Today's Papers

The Drama of the Gifted VP

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with the Israeli parliament’s vote of confidence in Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s peace negotiations with Syria, set to begin this week in Washington. The Wall Street Journal flags the story at the top of its world-wide news box. USA Today goes with a study released yesterday showing that the insurance costs of businesses are rising–at nearly three times the rate of inflation–but because of the tight labor market, companies are absorbing most of the added costs. In fact, says the paper, workers’ contributions to their insurance coverage dropped in the past year. The top non-local story at the Los Angeles Times is one that led the NYT yesterday: the Surgeon General’s report regarding the surprising prevalence of mental disorders in the U.S. and the alarmingly low rate of treatment.

The NYT lead’s headline emphasizes the closeness of the Israeli parliament vote, which the paper says is far from the strong victory Barak expected, while the WP’s stresses that Barak is making it clear to his Cabinet and the parliament that he is willing to cede the Golan Heights back to Syria in return for security guarantees. The Post says that the diplomatic development has provoked “shouting matches, shock and hope among Israelis, as well as a 7 percent rise in the Tel Aviv stock market.” The paper explains that the next internal political hurdle is a referendum on territorial withdrawal. This, says the NYT, will be the first in Israel’s history. The Post says that both the government and the opposition may bring in American political consultants for the campaign over that.

The WP off-leads Al Gore’s pronouncement–prompted by the publicity surrounding that conviction of an Army man for murdering a gay fellow soldier–that the Clinton administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy should be abandoned. The paper calls this Gore’s “sharpest public break” yet with President Clinton’s policies and says that it represents a change from the position Gore had been taking as recently as this past weekend. Gore aides differ, saying that the VP is just now reiterating a stand he’s taken inside the White House. The WP says the Bill Bradley campaign noted that with his shift, Gore has just arrived at the position Bradley has been espousing for months. The paper also reminds that this controversy underscores the importance of the gay vote in Democratic politics but could cause difficulties for Democrats in the general election.

Gore’s statement comes as the Secretary of Defense ordered a Pentagon investigation to determine whether homosexuals in uniform are being harassed. The NYT fronts that investigation and Gore’s stance as does USAT. The investigation raises a question that is only lightly touched on by the papers: How can it work without violating the current policy wholesale? After all, an investigator can’t ask soldiers if they are being harassed for being gay without in effect “asking” them if they’re gay, and a soldier can’t tell an investigator that he is being harassed for being gay without “telling” the investigator that he is gay.

A NYT inside story reports that Great Britain has decided to abandon its proscription of homosexuals in the service in favor of a policy that will ban all on-duty sex but not care about sexual orientation.

The fronts at the LAT, NYT, and WP feature obits for Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, who died Sunday at age 76 of a heart attack. Both Times remember to get past the famous war book’s humor to also include Heller’s overwhelming depiction of the death of the gunner Snowden. Both the LAT and WP note that later on in his career, Heller wrote for McHale’s Navy.

An inside story at USAT reports that the outgoing director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms says he thinks the prime suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, Eric Rudolph, is dead. Rudolph, on the ATF’s and FBI’s Most Wanted lists, hasn’t been sighted in more than a year.

The NYT goes inside with word that some Democratic donors and some major corporations have collectively contributed $1 million to a private fund for making improvements to the vice presidential official residence. (The story is based on a report coming out today from the Center for Public Integrity.) Gifts include a billiard table, a hot tub, and landscaping. Donors include individuals (not subject to the usual $1,000 limit because the money at issue was spent on Al Gore’s house, not Al Gore) such as Bill Gates, Hollywood producer Kathleen Kennedy, and a tobacco exec. Corporate donors include Atlantic Richfield, MCI Worldcom, and Microsoft. The story doesn’t mention it, but all three of these companies have issues of tremendous financial consequence currently being considered by the federal government.

The WP front serves up the late-breaking bulletin that online chat has bred a new cluster of acronyms such as IMHO and LOL. And the paper was fortunately able to get a minute with Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University to get his explanation that it’s very natural for human beings to shorten words. Kraut, by the way, or so the Post informs, is “professor of social psychology and human-computer interaction” there. Where’s an acronym when you really need one?