Today's Papers

Rocket Science

The New York Times and the Washington Post lead with the failure of Saturday morning’s missile defense test. The critical part of the test never even took place: after the launch, the interceptor missile didn’t separate from its booster rocket, which prevented the device’s elaborate search-and-destroy gizmos from showing their stuff. The Los Angeles Times fronts the story but leads with an assessment of the carrots and sticks that President Clinton will bring to this week’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The LAT takes advantage of its late close and prints the most complete account of the bungled missile test. Not only did the interceptor’s booster fail to disengage, not only did a decoy on the target missile fail to inflate, but officials also acknowledged that the interceptor bounced off course as it flew toward the target. The Post delivers the most vivid account of the actual scene, describing the weapon’s tumble into the ocean and the shocked silence of the official spectators. The NYT and WP are highly skeptical that the President will commission the system after such a dramatic flameout, but the LAT predicts that he may hedge his bets with a partial endorsement and a cautious go-ahead. If he doesn’t act by mid-November, the U.S. won’t have a missile defense system in place by 2005, when North Korea and possibly Iran are expected to have developed long-range missiles that could hit the U.S. Only the Post explains the reason for the November deadline: the radar site will be constructed on a deserted Aleutian Island whose rough weather means a short building season (is this really the only feasible site?) If the system won’t be ready by 2005, “the whole debate over whether to start construction next year becomes pointless,” an unnamed administration official tells the Post. The LAT story and a NYT news analysis speculate that Clinton may be secretly relieved that he can hand off the project-which has many Democrats and the Russians up in arms-to his successor. Meanwhile, George Bush reiterated his support for an even beefier version of the system, and Gore’s people said he “would quietly wait to review the results of the Pentagon analysis.”

The LAT lead reports that while President Clinton may be a lame duck on domestic issues, he holds more sway than ever over Middle East peace. This week at Camp David, Clinton will remind Arafat and Barak that the next president may not be as eager to lubricate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with generous aid packages. Clinton could also nudge them together by threatening to withhold U.S. recognition of statehood from the Palestinians and/or security cooperation from the Israelis. A NYT front-pager surveys Israelis and Palestinians about the summit and finds them– no surprise here– bitter, weary, and pessimistic.

The LAT fronts a list of the reforms the Department of Justice wants to impose on the LAPD, including a computerized officer-tracking system, a stronger inspector general, mandatory reporting on the ethnicity of those stopped for traffic violations, and federal judicial oversight. If the municipality does not voluntarily comply, the DOJ will haul it into court. Meanwhile, a terrific installment of the NYT’s series on race explores the working conditions of black and Hispanic narcotics officers. Dark skin and fluency in Spanish make them effective undercover agents in neighborhoods with high black and Latino populations. “It’s like the N.B.A. draft … [other officers] say, ‘Grab him, he’s a big black body,’ ” one black plainclothes cop tells the Times. When they’re on-duty, they fear that a white officer will shoot them in a Diallo-style mixup; and when they leave work, they’re often subject to racial profiling by other cops.

All the front pages mention Venus Williams’ victory over Lindsey Davenport for the Wimbledon championship. The NYT and WP emphasize the historical angle: This is the first time that sisters have each owned Grand Slam titles, and Venus is only the second black woman to take Wimbledon. The WP compares her to Tiger Woods. Both papers front photographs of Willliams looking exhuberant enough to leap off the grass court and onto the neighboring stories.

All three papers report on the giddy response to the release of the fourth Harry Potter book on midnight on Saturday. The WP has the best anecdote, about a pneumonia-ridden woman who wouldn’t go to the hospital until her husband called the bookstore to secure her a copy. But the Post story also puts the whole Harry phenomenon in perspective. Yes, it’s “the biggest publishing event in modern history,” and yes, 30 million copies of the first three volumes have been printed worldwide. But that’s still fewer than the number of people who saw the lukewarmly reviewed film The Patriot over the July 4 weekend.