Today's Papers

In the Name of Elián

The Washington Post leads with the Food and Drug Administration’s suspension of all programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Human Gene Therapy. Independent investigations by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration into the death last fall of Jesse Gelsinger, a participant in the program, raised questions about the ethics and procedures at the institute. The New York Times goes with yesterday’s board meeting at Procter & Gamble that revolved around a possible merger with two large pharmaceutical companies, American Home Products and Warner-Lambert. The merger would make P & G one of the most formidable consumer products and drug companies in the world. Although the deal is far from certain, investors reacted skeptically, and P & G’s stock fell 9 percent. The Los Angeles Times reefers the gene therapy story and leads with the forced resignation of Ecuador’s president, Jamil Mahuad. After 6,000 indigenous protesters and several disgruntled military officers seized the congressional building and the presidential palace, Mahuad fled to an unknown location. The protest against Mahuad centered around his inability to implement structural economic reform for Ecuador and his government’s ongoing neglect of its indigenous people. The WP stuffs the story but fronts a two-column photo of the protests.

All three papers front the investigation into Penn’s gene therapy program. The NYT focuses on specific violations of the program. Most damning is that Gelsinger was technically ineligible for therapy in the first place and should never have received treatment at the institute. In addition, none of the 18 people enrolled in the gene therapy program had filled out eligibility forms to participate (which should have been routine), nor were they ever made fully aware of the risks involved with what they had submitted to. The WP closely scrutinizes the ethics of for-profit scientific research, highlighting the fact that the lead researcher at Penn’s Institute for Human Gene Therapy, James M. Wilson, had a significant financial stake in the results of the study–a circumstance that may have compromised his judgment. The LAT reefers the story.

The NYT off leads and the WP and LAT front the investigation into a Chinese smuggling ring. Throughout the 1990s, a vast syndicate that included prominent Communist Party officials, members of the Chinese military, and business leaders, smuggled an estimated $10 billion worth of cars, oil, and high-tech hardware into China through the port of Xiamen. The Communist Party views the smuggling as a breakdown of political order and therefore as a grave threat to party rule. It has vowed to prosecute without leniency all those involved. The NYT notes that when a similar smuggling operation was recently uncovered in China, the ringleaders were sentenced to death.

The NYT fronts Gov. George W. Bush’s revision of his abortion stance as the Iowa caucuses approach. Responding to the accusation of his main challenger in Iowa, Steve Forbes, that he hasn’t taken a strong enough stance against abortion, Bush more firmly asserted that he “disapproves” of Roe vs. Wade. But he stopped short of saying that the decision ought to be overturned, suggesting instead that it is an issue best ruled on by state legislatures.

The LAT fronts the Group of 7 finance ministers’ expression of concern that the global economy has become precariously dependent on overvalued U.S. dot-com stocks. A sudden downturn could result in a world-wide economic contraction. Nonetheless, the G-7 is unlikely to issue any grim warnings for fear of instigating a sudden and violent panic.

The off lead in the LAT reports that the Confederate flag is causing all sorts of problems for Bush, especially in his home state of Texas. If he doesn’t renounce the flag, he risks losing the support of African-Americans. If he does renounce it, he’ll infuriate those who cherish it as a part of Southern history. If he withholds his opinion and remains opaque on the issue–as the LAT reports he has–Bush risks the accusation that he’s incapable of making tough decisions.

The WP fronts the Elián Gonzáez story, exploring the mythology that has arisen around the young boy. Anti-Castro Cuban expatriates have inserted him into a messianic narrative in which Elián, plucked from the sea, stands as Moses discovered among the bulrushes: Just as Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, so to will Elián free Cubans from Castro’s rule. The LAT stuffs the story but fronts a two-column photo of Elian’s two grandmothers in New York upon their arrival from Cuba to ask for the return of their grandson. The NYT also stuffs the report on the arrival of the grandmothers. With political negotiations at an impasse, both women made emotional pleas at a press conference for Elián’s return to his father in Cuba. By noting that both women shivered in the unfamiliar 16 degree cold as they got off the plane, was the NYT pointing to the fact that Elián has been removed from his native (temperate) country to suggest that perhaps he ought to be returned there?

The WP reports that Bush and Sen. John McCain have broken their agreement to refrain from negative campaigning and “attack politics.” The truce was shattered when Bush ran an ad that assailed McCain’s proposed tax plan. To paraphrase the explanations of how the hostilities resurfaced, each man vehemently asserted that the other one started it.