Today's Papers

Cable Boxing Match

The Washington Post leads with the increasing feeling inside the Clinton administration and among its congressional allies that the bill granting China permanently normalized trade relations with the United States will pass. The paper depicts a stylistic difference between the White House and Republican leadership efforts on behalf of the bill: President Clinton and Al Gore have been working the phones, and Clinton is going to schmooze some congressional undecideds at the White House tonight; Tom DeLay is said to have given a bunch of lobbyists their “marching orders” and to have told them that afterward, he was going to “sit down and see what everybody did” to get the bill through. But enough about coming to economic terms with a quarter of the planet–the fronts at USA Today, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times ignore that and instead lead with the real crise du jour: a dispute between Disney and Time Warner resulting in up to 8 million viewers in seven cities not being able to watch ABC TV! And during May “sweeps,” no less! The item also tops the Wall Street Journal’s front-page business news box. The WP stuffs the cabletemps.

The papers explain that the TW/Disney dispute is over what sorts of Disney cable programming Time Warner has to agree to package in order to get the right to air Disney’s ABC. Each of the three leads comes right out of the box mentioning that the affected programming includes Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. They also describe various ABC workarounds such as making available low-cost antennas and satellite dishes. And the LAT adds that in Los Angeles, they did a simulcast of Millionaire on Disney’s local radio station. The leads all suggest that Time Warner’s low-notice plug-pull reinforces worries about the concentration of power that will come about if the proposed AOL-Time Warner merger is approved. The NYT quotes Rudy Giuliani as saying, “This is an example of what happens when you let a monopoly get too big.” But USAT has a Time Warner spokesman claiming that the company was taking the action to save subscribers the money that would have to be charged if Disney’s proposal were accepted. The LAT says the blackout “destroyed cherished daily rituals” and, to back that up, produces up-close-and-personals with people unhinged by the sudden unavailability of Millionaire and All My Children. A dispute between Disney and Time Warner reminds Today’s Papers of the joke about who would land first if Hitler and Stalin both jumped off the Empire State Building. Answer: Who cares?

Although it wasn’t part of the NYT’s planned fall-of-Vietnam coverage, the Times obit of longtime North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, who died on Saturday, contains a story about a defect in U.S. Vietnam policy that’s been missing from the commemorative packages. According to the NYT’s Fox Butterfield, in 1954, right after the French-Vietnam war, Dong had a falling out with the Chinese premier that became a terrible Vietnam-China feud, which lingered throughout the entire American war in Vietnam “unknown to Washington.” In other words, if the United States had known more about the region, there wouldn’t have been a war in Vietnam premised on the idea that the United States had to fight there to stop the Chinese communists.

The LAT fronts the U.S. Navy’s reaction to Puerto Rican squatters protesting any further use of the military bombing range at Vieques, P.R: helicopters buzzing overhead, and two Navy ships arriving just off the coast. The protesters have been there since April 1999, when two errant bombs killed a civilian security guard. The protesters had, reports the paper, been hoping to get the Pentagon to leave, but the Navy says the site is vital, and in January the Clinton administration struck a deal with Puerto Rico’s governor to resume exercises with dummy bombs. There could be arrests today, says the paper. The story should have mentioned that the range has become a New York Senate race topic (because of the large number of Puerto Ricans in NYC) and should have summarized Hillary’s comments about it. The WP inside effort on the story omits this angle as well.

The NYT and WP fronts report that in closed court, one of the 13 Jewish defendants in the Iranian espionage trial confessed to being a spy and that a videotape of his confession was later broadcast on television. If convicted, the man could get a death sentence. Both papers say that most of the human rights observers and foreign diplomats in Shiraz, Iran, where the trial is being held, view the confession skeptically. There is no discussion in either story about whether it looks as if the man had been beaten or otherwise coerced in any way. His picture is on both fronts, so maybe the reader can figure it out.

The WP runs two “Corrections” adjacent to each other that differ interestingly. One says, “An item in the May 1 Science Notes column incorrectly said Istanbul was Turkey’s capital. It is Ankara.” And the other says, “Because of an editing error, an article May 1 incorrectly described Byron R. White. He is a retired Supreme Court justice.” Why the difference? Why doesn’t the latter item treat White like the first item treats Istanbul and say what its incorrect description was? Is it embarrassment about having said White was dead? Papers should let go of that kind of ego–it only leads to more mistakes.


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