Today's Papers

Lonely at the Top?

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead with yesterday’s extended gun battle on the West Bank between Israeli soldiers and settlers and Palestinian militia members, which has considerably dimmed post-summit peace prospects. USA Today puts the fighting inside and goes instead with the Gore campaign’s plan–based on concerns about being overshadowed and about scandal baggage–not to have President Clinton appear at rallies with the vice president. The New York Times’ off-lead says Clinton is “hurt” and “bewildered” by this “personal rebuff.” And the USAT lead says senior Democrats are urging Gore to reconsider. The USAT lead is contradicted by a LAT front-pager saying that because of the closeness of the presidential race, Clinton, after primarily limiting himself to appearances at fund raisers, is about to hit the road to appear at large public Gore rallies, although the story doesn’t say whether the two will appear together anywhere. And indeed, the NYT and WP off-leads seem to show Clinton champing at the bit, with both quoting him as saying that he “almost gagged” when he heard George W. Bush take credit during the last debate for an HMO bill he’d originally vetoed. The NYT stuffs the Middle East, going instead with a lead that appears inside elsewhere: that a scientific panel has recommended to the FDA that a common ingredient currently in decongestants and appetite suppressants be pulled from over-the-counter products used by millions because there is new evidence linking it to a small but significant increase in a young woman’s risk of having a stroke. The story also quotes some scientists associated in various ways with the nonprescription drug industry as questioning the study’s science, with one arguing that it contained too few patients and didn’t effectively screen out other stroke causes.

The LAT and WP leads say that yesterday’s main fighting originated near Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site ransacked by Palestinians two weeks ago. Israeli troops escorted a band of Jewish settlers, some armed themselves, out to a hillside where they could view the tomb. Somehow (the papers don’t decide who started shooting) a wicked firefight started between this group and Palestinians below, which eventually involved Israeli helicopter gunships. The WP says that according to Israeli government officials, it also involved Palestinian policemen, which shows, they said, that Yasser Arafat has not reined in his security forces as he’d promised to do at the Egypt summit. The LAT quotes an Israeli general (by name) as saying that allowing the settlers to make the trip in the current atmosphere was a grave lapse in judgment although he thought the outbreak of fighting was solely the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility. The Post quotes one unnamed Israeli government spokesman as charging that the Palestinians “haven’t lived up to one thing in the agreement.” The LAT says the Oslo peace process “appears mortally wounded.”

Thomas Friedman’s NYT column, his third very good one in a row on the topic where he made his journalism bones, the Middle East, poses an interesting question relating to tomorrow’s Arab summit meeting: “Why is it that when East Asian leaders hold summit meetings they focus on how to solve their economic problems, while when Arab leaders hold summit meetings they focus on how to blame Israel or the West for their problems?” Friedman goes hard with an uncomfortable fact about the Arab East: It is “the only region in the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, that is still ruled entirely by dictators, autocrats and kings, without one real democracy.”

The Wall Street Journal has a follow to its story of two weeks ago about how the Securities and Exchange Commission caught a 16-year-old using the Internet to manipulate stock prices. Turns out, the paper says today, that there was just one teentsy weensty little detail the SEC left out: It let the kid keep more than half a million dollars of his illegal profits. The story doesn’t explain why.

Another bizarro comes in a NYT inside piece about a man who has been in a Texas prison since 1983 for a rape that last week a judge, citing DNA evidence, ruled he didn’t commit. In the penultimate paragraph, it’s “explained” that since the man didn’t commit the rape, he can’t receive a pardon, which under Texas law makes him ineligible for compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned. Huh?

Check out the WSJ front for yet another example of that pernicious journalism confusion between rate of change and change or between absolute and relative change or between a hawk and a handsaw: a laughable story about “unlucky” Internet execs who’ve had to endure the unbearable fate of going from being a gazillionaire to a mere bezillionaire. Some of these people are today worth only tens of millions of dollars! One of the poor dears even had to sell his Palm Beach house for more than $13 million!

And what gives with the Journal’s sprawling front-pager about hidden but recoverable information in Microsoft Word documents, a story that is almost entirely about how a Democratic Senate campaign staffer in Minnesota used this feature to discover that a series of troublesome e-mails to the campaign were actually created by the Republican opponent? You know, the one where the information that the story was actually broken by the Minneapolis Star Tribune is held until the 14th paragraph.