Today's Papers

Don’t SWAT the Small Stuff

The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all lead with armed federal agents’ removal of Elián González from the home of his Miami relatives. The 6-year-old was whisked by helicopter to a Maryland air base, where he was reunited with his father. The NYT off-leads its investigation into a glaucoma medication that was developed on a $4 million federal grant and will earn billions of dollars in sales: The drug’s success will not help taxpayers see a return on their “investment.” The Post’s top non-Miami story recounts Colorado-based exporters’ complaint that their U.S. representatives are not taking current business needs and opportunities into account as Congress considers granting China trade privileges.

Shortly after 5 a.m. yesterday, eight agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service used a battering ram to break down the front door to the González family’s two-bedroom house after they were denied entrance. They found Elián and removed him from the building within three minutes, the papers report. Juan Miguel González will not be allowed to take Elián from the country before the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, in Atlanta, rules on an application for political asylum, which was filed on the boy’s behalf by relatives. Incidences of vandalism and sporadic violence make the front pages. Police arrested more than 260 protesters in Miami, the LAT reports.

Al Diaz, a free-lance Associated Press photographer, snapped a picture that will be published many, many times in many, many Times: A battle-ready federal agent brandishes a machine gun frightfully close to a hysterical Elián as he is taken from refuge in a bedroom closet. The WP and LAT front it, the NYT runs it inside. [The NYT early edition was available for this column.] It’s a great news photo and a useful demonstration of how obsessive coverage begets even more coverage (which makes this sentence, of course, hyper-obsessive, meta-meta-journalism). The whole INS break-in was broadcast live, and after Elvis left the building and the cameras rolled on, television news programs flashed Diaz’s photograph on the air and talked about its implications–according to newspapers. Attorney General Janet Reno’s reading of the picture, prompted by a journalist’s question, overwhelms the NYT caption and appears in three articles, plus the excerpted transcript of her press conference. The WP runs two news accounts relating directly to the photograph, according to its Web site. The LAT mentions it in at least one story.

Product endorsements?: Hasbro executives live a publicist’s fantasy, when Elián is offered Play-Doh to occupy him on his redeye to Maryland. This, upon the recommendation of psychiatrists, who call it “the best thing that you can do for a child who might be experiencing stress” (NYT).

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not brake prescription drug prices. The NYT study of how pharmaceutical “blockbusters” are born was prompted in part by the attention paid in the presidential campaign to high drug prices (prescription, that is) and companies’ reluctance to disclose individual drugs’ research and development costs. Companies pick up scientific discoveries cheap–Pharmacia paid Columbia University up to $150,000 for the “unpolished gem” that would become Xatalan, its increasingly popular glaucoma medication. R & D does pump up a drug’s cost, the paper finds, but all the same, in the case of Xatalan, a daily dose of the main ingredient costs just a few cents, yet patients shell out more than $1 a day.

The number of classes American universities offer on the Vietnam War has dwindled in recent years, much to the dismay of specialists, the LAT reports. A professor from U.C. Riverside suggests that the lack of a consensus on when the war started, its causes, and repercussions make it a difficult subject for students to master. The article reports that Vietnam-era historians have sought jobs abroad and that others have lost tenure battles, all due to the crunch: Isn’t this piece of evidence more likely a reflection of the academic profession in general than the state of Vietnam War studies in particular?

Last Monday, Aerial Images of Raleigh, N.C., released Russian satellite images of the U.S. military’s secretive Area 51, in Nevada, months after a competitor failed, for unclear reasons, to grant a D.C. arms-control group access to similar American satellite photographs. Governments, the NYT “Week in Review” reports, can censor photographs taken with domestic satellites but not foreign ones. “Russia can bar the operators of a Russian satellite from selling pictures of Chechnya,” the NYT writes in its “Week in Review,” “but it has no power over an American company.” Reminder: Earlier this year, Space Imaging Inc. of Thornton, Colo., the competitor in question (and a media novelty in recent months), provided the Times with American satellite pictures of Grozny, Chechnya, taken during and after the Kremlin’s monthslong bombing campaign. The Times publishes Space Imaging’s Area 51 photos today.

Yesterday, the NYT reports, was the 30th annual Earth Day celebration. The paper also claims that the first Earth Day was held in 1970. That would make yesterday the 31st Earth Day celebration, but the 30th anniversary of Earth Day. Perhaps if 2000 can be the first year of the new millennium, then Earth Day 2000 can be the 30th annual Earth Day.