Today's Papers

America–RU Ready?

Everybody leads with the FDA’s approval Thursday of the RU-486 abortion pill. The Wall Street Journal front-page news box runs the story but well below its top item–the finding by an Indonesian court that the country’s former president Suharto is too sick to face trial on corruption charges, a story fronted by the Washington Post but no one else.

Next to their leads, the WP, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times each dedicate companion pieces about the impact that the decision will have on the politics and/or practice of abortion. And the leads themselves address this high. Everyone notes that since the pill (actually two pills, taken on separate occasions) will be taken in personal physicians’ offices rather than in dedicated abortion clinics, it will make abortions more private. (And in fact, although most of the papers don’t quite say it, it’s clear that RU-486 will usually lead to the abortion actually occurring at the woman’s home.) And everyone trots out the predictable reactions of the professional advocates: jeers from the right, cheers from the left. There’s more variety when it comes to coverage of the reactions of the presidential candidates. George W. Bush said that the FDA’s decision was “wrong. As president, I will work to build a culture that respects life.” Al Gore said that it was “not about politics, but the health and safety of American women and a women’s fundamental right to choose.” Both the NYT and USA Today put these remarks on their fronts, while the LAT and WP keep them off.

There’s an interesting if not fully-fleshed-out difference between the two Times on the question of impact. The NYT, noting both that the pill can be used to end an abortion only up to seven weeks after the last menstrual period and that most women seeking abortions do not do so until later than that, high up points to the drug’s immense “symbolic” importance. But, observing that 86 percent of U.S. counties are currently without an abortion provider, the LAT high up suggests that availability of the pill could make abortion much more widespread, especially because it could encourage women to have earlier abortions.

Everybody notes the extremely long back story to yesterday’s announcement–the pill has been available in France for more than a decade–with most making it clear that its combustible politics certainly played a part in the delay. And that factor continues. The WP says that for the first time in its history, the FDA was approving a product without naming the experts who did the review and in addition, it did not give the name or the location of the company that will manufacture the drug. The Post passes on speculation that it’s going to be made overseas, possibly in India or China.

The WP fronts the dismissal by a federal judge yesterday of the part of the DOJ’s case against the tobacco companies that attempted to recover billions spent on smoking-related health care. The paper adds that the judge said the feds could continue the part of the case alleging that the companies, in misleading the public about the dangers of smoking, violated racketeering laws (the “RICO” statute). In a classic half-full/half-empty headline scenario, the Post slugs the story “JUDGE CARVES A CHUNK OUT OF TOBACCO SUIT,” while the WSJ header is: “U.S. TO PURSUE TOBACCO CASE UNDER FEDERAL RICO LAWS.”

Both Times give front space (and plenty more inside) to the passing at age 80 of former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau. But also written up (inside) is the passing of Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the Watergate burglary. The NYT obit (by MLA Adam Clymer) ends with the wonderful 1974 reference to him by a congressman during the House impeachment run-up: “If there is no accountability, another president will feel free to do as he chooses. But the next time there may be no watchman in the night.”

The Internet has been abuzz with the rumor that Republican heavies, unimpressed with Dick Cheney on the stump, have concocted a smooth gambit for dumping him: an announcement he’s got health problems and will have to bow out in favor of Colin Powell or John McCain. The WP’s “Reliable Source” backdoors a sly reference to this rumor from no less than an unnamed “prominent Republican,” who complains that at a recent event Cheney did not mix at all with a room full of Republican well-wishers. He just sat at his table, says the man, adding, “Maybe he doesn’t have the strength.”

The WP has what could be the start of the next presidential campaign scandal: recently the package of Gore talking points his campaign has taken to sending to the reporters covering Bush never got to them. Gore minions are suggesting that Bush minions intercepted or misdirected them. But the real scandal draws no ire from the Post, which calmly reports that the materials were sent to the 18 reporters covering the Bush campaign staying at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Why exactly do all these scribes have to stay at the luxe joint where Richard Gere hung out in Pretty Woman?

The NYT runs an op-ed from an entry-level actress who has been crossing SAG’s picket lines to go to auditions. She raises a good question: “Instead of wearing yellow ribbons to the Emmys, why didn’t Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston just not show up? After all, the show is supported by advertisers. Or Richard Dreyfuss could say he will never make another movie with a product placement.”

A WP profile of imminent presidential debate moderator Jim Lehrer mentions that Lehrer hasn’t voted since 1964. “I’m very comfortable not having to make my own political judgments, and it has served me well ever since,” he says. The Post’s Howard Kurtz doesn’t make much of this, letting Lehrer turn it into the different position that whether he likes or dislikes a candidate shouldn’t be allowed to affect his performance as a journalist. But Kurtz should have. Lehrer’s an idiot if he thinks his journalistic integrity requires him to abstain from voting. This make about as much sense as the film critic who decides only to read reviews and never actually goes to the movies.

Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni has gotten plenty of swooning press, but never better than today’s 2,800-word installment of the WP mini-series on the rise in importance of the military’s theater commanders. Zinni allowed (the very good) Post reporter Dana Priest to accompany him on a recent gallivant. And in return the Z-man gets to show Post readers that he’s both incredibly sensitive–the piece begins with his question “Did you know millions of people will die between now and next week in Africa and no one cares?”–and incredibly macho–later on, the reader learns that Zinni can still bench-press 300 lbs., wears a size 46 jacket, tells “stories, marinated with cigars and cognac, [that] teem with heroic violence, naked women, and soldiering humor,” and that while in Vietnam (where he earned a Purple Heart) he “ate monkeys, snakes, and even his German shepard scout.” Today’s Papers just hopes that was a dog.