Today's Papers

Dead Letters Tell No Tales

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with the Sharm El-Sheikh summit, reporting no progress although the meetings went well into the night, past President Clinton’s scheduled departure time. USA Today, which also leads with the summit in its first edition, reefers it in its final to make room for a lead about the no-survivors crash near St. Louis of a private plane believed to be carrying the governor of Missouri, whose Senate candidacy, the paper notes, had been considered one of the keys to Democratic control of that body.

The summit leads do not encourage. They all report high that host Hosni Mubarak opened the sessions with decidedly partisan remarks, which the WP calls “an angry speech blaming Israel for the violence” and which both Times call pro-Palestinian. The NYT immediately tries to provide an explanation for Mubarak, saying that “such an embrace is essential if he is to wield any influence over Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader.” The coverage notes that emotions were barely contained by diplomacy, with both USAT and the LAT citing a Reuters report of an incident in which a Palestinian negotiator shouted “You murderers!” at a group that included Israel’s foreign minister and Madeleine Albright.

The NYT sums up the impasse that has stalled the meetings thus far: On almost every issue–an Israeli pullback versus a Palestinian call for a stop to street violence, disarmament of Israeli settlers versus disarmament of Palestinian militias, for instance–each side wants the other to go first. Yet the LAT reports that Palestinian authorities have tried to meet at least one Israeli demand: They’ve re-arrested several dozen Islamic militants they’d recently released.

The Wall Street Journal editorial on the summit mentions an unacceptable journalism tic in CNN’s Mideast coverage: Palestinian journalists onscreen for the network who use the word “we” when reporting on what’s happening to West Bank residents.

Heading into tonight’s debate, the WP and USAT fronts try to make the most of decidedly undecisive fresh polling data. The Post says that last month more than six in 10 voters said Gore was honest and trustworthy but that today fewer than half share that view. And USAT says that on who would better handle the Middle East crisis, Gore edges Bush 47-43 percent, but that when it comes to better handling the attack in Yemen on the U.S. destroyer Cole, it’s Bush 46-41 percent. Somebody should tell the pollsters and the voters that the attack is part of the Middle East crisis.

The LAT reports inside that no U.S. agency conducted security checks on the Yemeni company hired to provide port services to the Cole nor on any other companies it hired. Also, according to the paper, one of those subcontracting companies, hired to bring the ship food and take away its garbage, did not screen any of its 35 employees. The Navy, says the LAT, sent a team to the firm’s offices, but did not require further precautions.

The WP and NYT both run inside stories about a disturbing Texas criminal case with high political impact. It seems that from 1996 to 1998 a man (already in prison for other crimes) wrote to various Texas officials including governor George W. Bush to confess to a 1988 rape/murder for which two other men were convicted. One of those men, perhaps threatened by police with the death penalty, confessed to the crime and testified against the other. As a result both were convicted and are still in prison. Neither Bush nor anyone from his office ever responded to the letters, say the stories, but recent DNA tests suggest that neither convicted man was involved in the crime. What’s more, the letters led police to physical evidence of the letter writer’s involvement. The Post says the matter is a tale of “Texas’s tough law-and-order system gone awry.” A system, the paper adds, Bush has repeatedly called “fair, efficient and loaded with safeguards.” This is an important story that gets at issues very relevant to the presidential election, but holding it until the very day of a debate suggests that to both the WP and the NYT the paramount thing was its “gotcha” value.