Today's Papers

Sins Were Committed

The Washington Post leads with Pope John Paul II’s plea yesterday for divine forgiveness for the sins committed throughout history by the Roman Catholic Church, a story fronted by everybody else save USA Today, which fronted it in advance last week, and which goes instead with its analysis of Federal Aviation Administration enforcement actions leading to the conclusion that over the past 14 years, U.S. airlines have flown “tens of thousands of unsafe flights … that should not have left the ground.” The New York Times leads with the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary plans to respond to the explosion in wireless communications devices by creating a trading market in assigned but unused or underused slices of the electro-magnetic frequency spectrum. The Los Angeles Times goes with a story of particular interest to the LAT: the takeover of the paper’s parent company by the parent of the Chicago Tribune, leaving, the LAT notes, Los Angeles the largest city in the country without a locally owned daily.

The WP reports that the pope asked for the divine pardon for Catholicism’s sins against Jews, other Christian denominations, women, the poor, and various ethnic and racial groups. The paper quickly seizes on the consensus disappointment with the papal remarks: They were exceedingly general, not mentioning by name such episodes as the Inquisition, the Crusades, or the Holocaust. The Post notes that actually, the pope didn’t confess to anything. That was done by the five cardinals and two bishops with him–he just asked for forgiveness for what they confessed to.

Unlike the pope, USAT’s lead names names, stating that Continental was fined the most money by the FAA from 1985-98, and American Airlines was fined the most from 1994-98. The discrepancies cited by the FAA were not just mechanical but also security-related–as when TWA was fined after an undercover FAA agent walked unchallenged onto the tarmac and boarded one of the airline’s soon-to-be departing planes without incident.

The NYT lead compares the proposed spectrum market to the commodities markets. But the story doesn’t address whether one obvious disanalogy would keep the proposed market from working well: Most commodities options are never exercised, so that the underlying pork bellies, or orange juice, etc., never actually change hands. But presumably, given the stated demand for the transmission frequencies, the opposite would be true of spectrum options. A related issue the story does not cover: Apparently the FCC will start things off this spring by supervising an aftermarket for the spectrum-slice used by police departments, hospitals, and railroads. Assuming spectral scarcity, this will bid up the price of those frequencies. Won’t this leave underfunded police departments in the lurch?

The LAT, still nursing the damage inflicted on its reputation by the Staples Center controversy, seems to be flaunting its candor at every turn in writing up being purchased. The lead, co-written by Staplesologist David Shaw, says that the paper was widely regarded as a “partisan and parochial journalistic mediocrity” until 1960, refers to the LAT parent company’s CEO by his newsroom nickname, and says that reporters and editors nowadays increasingly complain that cost-cutting has diminished the quality of the paper. And indeed, the story ends by flatly calling the Staples episode “a flagrant violation of the paper’s editorial independence.”

USAT fronts heated Sunday remarks on gun control by President Clinton and the National Rifle Association’s top vice president. Clinton, the paper reports, said that the NRA has a “knee-jerk reaction” to gun control, and the NRA exec responded that Clinton is “willing to accept a certain level of violence to further his political agenda and that of his vice-president too.”

The LAT fronts the shooting Sunday on a Tehran street of one of Iran’s leading reformists. He was seriously wounded in the face by an assailant who approached on a motorcycle, of a sort, the paper says, that’s restricted to Iran’s police and security agents. This comes on the heels of gains made by reformists in Iran’s recent parliamentary elections. The LAT quotes the condemnation of the shooting offered by Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami.

Back to airline safety for a beat: Wonder what sort of fine the FAA will serve up for the incident described in small news items in the Sunday editions of the LAT and NYT. Seems that aboard an Alaska Airlines plane going from Seattle to Ontario, Calif., a small child flying unaccompanied asked a flight attendant to get some crayons for him out of his backpack, and when she reached in she discovered what appeared to be a bomb. The plane made an emergency return to Seattle, and passengers escaped via doorway chutes, with two being injured in the process. What happened: The boy happened to be carrying a backpack identical to one containing a fake bomb being used in a security test by an airline official. And each picked up the other’s backpack at the security conveyor belt.

A letter writer to the Wall Street Journal responds to a previous day’s Page One story that claimed stolen guns are “especially troublesome, according to police, because they frequently end up in criminal hands.” Actually, notes the correspondent, don’t they always?