Today's Papers

New Taint Taint New

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with the Yugoslavia election results–although no official tally has been released by Slobodan Milosevic’s government, the papers report that his opponent, Vojislav Kostunica, has declared victory, an assessment now supported by the U.S. and the European Union countries, which have called for Milosevic to step down. The LAT top-fronts a smashing pic of 50,000 people in Belgrade’s main public square doing the same. The Wall Street Journal puts the story at the top of its front-page world-wide news box. USA Today puts Yugoslavia inside, going instead with the plans of the Army, Air Force, and Marines to ask Congress at a hearing tomorrow for something they haven’t had in 15 years: more military personnel. The New York Times off-leads Yugoslavia and leads with the Senate’s passage yesterday of a $7.8 billion plan to restore and protect the Florida Everglades. The paper observes that although the measure still must pass the House, it has benefited from a rare range of support–its advocates include not only George W. Bush and his Florida governor brother Jeb, but also Al Gore. But the Times includes only one sentence questioning the Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to administer this project, even though the piece says that previous ACE work on the Everglades “nearly killed it”–and even though the WP recently found material enough for a week-long series on the Corps’ environmental insensitivity.

The Yugoslavia coverage makes it clear that the big worry is that Slobodan will cook the election numbers at least enough to claim that neither side got a majority and hence that a run-off is necessary. The Post goes high with a quote from Kostunica saying that his reaction to this would be to “fight in democratic ways.” This fits with what the LAT lead says is the U.S. strategy if another election is called: encourage the opposition to run again, harder and smarter.

The presidential election is off the front page, but the LAT fronts a story under the headline “DEMOCRATS DO THE MATH AND SEE SENATE IN REACH,” which gives as examples of “vulnerable” Republican incumbents Delaware’s William Roth, Missouri’s John Ashcroft, and Montana’s Conrad Burns. The story says hardly any Senate Republicans are campaigning on George W. Bush’s proposed tax cut or even mentioning their party affiliation in their ads or Web sites. Keying into the Democrats takeover strategy, notes the LAT, would be getting Joe Lieberman to abandon his Senate candidacy now to give another Democrat a chance to win the seat and serve, instead of Lieberman possibly winning it and veep as well and therefore having to let Connecticut’s Republican governor make an appointment. The NYT front breaks out a separate story on this.

The NYT goes inside with a piece slugged “THE TIMES AND WEN HO LEE” and bylined “From THE EDITORS.” The issue, of course, is that the Times broke the story about Lee and Los Alamos, which in court last week pretty much fell apart. The article basically stands by the paper’s original stories, saying that they were carefully reported. But there are some things “we wish we had done differently.” Principally: 1) pushed harder to uncover weaknesses in the FBI’s case; 2) paid more attention to other routes besides Lee via which Los Alamos secrets could have been lost; 3) not adopted the tone of alarm about the case that was voiced to the paper by investigators and was in their official reports; 4) done stories on the political context of the weapons debate, especially showing the Republicans’ motivations, and on the usual classified materials procedures at the nuke labs, and on the DOE intelligence official who sounded some of the loudest alarms about Chinese espionage, and on other leads and suspects, and also a full-scale profile of Dr. Lee, “which might have humanized him and provided some balance.” The paper promises continued pursuit of the story.

Some questions about all this. Why doesn’t the paper put this explication on the front? Or at least run a full-blooded reefer to it? And why not include links to the original stories in the online version? And in general, why not include links to those original stories in all its subsequent online passes at the controversy? That’s called letting the reader see for himself. (In recent months, the package of the paper’s previous Lee stories that runs next to the latest one online has mysteriously stopped short of this.) And finally, the Times says the story attracted criticism from “competing journalists and media critics and from defenders of Dr. Lee.” This is telltale. Doesn’t the Times think non-journalists who weren’t connected to Lee–you could call them ordinary citizens–might also have been worried about the stories?

USAT does a front-page “cover story” on the biggest off-field news from Sydney: athletes testing positive for banned substances. On Tuesday, a Romanian gymnast was stripped of a gold medal (she will get to keep a gold and a silver from other events where she tested negative) after tests showed a stimulant from a cold medication in her. This was the first time, explains the paper, this has ever happened to an Olympic gymnast. But the paper says that another drug brouhaha was having more impact: the claims made in the past two days by various officials that C.J. Hunter, a world-class shot putter who tested positive for steroids before he withdrew from the U.S. team two weeks ago for knee surgery. Hunter denied the charges but the revelation, says the paper, puts added pressure on U.S. track and field star Marion Jones, his wife.

On the WSJ op-ed page a classics prof argues that there’s nothing new about such Olympic corruption, and that the Sydney Olympics are “probably more akin to the actual spirit and practice of the ancient games than any other modern Olympiad.” After all, he writes, competitors in the Greek version hired publicists like Pindar, who made fortunes off them composing laudatory poems. And besides the olive crowns there were the lifelong free meals, the cash bonuses, and the free theater and athletic tickets.