Today's Papers

Putin on the Ritz

Everybody leads with Vladimir Putin’s victory–with approximately 52 percent of the vote–in Russia’s presidential election.

USA Today calls the second-place finish of the Communist candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, a “surprise showing,” and the New York Times headlines Putin’s “slender majority.” But the Washington Post emphasizes that in contrast to Russia’s political life in the 1990s, yesterday’s results showed that Putin “pulled together voters from previously split constituencies and parties.” Everybody cites Putin’s conduct of the second Chechen War as a key element of his victory.

Although the NYT goes high with the narrowness of Putin’s majority, in its lead story’s 13th paragraph the paper asserts that virtually no one doubts Putin would have won the special runoff election against the Communist a sub-majority result would have required.

The Times, which on Saturday went long with an account of a major attack ad campaign run on the state TV station associating the liberal candidate (who finished third in the voting) with Jewish, homosexual, and foreign supporters, reports now that Putin’s chief campaign strategist last night denied any role in the TV ads. This sounds implausible, but it would have been nice if the Times had observed the similarity between this and George W. Bush’s claim recently that he knew nothing about anti-McCain ads placed by backers of his.

The Los Angeles Times lead points out the little-known fact that Russian presidential elections include the option to vote for “none of the above,” which, says the paper, finished in sixth place. The paper also says high up that Zyuganov charged that the voting count was rigged. And the paper quotes Putin as saying that he could never “even in a bad dream” have imagined that some day he would take part in elections, primarily because he thought to do so a candidate must always promise something and it has to be more than the opponent promises. And, says Putin, “I couldn’t imagine myself promising something I know I couldn’t deliver. But I must say the way the election campaign was conducted, the way I managed to lead it, saved me from this necessity.” Translation: I managed to get elected without even hinting at what I stood for.

Everybody fronts the failure of President Clinton’s meeting in Geneva on Sunday with Syria’s Hafez Assad to bring about the resumption of direct Syria-Israel peace talks. The press run-up to the meeting had suggested that the odds for success were excellent.

The NYT, LAT, and WP front Al Gore’s expected announcement today that if elected president, he will immediately send a campaign-finance reform bill to Congress. He will also propose setting up a special endowment to fund elections out of earmarked tax-deductible contributions. In remarks about the program released to the press on Sunday, Gore is quoted saying, “I understand the doubts about whether I am personally serious on campaign reform.”

A front-page Wall Street Journal feature reports that despite appearances to the contrary, war is in decline worldwide. According to a Swedish study quoted by the story, from 1992 to 1998 armed conflicts declined from 55 to 36.

The papers do what they can given last night’s time constraints to get in Oscar coverage. The movie that garnered the most statuettes was American Beauty, and in case you think a film’s quality is enough to produce such results, the LAT front has a detailed account of DreamWorks’ promotion campaign for AB against the chief nemesis, Miramax’s The Cider House Rules. Like a political campaign, DreamWorks hired three outside consultants to try to reach the 5,600 academy voters. One obstacle, the paper explains, not faced by political campaigns: no direct mail allowed. Key ingredients that were used: appearances by the film’s writer and its director at bookstores and special film panels.

Hey, I didn’t even know it was a puppet, said Diane. The NYT reports that when the sock puppet appeared last month on ABC’s Good Morning America, at no time did the show’s Diane Sawyer or Charlie Gibson mention that ABC’s corporate parent, Walt Disney, had just recently taken a 5 percent stake in the company. The same silence was observed, says the paper, when the puppet went on the network’s Nightline.


For more political news, go to Slate’s Politics page.