Today's Papers

Polar Lander: Phone Home!

The inauspicious landing of NASA’s Mars Polar Lander leads at the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The failure of NASA’s probe to transmit a signal confirming that it had touched down safely on the surface of Mars Friday afternoon has flight-operation engineers scurrying to make contact. The New York Times fronts the Mars story but leads with good news from the Labor Department: 234,000 new jobs were created in November and Americans worked longer hours.

The papers report that officials are disappointed but confident that communication with the Polar Lander will be re-established. Only the LAT captures an appropriate nail-biting tone–engineers are described as “anxious” and “growing more glum by the hour.” Assuming the Lander didn’t crash, the radio silence could be due to a misalignment of the antenna or a malfunction that caused the spacecraft to go to sleep. If contact is re-established, the Polar Lander, designed to search for ice in the Martian soil and collect information about the planet’s climate history, could help scientists figure out if life could have existed on Mars. The papers report that the embarrassment factor of losing the $165 million probe is high. In September, NASA lost its Climate Orbiter, which either crashed or skipped off into space after a failure to convert navigational instructions from English to metric units sent the Orbiter fatally close to the Red Planet.

The NYT lead reports that the combination of job growth and the relatively low rise in wage rate sent stocks soaring on Friday: the Dow Jones rose 247.12 points and closed at 11,286.18, not far below its all-time high of 11,326.03. The LAT, but not the NYT, points out that Friday’s activity drove the Nasdaq to a new record. The Clinton administration hailed the Labor report as a “milestone,” but the NYT is quick to break down the numbers for lay people. In percentage terms the 20 million new jobs created since January of 1993 represent a growth of 18 percent; in the 1960s and 1980s, the work force grew by greater percentage rates over seven years–25 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

The WP off-leads with Iran’s increased shipments of arms and money to terrorist groups in an apparent effort to interrupt the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace process. The news is particularly discouraging given the Clinton administration’s overtures to Iran’s President Mohammed Khatemi, who is seen as a “genuine reformer with enormous popular support.” The WP reports that the U.S. will continue to seek a dialogue with Khatemi, despite suspicions of Iranian involvement in the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans.

The NYT off-leads with Clinton’s order to stop the use of live-fire ammunition in military-training exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, dubbed the “crown jewel of live-fire, combined-arms training,” by the U.S. chief of naval operations in the WP, which stuffs the story. Clinton also promised to end exercises there within five years. While the U.S. looks for a new training site, the LAT reports on its front, the Navy will exercise with dirt-filled bombs. All three papers report the Puerto Rican governor has rejected the protracted pull-out plan as unacceptable: Puerto Rico, which has criticized the U.S. Navy for years, reached its breaking point in April, when an errant Navy bomb killed a civilian guard.

The WP and LAT front stories about the wrap-up of the WTO meetings in Seattle; the NYT stuffs the story. No longer just paying lip service to the actual issues on the table, all three papers mention the U.S. goal to eliminate export subsidies on farm products. It isn’t clear, however, exactly how much headway the U.S. made. According to the LAT the EU, our main adversary in the debate, “agreed to consider eliminating export subsidies … but apparently made no commitments on a timetable.” According to the NYT, Europe has agreed to talks that could “eventually eliminate subsidies on farm goods.” And according to the WP the U.S. is still holding out because the EU “agrees only to talk about substantial reductions in the subsidies.” Perhaps Clinton’s emphasis on more open and less secretive WTO proceedings would be of help the next time around?

The NYT fronts the challenge to the USDA’s new inspection methods by a beef processing plant in Texas that failed three tests for salmonella contamination in eight months. In its lawsuit the plant claims the government doesn’t have the authority to regulate salmonella because salmonella is destroyed during “normal cooking” and is not a “public safety issue.”


A NYT Op-Ed by Frank Rich warns that even Matt Drudge, convinced that anyone could be a reporter in the Internet age, is a victim of the consolidation of news organizations into a handful of media conglomerates. Though Rich questions some media members’ “cheerleading” (ABC News’ This Week panelists touting the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? show without mentioning it brings home the bacon), he singles out a certain Web magazine for objectivity, suggesting it might gain readers’ loyalty with its “not-in-the-tank coverage of its parent company, Microsoft.”