Today's Papers

Barak to the Future

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times all lead with Israel’s renewed issuance of a warning to Yassir Arafat that if the current violence is not stopped by Monday night–the end of the most significant Jewish religious observance, Yom Kippur–Israel will deem the Middle East peace process dead and will respond with much greater military force than it has used previously. The Wall Street Journal tops its front-page world-wide news box with the story. USA Today fronts the development but goes instead with the latest personal attacks in the presidential campaign (the NYT runs a story on this inside), calling the trend a sign of the renewed closeness of the race in the polls although the paper’s own fresh polling has Bush opening up a 49-41 percent lead.

The WP lead makes the most of some quotes from the Israeli national security adviser implying that if Arafat does not comply with the warning, his headquarters would be attacked. And the paper, referring to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, states that Israel is also preparing a “sanctions package,” which would include physically sealing off the West Bank and Gaza and blocking all monetary transfers in and out of those areas. The WSJ also has a bit about this package.

The NYT lead emphasizes President Clinton’s involvement in the crisis, going in the first sentence with word that he has telephoned Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to ask him to convene a summit where Clinton could meet with Arafat and Barak and the leader of Jordan. This is played lower and more vaguely elsewhere. Speaking of which, why does everybody play Ehud Barak’s actual statement Sunday of Israel’s ultimatum so low? The NYT puts a snippet of it in the fifth paragraph, and both the LAT and WSJ hold off until the eighth. The WP puts it in the 16th paragraph. The WP has perhaps the most chilling depiction of the Palestinian response: “Fatah activists in Ramallah were distributing leaflets door-to-door calling for a ‘popular war’ against Israel.”

The NYT says that Clinton was also on the phone with the leader of Syria, appealing for the release of three Israeli soldiers captured over the weekend by Hezbollah. The Times cites an additional political dimension to the crisis, saying that Clinton is worried that Barak’s government might not survive past Monday night.

USAT reports that a 36-year-old American-born rabbi was found murdered over the weekend. The LAT has this, too, and reports the man was a distant cousin of Joe Lieberman but says that Lieberman’s office doesn’t think the man was a relative. The NYT says he was.

The WP fronts an exclusive on the Ford/Firestone mess. The paper’s own analysis of 1997-99 crash data prompts it to conclude that contrary to Ford’s assertions, the Ford Explorer has a higher rate of tire-related accidents than other SUVs, even when Explorers are equipped not with Firestones but with Goodyears. The story includes Ford’s reaction: The number of accidents studied is too small to be meaningful, the crash database doesn’t always enable accurate identification of vehicles, and Explorers shouldn’t be lumped in with all other SUVs.

The NYT fronts a trend among booksellers: doing away with discounts. Actually, the headline, “QUIETLY, BOOKSELLERS ARE PUTTING AN END TO THE DISCOUNT ERA,” is an oversell–the story reports that is currently offering 40 percent off best sellers and 20 percent off hardcovers and 10 percent off paperbacks. This is a common journalism mistake–confusing the end of, or a change in, a rate of change with the end of the change itself.

Also in the NYT today, reporter Joel Brinkley practices the fine art of “you just can’t win” journalism. Brinkley notes that Microsoft is holding a big anniversary party in Washington Tuesday. Then he notes darkly that the party will be held at a restaurant just a few blocks from the Justice Department and only a few more from the courthouse where the DOJ prevailed in the antitrust trial against the company. And then he observes that the guest list does not include anyone from the DOJ’s antitrust division nor the trial judge. So what was the company supposed to do to please Brinkley, hold the party farther away and invite more interested parties? Or hold the party in the DOJ lunchroom and invite nobody? Special weird subtext to this story: In a prior piece, Brinkley wrote that Microsoft had “quietly” hired lobbyists, to which Slate’s Michael Kinsley replied, “As opposed to what–throw a party?”

Last week, the NYT ran a fascinating op-ed about a Web site run by two ex-employees of the Federal Election Commission where, with a few mouse clicks, you can find out the political giving habits of just about everybody. But the Times apparently decided it was a bad idea to give out the site’s URL. Well, Today’s Papers has decided it’s not–it’s TP was only able to find it because the URL had already appeared in the … NYT.

The picture in yesterday’s NYT Sunday magazine’s “What They Were Thinking” section finally answers those charges that Al and Tipper’s big Convention Kiss was totally contrived. There in the Oval Office, during a briefing for President Clinton attended by Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright, and Hillary Clinton, the Gores are indulging in a major lip-lock. And this sort of thing must happen all the time because nobody else in the room is paying the slightest bit of attention.