Today's Papers

Muddle East Moves West

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with President Clinton’s announcement yesterday that Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak have agreed to join him next week at Camp David for summit talks aimed at negotiating a comprehensive peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page “World-Wide” news box. USA Today reefers the development but leads instead with Alaska Airlines’ self-audit, which, like the recent federal scrub, suggests the airline needs to buttress its maintenance and safety operations. Coverage of Mexican politics sinks back to pre-holiday-weekend levels with a grand total of one front-page story (it’s in the LAT).

All the Mideast leads mention the role played by Arafat’s recent decision to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state this fall whether or not he has a peace agreement with Israel in hand. The NYT spells out the thinking the most clearly: If such a declaration were to occur without prior peace talks, there would be renewed squabbling over land in the West Bank, producing a tremendous potential for violence.

Everybody mentions that in choosing Camp David as the summit site, the administration is trying to invoke the success of the 1978 talks there between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, hosted by Jimmy Carter, that led to the Egypt/Israel peace agreement, the first in the region. The LAT emphasizes that like those talks, but unlike most, the upcoming summit will be unscripted–that is, it will have no pre-agreed bottom line. The LAT makes the most of what’s in it for Clinton: a jewel in his foreign-policy legacy. But even that paper doesn’t mention the word “Nobel.”

The NYT top-fronts word that under pressure from U.S. anti-drug officials, Colombia has agreed to begin testing a powerful biological herbicide that could destroy the country’s coca and heroin poppy plants. The paper says that drug war adviser Gen. Barry McCaffrey is a leading advocate within the administration for this idea, and that environmentalists are the leading critics–they are concerned that the drug, Fusarium (first conceived of as a weapon in a drug war by the CIA), might upset Colombia’s ecology and endanger farmers, animals, and crops. There is no mention of the Agent Orange precedent.

The WP fronts a “forgotten issue” of the presidential campaign: the squeeze put on the middle class by child-care costs. The story notes that a record 64 percent of mothers of preschoolers are now employed and that day care is figured by the Census Bureau to be the biggest expense of young families after food and housing. The result is that many middle-income families are priced out of licensed centers and homes. The story contrasts this situation to that of the military, which a decade ago faced a similar crisis and responded with a multi-billion-dollar program for on-base day care and home care, which includes continual training as well as generous pay and benefits for care providers. The story might have also referred to the congressional day-care center, which is plush and heavily subsidized.

The papers report inside that yesterday President Clinton signed U.N. agreements that would bar the U.S. military from sending minors into combat and would curb the sexual exploitation of children. The paper explains that the former poses a bit of a wrinkle to the Pentagon, which enlists about 50,000 17-year-olds each year (!). The agreed-upon solution is, the Post explains, that allegedly only a small portion of those undergo enough training to be sent into combat before turning 18. A Pentagon spokesman is quoted as saying that only 2,500 recruits would be “affected” each year by the protocol. Ahem, that means “would be violating” the protocol each year. The reports don’t notice this is like the United States saying with respect to the second agreement signed yesterday, that only 2,500 American girls would be “affected” each year by the proscription against child prostitution.

On the heels of yesterday’s news that low-birth-weight seems to be associated with subsequent academic difficulties, there come wire service stories everywhere today about a study saying that the fairly widely used anti-infertility technique of inducing ovulation carries a significant risk of producing unwanted multiple births. The study concludes that in vitro fertilization of two embryos, which eliminates the risks of triplets and higher, should be the sole anti-infertility method. Story suggestion: The papers should report on the general health and learning abilities of those septuplets born a few years back.

The NYT reports inside that the Hartford Courant, the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, ran a front-page story Tuesday apologizing for having published slaves-for-sale ads in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Times explains that this is not a first, mentioning the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and Baltimore’s Sun as two other recovering flesh peddlers.

The NYT reports that 50 Nobel laureates have signed an open letter to President Clinton urging him to reject a proposed missile defense system, on the grounds that the system would be wasteful and dangerous. The signatories include Hans Bethe, who was a main architect of the atomic bomb.

The WSJ “Business Bulletin” passes along a novel economic indicator: Seventy percent of 2,000 households surveyed report that their refrigerator freezers are at least three-quarters full of food.

The WP “Style” section has the following line delivered by Hillary Rodham Clinton at a fund-raiser at the home of Walter Kaye, the politically connected businessman who recommended Monica Lewinsky for her White House gig: “You never know who you might meet through the Kayes.”