Today's Papers

General: Don’t Hersh My Mellow

The Washington Post leads with the beginning of the exit of Israel’s military forces from southern Lebanon. The New York Times leads with the decision of Israel’s prime minister, in response to a Sunday firebombing in Palestinian-ruled Jericho that critically wounded a 2-year-old Israeli girl, to recall his negotiators from the talks in Sweden Israel has been conducting with the Palestinian Authority. The latest edition of the Post available at filing time does not mention the talks breakdown, but this is reported inside at the Los Angeles Times, which leads instead with the return to U.N. HQ in Sierra Leone of 54 peacekeeping U.N. soldiers who’d been captured by S.L. rebels last week. The paper reports that as many as 300 of their abducted comrades remain unaccounted for. The Post also fronts the manumission. USA Today fronts none of the above, going instead with the death of 19 in the crash of a charter turboprop aircraft (returning from a gambling trip to Atlantic City) in eastern Pennsylvania. Apparently, says the paper, the twin-engine plane had a twin-engine failure. Especially in light of the recent Payne Stewart crash, it would be interesting if the papers could state the fatality rate per 100,000 air miles for charter planes as compared to commercial aircraft.

What’s going on in Southern Lebanon according to the WP and NYT leads is that now that it’s clear Israel is determined to leave, Hezbollah forces have been intensifying their attacks to ensure that the withdrawal is perceived as prompted by force. The Post says the Israeli casualties of recent days have disheartened the Israeli public.

The LAT fronts an exclusive reporting that Alaska Airlines mechanics have told the FBI and federal regulators looking into the carrier’s maintenance practices that several of the company’s jets were returned to service despite concerns that further repairs might be necessary. No accidents resulted from the hurry-ups, says the paper, which adds that none of the allegations have to do with the Alaska plane that crashed off the coast of California in January, killing all 88 people on board. But in one case it is alleged that an improperly de-iced plane had to make an emergency landing. Two mechanics making charges of shoddy turnarounds are quoted by name, and the article suggests that “dozens” also talked but not for attribution.

The NYT fronts word that on Wednesday night, President Clinton will appear at the most lucrative political fund-raiser of all time, expected to collect $25 million from 12,000 donors, including 15 to 20 who’ve given or pledged at least $500,000 each. The Times estimates this will bring Clinton’s total as president to as much as $1 billion.

The Wall Street Journal front-page business news box is topped by an item stating that “Microsoft is scrambling” to find a way to roll out its latest software initiative that doesn’t suggest it’s a perpetuation of Microsoft’s dominating role in operating systems. The item itself however cannot find anybody inside the company who will say this, with or without attribution, only outside consultants and analysts. Doesn’t that mean the front-page summary is overselling?

The WSJ front features a story about Bill Clinton’s program to put 100,000 more cops on the street. The big print is about the program’s “Keystone moments”–what it cites as misuses, delays, miscues, and scandals traceable to the new cops it has produced–but it really only elaborates on trouble at the departments in Olympian Village, Miss., (dissolved after an illegal speed trap and excessive force incidents); Calumet Park, Ill., ($44,000 in questionable expenses on food and liquor and the like); and Lavon, Texas (pop. 350) (a cop was stealing drug money). The story says the Clinton program has “produced noted successes in many cities,” but dwells on the above cases, which involve all together only a handful of officers. Again–overselling?

The Sunday LAT off-led with its unearthing of British court documents suggesting that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is mistaken in its insistence that the deaths of twenty-some people who received human growth hormone from the NIH were unforeseeable. The paper says that a safer method of producing the hormone was known to the agency, which opted instead for a cheaper variant.

The WSJ op-ed page features Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s response to charges made in a recent New Yorker by Seymour Hersh that troops under McCaffrey’s command killed or mistreated non-resisting Iraqi troops during the Gulf War. Now, Today’s Papers doesn’t claim to know what happened out there in the desert, but can’t help but notice several armored-column-sized holes in the general’s counterattack. 1) McCaffrey claims that Hersh set about to write this story because he is against the Clinton administration’s anti-drug aid initiative for Colombia, which McCaffrey heads. Evidence, please. 2) McCaffrey writes that several people Hersh contacted now claim Hersh misled them and made up statements that he attributed to people he’d never spoken to. McCaffrey claims this is all “documented in letters and phone calls to me.” Gee, wonder why no evidence from those letters and calls bearing on these serious charges made their way into this piece. Space problems? 3) McCaffrey at one point complains that some of Hersh’s sources were 9 kilometers away, listening to the action in question on the radio. Does the general mean to say that throughout the entire combat episode in question, he was on the front lines of his 26,000-troop division, seeing every single contact with the enemy? If not, then much of his information is as second-hand as Hersh’s, perhaps even more degraded, because there is no evidence (certainly not here) that McCaffrey conducted interviews with participants. 4) McCaffrey responds to a Hersh charge that Iraqi tanks were destroyed when they were on trucks with their turrets locked down in a non-fighting configuration by citing Army helicopter camera footage he says shows otherwise. Well, where’s that footage? Couldn’t the Journal have streamed it on its Web site? 5) McCaffrey claims that Army investigations have already cleared him of Hersh’s charges. Hersh has a pretty good–make that unique–reason for not taking that as final. The system, after all, let most of the My Lai principals walk. Hey, it ultimately even let Lt. Calley walk. And although McCaffrey can’t bear to mention it, you remember who broke My Lai, don’t you?