Today's Papers

Love Makes the World Go Flat

USA Today, the Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday’s assault on the world’s computers by a virus disguised as a love letter. (Today’s Papers found this particularly insidious because it receives hundreds of e-mails with the subject line “I Love You” every day.) The New York Times runs the “love bug” below the fold and goes instead with the House’s surprisingly easy passage of a trade bill that opens up new American markets to 70 African and Caribbean countries by extending duty-free status to some of their products, mostly textiles. The Wall Street Journal puts the trade bill atop its front-page world-wide news box, but it’s stuffed elsewhere. But the LAT is alone in fronting the House Judiciary Committee’s surprise approval of a five-year moratorium on Internet taxes.

The coverage says that the virus is thought to have originated in the Philippines, and says it replicates much faster than the “Melissa” of a year ago does. That worm, the papers explain, turned around and sent itself out to the first 50 e-mail addresses in the victim machine, while this one forwards itself to everybody in the address book. Plus, as the WP points out, the “I Love You” subject line cuts through users’ hardboiled defenses against pitches for cheap travel, stock tips, and porn. “It’s a good thing this didn’t happen on Valentine’s Day,” one FBI expert tells the Post. The LAT max-paranoids with the news that there are worse known viruses, such as one that can do its bad, bad thing without even being opened up by the recipient.

The papers explain that the virus seems particularly effective against Microsoft’s Outlook. The WP has the most information about the damage done: The virus can delete music and picture files, and can grab the secret passports stored in the computer’s temporary memory and perhaps even mail them out to other users. The LAT mentions that it took little more than a week to capture the author of Melissa, suggesting good prospects here, but the Post says experts don’t hold out much hope. The LAT is alone in stating that the attack carries with it a penalty of five years in prison for each count.

The WP fronts the forceful but peaceful removal by federal agents of some 200 protesters who had been squatting on the Navy target range at Vieques, Puerto Rico, thus clearing the way for it to be used again for live-fire exercises in a few weeks. Nobody else fronts the story, particularly surprising in the case of the NYT, published in a city with such a large Puerto Rican population. The coverage strongly suggests that the feds handling of the situation, which included the full involvement of local police and no Ninja outfits, was informed by the public reaction to the Elián raid.

A WSJ op-ed by the secretary of the Navy says the widespread belief that practice-bombing Vieques puts a unique burden on Puerto Rico is mistaken–it’s but one of 33 ranges where live ordnance is used. But that doesn’t mean it’s expendable, he writes, because it’s big enough and in the right place to be fruitfully used by aircraft carrier battle groups and Marine forces on their way to their duty stations, where they have to arrive fully ready. This is the kind of context that has been missing from the Vieques story. Alongside the ritual mention of the death of a civilian in a bombing accident there last year, the papers should, for instance, be checking out the accident records at comparable facilities like Fallon, Nev.; Yuma, Ariz.; and Kahoolawe, Hawaii.

Back to the virus for a beat: The papers give various examples of corporations and government entities stricken. The WP quantifies the extent best: The attack hit 80 percent of the computers in Sweden, 70 percent of the computers in Germany, and a third of the machines in England and had more than twice the impact of the “Melissa” virus. The Post and NYT include the White House among the hittees. “No problem–we treated them like they were requests from Ray’s office to turn over e-mails. So naturally we just deleted them,” a White House spokesman most definitely does not tell the Post.