In the absence of major news over the holiday weekend, the Washington Post and the New York Times lead with Gov. George W. Bush’s proposed presidential debate schedule and Vice President Al Gore’s swift rejection of it. Bush offered to spar with Gore three times, once each on NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s Larry King Live, and at Washington University in St. Louis. The Los Angeles Times off-leads the debate debate and goes with a run-up to this week’s 150-country U.N. globalization conference in New York. U.N. leaders hope the conference will both reinvigorate the ailing organization and set realistic goals for reducing AIDS, poverty, and armed conflict.
Gore previously accepted invitations to debate on the two news talk shows. Bush hoped to make the vice president look bad by taking advantage of those two pledges and Gore’s likely dismissal of any schedule that does not include the three events organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Gore camp responded by pointing out that the governor chose largely to debate on television shows that are 30 minutes shorter than commission debates and that would reach a limited audience.
Only the NYT acknowledges Bush’s presumed motivation in challenging the 13-year-old bipartisan management of presidential debates (that he is thought to be a much weaker debater). The candidates’ spat and coverage of it dwell on how many commission debates there will be, to the exclusion of legitimate questions about their structure: namely, is 15 percent of popular support too high a bar for candidate participation in the debates? Ask the five TV networks whose poll results decide which candidates qualify to debate.
The three-day U.N. conference will be a spectacle even by New York standards. Each head of state attending the extravaganza will speak in turn on the floor of the General Assembly for five minutes while everyone else is off sketching out solutions to the world’s woes. Attendees hope to sign a comprehensive agreement at the week’s end. “Love booths” spread about the compound offer diplomats neutral locations to conduct “quickie” negotiations outside of their respective missions, the LAT writes. President Clinton will mediate more talks between Israeli President Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. With all those limos, the Times predicts “a week of gridlock for cantankerous New Yorkers.” No word on whether there will also be gridlock for the many New Yorkers who are not cantankerous.
The Post taps into the Federal Trade Commission’s review of the proposed America Online-Time Warner merger. Before they rule on the deal, antitrust attorneys will insist that the two companies guarantee open cable access to competing Internet service providers. The merged company would control 40 percent of the Internet access market and serve 20 percent of homes with cable TV. The companies say they already encourage open access and cite Time Warner’s new agreement with Juno Online Services that allows the ISP to use the media giant’s cable TV lines.
The hubbub over a national missile defense has shielded discussion of alternative systems, according to a NYT front-pager. The Pentagon might best turn to theater missile defense systems, based on technology more reliable than the national missile defense gadgetry tested unsuccessfully this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would support joint development of such systems (Russia is so big that theater defenses wouldn’t be able to knock out its missiles), but China objects to anything that might impede its threat to Japan and Taiwan. The Air Force expects to expand research into its Airborne Laser program, which in sci-fi fashion would disable short- and medium-range missiles in their boost phase.
Vojislav Kostunica, a respected legal scholar who translated the Federalist Papers into Serbo-Croatian, is favored to beat Slobodan Milosevic in upcoming Yugoslavian presidential elections, as long as the Serbian bad boy plays fair. Kostunica, a nationalist, claims to be incorruptible and believes firmly in the rule of law, the NYT reports on its front. To the southeast, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his supporters trounced their favored opponents in parliamentary elections. Though he beat a couple of Syria’s lapdogs, the victory will not dismiss Damascus’ powerful influence from Beirut.
An earthquake rumbled through northern California’s wine country early Sunday morning, injuring about 40 people and leaving thousands without electricity for half a day. The temblor occurred along a previously unknown fault, the LAT reports.
In the absence of major news over the holiday weekend (Part II), NYT editorialists come out aggressively in favor of September. Labor Day, the paper argues wistfully, marks the beginning of an extra season, a sort of autumnal fifth Beatle. “Somehow, in this strange, short season, the days seem to flock together, as if they were about to begin their migration, like a flight of doves.” Perhaps in addition to the “church-state” separation between a newspaper’s editorial and publishing divisions, and the “wall” between news-gathering and editorial-writing departments, there should be a line drawn between professional news junkies and third-string neo-Romantic poets.