, a man was killed in a shootout with police officers after he lead them on a three-hour freeway car chase. Five news helicopters hovered overhead and broadcast the shooting live. The stations defended themselves by arguing that they could have showed close-ups of the killing but refrained from doing so. “It is not our policy to show graphic violence. We have to be cautious,” said one producer.