Today's Papers

Media Gospel

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post all lead with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s agreement to attend an emergency summit meeting Monday in Egypt with Israel’s prime minister, President Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and regional leaders. The U.S.-sponsored talks are designed to bring about only a cease fire, not an agreement on the impossible issues that to date have prevented Israelis and Palestinians from reaching a final peace agreement.

Arafat’s consent came after days of lobbying by regional and Western leaders; all three papers unavoidably employ the phrase “intense international pressure.” Both the Palestinians and Israelis will bring their demands to the table rather than require capitulation on one or another issue as a condition for scheduling talks. Arafat wants to set up a team to investigate the recent violence, which a “diplomat in Jerusalem” tells the Post is code for a war crimes tribunal. He also wants Israeli tanks out of the West Bank, a request Israel will probably comply with. Prime Minister Ehud Barak wants the Tanzim, a paramilitary group, to disarm and the Palestinians to re-arrest extremist prisoners who were freed after the conflict began. Significantly, the NYT reports that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak first opposed an emergency conference but about-faced when he realized the instability in Israeli-controlled areas could leap borders. Also, Arafat’s willingness to work with Annan, the paper points out, signals the former’s interest in reducing the U.S.’s central role in negotiations. Does this wish for non-U.S. mediation have anything to do the imminent change in White House administrations? The Post story spends more ink shuttling back and forth between official utterings and positions than digging up back story.
The NYT off-leads the arrival in Yemen of dozens of U.S. investigators charged with demystifying this week’s attack on the USS Cole. The government revealed the blast damage is much larger than previously reported. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has granted the 100-member U.S. investigative team wide freedom to conduct its work and protect itself but so far has not invited U.S. officials to meet suspects. A Post front-pager explains a Yemeni theory that the explosion came from inside the ship as “the gospel of the country’s official print and broadcast media.”

Both the Post and NYT issue insightful post-mortems on the Serbian revolt. The Post investigation reveals that the military defied orders to quell protests with violence and that top generals began shifting their loyalties from Slobodan Milosevic to Vojislav Kostunica from the get-go. A choreographed movement of “organized disorder” dominated the streets of Belgrade, not a spontaneous uprising, the NYT reports. Grass-roots leaders planned simultaneous demonstrations in disparate areas to prevent police forces from congregating in one spot. They also picked targets, like the parliament building, that would look good burning on CNN. Kostunica attended a meeting drenched in symbolism with leaders of the European Union according to an LAT front-pager. The EU pledged $175 million in emergency assistance to help Yugoslavs fend off winter hardship. Kostunica, softening his earlier line, recognized his nation’s obligation to help an international tribunal try Milosevic in the Hague, though, he added, they are so busy in Yugoslavia these days that they probably won’t have a chance to get around to it for a while.

California will face growing pressure on oil prices that could raise gas prices as high as $3 a gallon in 2003 when new environmental regulations kick in, the LAT reports. Refineries will have to cut back their output because they won’t be able to produce enough gasoline that conforms to these new standards.  Apparently, they don’t have the resources to upgrade their facilities. The result could be a 10 percent supply shortfall. The paper warns that neither public nor private institutions are preparing adequately for the possible crisis.

E.R. Shipp writes her farewell column as Post ombudsman; she is the 12th since 1969. She details the most frequently recurring reader complaints–inaccuracy, reluctance to acknowledge inaccuracy, the “snide” tone of some writers–and offers a peek inside the newsroom. Managing Editor Steve Coll recently launched a new campaign to address “changing language and usage, avoidable errors in routine writing, fairness in tone, issues of journalistic style, and so on.”

The NYT “Political Briefing” dismisses opinion-poll voodoo in the same breath that it indulges in it. The column’s last blurb waxes skeptical about trusting opinion polls. The penultimate regurgitates the “rough (very rough)” estimated Electoral College tally of a “popular Internet political tip sheet” as of midday Friday.

The NYT op-ed page takes a stand on “the condition of all earthy desire,” which, it is argued, is to enjoy an experience, like listening to a Beatles album, every time as if it were the first. The paper runs another “Editorial Notebook” documenting a writer’s charmed reaction to a genuine pop phenomenon currently pushed in a national marketing campaign (see “Why America Loves the Sopranos,” 1/16/00). Moved by The Beatles Anthology, the writer dresses up childhood Beatle memories in some of the loftiest language to appear on the page since Labor Day. While the sentiment about the mop-tops is shared, the historical memory is not: Today’s Papers recalls that George Martin, not Phil Spector, produced the Beatles’ records. (Spector was called in to clean up the Let It Be tapes for public consumption a year after they were recorded.)