Today's Papers

Dead as a Caucus

The Washington Post leads with today’s Iowa caucuses. The Los Angeles Times goes with President Clinton’s refusal to view himself as a policy lame duck, especially regarding possible domestic policy reforms affecting topics from Medicare prescription coverage to two-earner tax cuts to HMO patient rights. He will be including lots of proposals on such matters in his State of the Union address. Although congressional Republicans may figure nothing will come of them, Clinton has, reminds the LAT, “gotten his way before when the odds were against him.” The New York Times goes with the increasing unlikelihood, according to the senior Israeli negotiator, that talks between Israel and the Palestinians will result in a deal by the target time-frame of mid-February. The sides are too far apart on every issue: borders, Jewish settlements, Jerusalem’s status, refugees, security, and water rights. The paper says this represents a real deflation of hope regarding the talks. USA Today leads with yesterday’s LAT lead: the likely announcement today of a huge Time Warner-EMI music conglomerate. The only new wrinkle: The deal seems to be a strategic alliance of the two firms rather than the outright acquisition of EMI by TW.

The WP lead thumbnails Iowa thus: Al Gore hopes to win big to gain momentum for putting Bill Bradley away in the New Hampshire primary; Bradley seeks to play down the effect of his likely loss by saying Gore’s support from “entrenched powers” always made Iowa an uphill fight; Bush will win big, but McCain’s decision not to contest Iowa gives Steve Forbes a chance to claim credentials as a legitimate challenger to Bush. A sign the paper may be more interested in this event than Iowa is: It describes Alan Keyes as drawing “increasingly large crowds, including a rally here today that topped 1,000.” (For more on the caucuses, read Slate’s “Pundit Central.”)

USAT’s front-page “cover story”–filed from Cuba–backgrounds Elián González’s fateful boat trip. The key figure who emerges in the piece is Lazaro Munero, who dated the boy’s mother after her divorce, and who, apparently, came up with the idea for the trip. Munero, says the paper, had previously done three years in jail for cutting off a man’s finger during a bar fight and had already escaped to Florida by boat. But he came back because he missed Elián’s mother. She went along on the fatal trip despite misgivings because, says a quoted friend, “She was lured by love.” The story says the boy’s father did not know about the trip until after Elián was missing from school.

The LAT front goes long with a story about the frontiers of medicine’s understanding of the brain’s linguistic functioning, a story enlivened by the reporter’s presence during highly experimental brain surgery. The surgery is unusual because during it, the patient is brought back to consciousness (this is possible, the piece explains, because brain tissue itself feels no pain). Why? So that the patient, by answering questions about presented flashcards, can guide the surgeon’s attempt to remove the maximum amount of brain tumor and the minimum amount of language ability. The particular surgery described in the greatest detail in the story has an odd result. The patient retains his mastery of complex grammar, and his memory and intellect are unimpaired. He can easily name man-made or non-living objects. But “a single strand of the intangible web woven by language has been severed”: he consistently misidentifies pictures of living things.

The WP reports inside that government investigators have determined that on three different occasions in 1994, just hours after Wen Ho Lee transferred secret files to his Los Alamos lab’s unclassified network, someone at UCLA used Lee’s password and personal ID to access that network. Lee’s explanation: His daughter, at the time a math major at UCLA, often used her father’s password so that she could play Dungeons and Dragons on a Los Alamos supercomputer.

The NYT fronts the obituary of its longtime food critic, Craig Claiborne. It’s a striking life, especially given that Claiborne set the goal for himself of becoming the NYT’s food critic in his late 30s, and even at that late date he’d never written a professional word. The paper goes refreshingly high with the episode that made Claiborne infamous–his 1975 31-course, $4,000 dinner in Paris. The obit’s mention of Claiborne’s World War II and Korean War stints in the Navy strongly offsets the egregious image of that Paris dinner–he no doubt had during those military years more lousy meals than most Americans can even imagine.

Alan Keyes, in responding to the Wall Street Journal’s presidential candidate questionnaire, left two-thirds of the questions blank. Keyes wouldn’t tell the paper his proudest accomplishment in politics, although he was only too happy to pass along that his favorite movie is Star Trek: Insurrection.

The lead essay in the “Opinion” section of Sunday’s LAT has a howling defect. The essay, by Roger C. Altman, is a cheery acceptance of major media mergers like Time Warner-AOL. There is, he writes, “more media competition every day.” The paper identifies Altman as “an investment banker” who “served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the first Clinton administration.” Hmmm … Altman also has another more relevant credential–his investment firm owns the National Enquirer, the Star, and the Weekly World News. Was the “Opinion” section being cagey or just sloppy when it neglected to tell its readers that Altman’s a media monopolist? Don’t they have a right to know?