Today's Papers

Disturbing Behavior

The Los Angeles Times leads with, and the New York Times and the Washington Post both front, the violence that erupted yesterday in the center of Jerusalem’s Holy City and resulted in the deaths of at least four Palestinians. The confrontation began when Palestinian youths, coming from a prayer service at the sacred site of Haram al Sharif, first stoned nearby Israeli police and then turned on Jews worshipping below at the Western Wall. In response, Israeli police stormed the area. The LAT and the NYT report that an additional 200 Palestinians and Israelis were wounded in the skirmishes that followed, including the Israeli police commander. The WP and the NYT both include convincing images of the scene’s chaos, but lead differently. The WP goes with new FBI forensic evidence linking a low-level Bush staffer to the package of sensitive Bush campaign documents–including a video of the Texas governor practicing for this Thursday’s presidential debate–that mysteriously showed up a few weeks ago at the office of a Gore adviser. The Bush employee vigorously denies any wrongdoing, and charge of the investigation has been officially turned over to FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. The NYT leads with local news that nearly half of New York children from low-income families that were to qualify for a government health-care plan will no longer do so.

All the papers agree that the violence at Haram al Sharif (which Jews call the  Temple Mount), like the rioting in Jerusalem the previous day, was sparked by right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s highly publicized visit to the Muslim site on Thursday. All the papers note the terrible timing of the fighting, which comes not only on a sacred day for both sides (the eve of the Jewish new year and the holiest day of the Muslim week) but just days after Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had, in Barak’s home, what the NYT called “the best meeting ever between the two leaders.” Barak shifted the blame for the incident to the Muslim officers on the scene, who, he claimed, failed to control the Palestinian youths. In closing, the NYT notes that rioters were probably also riled up by the sermon at the mosque, which denounced Sharon’s visit and “Jewish extremists who want to destroy the mosque and rebuild the ancient temple in its place.” Fearful of further violence, the Palestinians have asked the Clinton administration to intervene. The LAT quotes a senior adviser to Arafat, who claimed that the region is close to “a religious war, ignited by Sharon.”

Following the Food and Drug Administration’s approval Thursday of the U.S. sale of the abortion pill mifepristone, the NYT fronts a report that explains why–at least in the near future–the pill is unlikely to make abortion either safer or more private, as champions of the pill’s approval have claimed it would. Most doctors and clinics are unfamiliar with the logistics of offering the drug and are much less eager to prescribe it when they learn them. Why? Abortions through mifepristone are still subject to state laws for conventional abortions. These laws vary widely; they can stipulate the size of medical offices in which the procedure can take place as well as mandate the registration of abortion providers, the kind of counseling a woman receives and, most problematically, the disposal of fetal remains. Such requirements are beyond the expectations about the pill shared by many doctors, who are often “timid” about “controversy and social issues,” according to the director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic. Partly justifying such skittishness, the piece closes by quoting abortion opponents who claim that, should a doctor prescribing the pill be registered as an abortion provider, they “will be absolutely sure that people know which doctors are doing this.”

The LAT fronts a related story that first speculates about whether the availability of the abortion pill in the U.S. will lead to an increase in the number of abortions here before concluding that it’s still too soon to tell. On the one hand, in countries like France, the percentage of women having abortions has actually dropped since legalization in 1989. The same is true for Sweden and Britain. On the other, abortion in France is part of national health care, the political climate surrounding abortion in Europe is much less charged than in the States, and thus, access to abortion there is much easier.

The NYT off-leads, and the WP reefers, George W. Bush’s energy plan, which he outlined yesterday in Michigan. Couched as a response to rising oil prices, the proposal called for “more domestic fuel production, better relations with foreign oil suppliers, and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.” Sketching the plan, Bush simultaneously attacked the myopia of the Clinton adminstration’s energy policy, and offered as an example Vice President Gore’s call last week to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. The Gore-Lieberman camp–as well as several environmental organizations–responded by dismissing Bush’s plans to drill in the Arctic Refuge as more pandering to “big oil,” this time with potentially devastating environmental consequences. Bush also promised the production of electrical power commensurate with the needs of the economy, saying, “The vice president likes electric cars–he just doesn’t like making electricity.” (Hey, didn’t Bush see the much-theorized Al-Tipper smooch?)

An LAT front-pager serves up the incriminating details of a previously undisclosed memo from MGM/UA studios that documents their sleazy strategems to lure teens and pre-teens to their 1998 “R”-rated film Disturbing Behavior. The studio’s baroque word-of-mouth campaign entailed hiring teen scenesters like Seattle’s “Super Dave” (?) to disseminate an array of promotional merchandise at adolescent hot spots nationwide, including skating rinks, underground clubs, juice bars, cheerleading camps, and driver’s education classes. In Hawaii, free movie passes were given away to kids who could best explain what their parents would say is their child’s most disturbing behavior. Hmm … One might suggest “going to see a movie as bad as Disturbing Behavior,” except for the fact that, much to MGM/UA’s chagrin, none of them did.