Today's Papers

Lily White House?

Everybody leads with the decision by Israel and Syria to resume peace talks–probably starting next week–after a lapse of nearly four years. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times fronts feature a picture of President Clinton at his press conference yesterday, where he announced the development.

The WP calls the talks a “major foreign policy victory for President Clinton.” The coverage makes it clear that one major issue Israel and Syria have to sort out is what to do about the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Six Day War and which has served as a key security buffer for it ever since. The WP is the clearest about another: what to do about the 35,000 troops Syria maintains in Lebanon and about its support for anti-Israeli operations there conducted by the militant Islamic group, Hezbollah.

The coverage is largely upbeat, with only the LAT including the following: 1) Although Yasser Arafat publicly supports the talks, privately the Palestinians were stunned by them and fear that they will have an adverse affect on their own dealings with the Israelis; 2) the political opposition in Israel is not pleased, with one right-wing party viewing the talks as a complete surrender to Syria; and 3) there is much bitterness too from Golan Heights residents who fear losing their homes.

Everybody runs stories about President Clinton’s press conference yesterday and all of these mention a question near the end that seemed to have caught him somewhat flat-footed, a question about why most top White House jobs in his administration have gone to whites. But all of these stories run inside and none dwell at length on the issue the question raises. With the exception, that is, of USA Today, which serves up a 1,900 word pass at the topic on its front page. The story highlights the basic fact raised (and not denied by Clinton) at the press conference: While Clinton has presided over a historically diverse Cabinet, all 26 people who’ve held the top seven White House jobs under him have been white, and 21 of them have been men. The story garners two quotes from Clintonites that are sure to give the topic some media life: Current Press Secretary Joe Lockhart is quoted as saying that when it comes to crucial White House decisions, “women and minorities still have to fight for a seat at the table.” And former Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers says, “The rule is still that when the big decisions get made, it’s not as diverse a group as the overall administration. And I’m putting it nicely.” The story tries to suggest important examples where this alleged ethnic skew hurt. The most convincing: The United States’ slow response to the 1994 civil war and genocide in Rwanda.

The NYT fronts an exclusive from the New York Senate campaign trenches: At a private fund-raiser organized by gay and lesbian supporters, Hillary Clinton said that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy crafted by her husband to govern gays in the military was a failure, and that if elected she would work to overturn it. The Times points out that HRC’s likely opponent, Rudy Giuliani, also opposes the policy. The paper further reports that at the event the first lady also supported full rights for “same-sex unions,” even though, notes the NYT, in 1996 she supported, along with her husband, a bill passed by Congress that effectively banned gay marriages. The Times runs the story next to pictures of the killer and the killed in the case of an Army private convicted yesterday of murdering a fellow soldier he’d harassed for being gay.

An LAT front-pager reveals that one of the suspects in the 1997 shooting of rap star Notorious B.I.G. is a former LAPD officer now in prison on unrelated bank robbery charges. A theory being pursued by investigators, says the paper, is that the officer conspired with Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight to arrange a contract killing of the rapper. On this theory, the actual shooter was a college friend of the then-cop.

Everybody reports inside that a Memphis civil jury decided, in a lawsuit brought by the family of Martin Luther King, that a retired local cafe owner was part of a conspiracy involving “governmental agencies” in the 1968 King murder. This means, explains the coverage, that the jury does not believe the man convicted of the crime, James Earl Ray, was the real shooter.

The NYT runs a story inside about an execution conducted last night with possible political ramifications. Monday morning, a man scheduled to be executed in Texas was found unconscious from a drug overdose. Nevertheless, the state decided not to issue a stay of execution for the man and instead put him to death on time. Although George W. Bush was out of the state during all this and so technically not in on the decision, the paper reports that a Bush spokeswoman confirms he agreed with it. Wackiest detail reported by the Times: “Because Long’s doctor deemed such a move ‘risky,’ state officials used an airplane staffed by medical personnel to ensure that he arrived in good health after the 25-minute trip.”

Some quality control problems noted at the WP: 1) A story about trials of an experimental anti-autism drug is slugged by the paper “Treatment Counters Autism” even though the story goes on to explain that the drug worked no better in the studies than placebos given to the control group; 2) an AP story the paper runs about a credit card scam targeting senior military officers fails to mention that the Wall Street Journal broke the news yesterday; 3) over a heart-wrenching story about a 9-year-old boy who concealed the accidental death of his mother for a month, leaving her body in their home because he was afraid of being sent to an orphanage, the Post goes with the bad taste headline of the year, century, and millennium: “MOTHER DIED, BUT BOY, 9, KEPT MUM.”