Today's Papers

Mirth in the Balance

USA Today leads with yesterday’s air kiss between George W. Bush and John McCain, which is also the top national news story at the New York Times. The Washington Post goes with the Senate’s sudden turn against two key Clinton administration foreign policy initiatives: continued commitment to a peacekeeping force in Kosovo and providing hundreds of millions in military aid to help Colombia suppress its drug trade. Like the WP, the Los Angeles Times fronts Bush-McCain, but its top national story is its latest presidential election poll, purporting to show Bush opening up an 8 percent lead nationwide over Al Gore. The story says the poll reveals Bush to have united the Republican base and to have established a commanding 21 percent lead among married voters, a group that Bill Clinton had in his presidential runs largely neutralized.

What Bush got out of his meeting was McCain’s promise to enthusiastically campaign for him. But the coverage makes it clear that enthusiasm hardly describes McCain’s behavior yesterday. All the papers observe that the word “endorse” didn’t pass his lips until a reporter pressed him directly about what he was actually doing. And they all quote his description of his chilly testimonial as “take the medicine now.” What Bush did not get out of the meeting: 1) A vice presidential possibility–McCain asked to not be considered as VP; 2) McCain didn’t in any way suggest that Bush was serving McCain’s pet cause of campaign reform. Although the ultra-tight pictures run by the NYT and WP seem purposely unflattering, they do manifestly convey the discomfort each man feels in the other’s presence.

The WP lead explains that Senate Republicans are trying to impose a Kosovo withdrawal schedule and are paring down the amount of anti-drug money approved for Colombia. The Republicans are expressing concerns about both missions’ quagmire potential. Given this context, it seems a mistake for the Post to wait until the 12th paragraph before mentioning the number of U.S. troops on peacekeeping duty in Kosovo: 5,900.

USAT, the WP, and the NYT all front yesterday’s extortion conviction (on 17 counts) of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards. Edwards was found guilty, along with his son and three others, of hustling money from people seeking casino gambling licenses. It’s not clear whether Edwards’ reaction quote–“I have lived 72 years in the system and I will live the rest of my life in the system”–was meant ironically or not. After all, the papers remind us, he might be in jail the rest of his life. By the way, in saying that Edwards could get more than 200 years in prison, the NYT falls prey to a journalistic tic: dramatizing by citing the maximum sentence. Better would be stating the likely sentence, given the defendant’s past record and age, and the track record of the sentencing judge.

The papers go inside with word that for lack of evidence, the Philippine authorities have released the “love bug” suspect they arrested yesterday. He has to reappear again in 10 days. In the meantime, the police are examining a list of 10 suspects provided by the FBI. One problem to be faced is that Philippine law doesn’t really cover computer crime all that well. Which means not only that any Philippine prosecution might be porous but also that extradition to the U.S. might be problematic because generally countries only extradite for behavior that the host country makes illegal.

A few months ago there was much excitement in the press over the advent of an outfit called Space Imaging Inc., which runs a photo reconnaissance satellite that can make available to the general public military-grade resolution pix. Well, according to the WP, not just the general public. While doing research on the military capabilities targeted against Taiwan by China, John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists has come to the conclusion that Taiwan has used the company’s photo inventory to spy on China.

The NYT reports that Al Gore was a big hit telling jokes on the campaign trail yesterday. The Times says that Gore trotted out a “Borscht Belt” routine for a largely Jewish audience. His theme was Jewish Country and Western music. Gore cited such examples as: “I Was One of the Chosen People–Until She Chose Somebody Else,” “The Second Time She Said ‘Shalom,’ I Knew She Meant Goodbye.” And “I’ve Got My Foot on the Glass, Now Where Are You?” Gore said the No. 1 song in the genre was “Mommas, Don’t Let Your Ungrateful Sons Grow Up To Be Cowboys When They Could Very Easily Just Have Taken Over the Family Business That My Own Grandfather Broke His Back To Start and My Father Sweated Over for Years, Which, Apparently Doesn’t Mean Anything Now That You’re Turning Your Back on Such a Gift.” Apparently these all went over great. Homework assignment: Try to explain what makes these jokes (told by a Southern Baptist) OK to put in the paper. In other words, which ethnic stereotypes are OK for papers to pass along verbatim to their readers and which not? It would be interesting to see if, for instance, the NYT news coverage repeated verbatim the joke about blacks that got Earl Butz fired or if it just paraphrased.