Today's Papers

Mistakes Were Made

The papers offer a mixed bag of Sunday stories, with no direct overlap among the three front pages. The New York Times lead summarizes a report documenting mistakes in Veterans hospitals from June 1997-December 1998, and tracks the ensuing drive to conduct similar studies in other U.S. health-care systems. The Washington Post details the start of an investigation into a Dec. 6 air traffic control glitch that nearly caused two passenger planes to collide. The Los Angeles Times runs a local story about the state’s failure to crack down on fraud in its Medi-Cal system. In an unprecedented front-page address to its readers, the LAT takes responsibility for violating the hallowed “separation of church and state”–the code that prevents journalists from maintaining a financial or personal interest in the stories they cover.

The Department of Veterans Affairs report enumerates more than 3,000 mistakes made in V.A. hospitals from June 1997-December 1998. Seven hundred of these cases resulted in the patient’s death. The study, the first of its kind by a U.S. health-care system, found that doctors committed a range of errors, including operations on the wrong body part or patient, the NYT reports. Spokesmen for the health-care industry concur that the frequency of errors is probably no lower in other hospital systems. The National Academy of Sciences, which recently called for similar studies in hospitals nationwide, reported last month that between 44,000 and 98,000 people a year die from mistakes: That’s higher than the number of people who die annually on highways or from breast cancer or AIDS.

The Post and NYT report that U.S. security agencies are watching with increasing vigilance potential New Year’s Eve hot spots. The former fronts news that all 301 ports of entry into the country have been placed on high alert after an Algerian man was arrested Tuesday for smuggling bomb materials from Canada. Although the headline, “US Borders on High Alert,” suggests the story might be about Customs Service preparations against future smuggling attempts, the story explores the suspect’s alleged ties to Osama bin Laden. The equipment confiscated by customs officials seems to match that used by others linked to bin Laden. Tim Weiner writes in the NYT that U.S. investigators have helped pin down at home and abroad people suspected of plotting violence over New Year’s. An aside halfway through the piece likens FBI agents, scanning the Internet for hacker assaults and political extremists, to “ancients searching the skies for a sign.”

A WP front-pager and a quirky NYT Magazine spread examine just how low Web “retailers” will go in the name of establishing a loyal customer base. The Post story anoints discount-king: The site, an online warehouse of things to buy children, promised last week to send $20 to anyone who answered a survey and purchased at least $20 worth of merchandise. With the help of a toy industry guru, the NYT calculates that would lose $41.97 on a sale totaling $68.97. These sites are jockeying to build “brand names in the new millennium” (NYT), by hotly pursuing tactics that “would be, in any normal business, ruinous” (WP).

Russians go to the polls today to elect a new Duma. The NYT describes the campaign as “a barroom brawl, a chairs-over-the-head affair” that the disgruntled public nonetheless took seriously. An adviser to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (Kremlin foe) told the LAT that the Kremlin’s campaign for Duma seats “makes Richard Nixon’s presidential election bids look clean.” The two Timeses see the election as an “unofficial Presidential primary” (LAT); Russians will elect a new president next summer. By contrast, the Post’s David Hoffman presents a closer look at the Duma’s structure and how a change in the party composition (i.e., fewer Communists) might result in action on market reform and tax law.

The Clinton administration may force the usually independent Export-Import Bank to drop $500 million in loan guarantees to a Russian oil company known for questionable practices, according to a Post front-pager. At issue: The administration is debating whether it is worse to give loans to an operation generally thought to be shady, or risk jeopardize already strained relations with the Kremlin. Isn’t this thinking similar to the logic faulted in a number of “Who Lost Russia?” articles that have appeared in recent months?: Fear of something worse around the corner persuades the administration to live with known evils. Candidates Bush, McCain, and Bradley have all suggested that the administration stop the loans, the Post reports.

Under the headline “To Our Readers,” Kathryn M. Downing and Michael Parks, the LAT’s publisher and editor, explain that the paper shared with Staples profits generated from an Oct. 10 Sunday Times Magazine devoted to LA’s new Staples Center. The two-column text comes about a month and a half after Downing asked forgiveness from an irate staff. Tomorrow, the paper will print the results of media writer David Shaw’s investigation into the matter. Below their note the paper runs its statement of principles: “Our mission is to provide the news, information, analysis and commentary [readers] need to lead successful lives and to be effective citizens in a democracy.”