The New York Times leads with signs that Middle East tensions are slightly subsiding–a down-tick in the combat and an up-tick in the diplomacy. The USA Today and Washington Post leads focus on the Bush and Gore campaigns as they ramp up for tonight’s debate with the Post brandishing its new poll showing Bush now narrowly in the lead, something the paper has never detected previously. The top nonlocal story at the Los Angeles Times is the awarding of Nobels in physics (for breakthroughs in computing and laser technology) and chemistry (for showing that plastic can be made to conduct electricity), marking the second day in a row that only the LAT fronts the prizes. The paper’s accompanying picture suggests work in cloning was also being honored–the two University of California profs shown look nearly identical.
The NYT lead passes along reports that the Israeli forces are limiting their use of regular ammunition in order to reduce fatalities and that some Palestinian officials are actively discouraging mob clashes with Israeli troops. The paper tracks various meetings in the region involving Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and Russia’s foreign minister. (But Arafat and Barak have still not met with each other since this latest crisis began.) The paper also has Madeleine Albright working the phones. The Times, citing an unnamed senior Clinton administration official, says that the president has abandoned the idea of a broad summit meeting between the belligerents.
The Times lead has Arafat taunting Barak for “giving one warning after another” and a Barak aide questioning Arafat’s trustworthiness as a negotiating partner. This latter point is raised widely in the opinion pages. A WP editorial says, “It is less clear than ever that Yassir Arafat is a partner with whom Israel can reach an understanding.” A second Times front-pager about the crisis, citing a White House source who has listened to recent phone calls between President Clinton and Arafat, says that Clinton asked Arafat to make a public appeal to his people to curb the violence and that Arafat resisted.
It’s not until seven paragraphs into the WP lead that the reader can figure out that the shift towards Bush the paper trumpets in its headline is within the poll’s margin of error. High up, the USAT lead says a “self-effacing Gore conceded he got some facts wrong” in the first debate, while describing “Bush and his team” as “exuding confidence.” The NYT front-pager on the debates says that compared to the situation going into the first debate a week ago, where George W. Bush was being warned by his advisers about the dangers of even a meaningless gaffe, “the tables have turned.” The Times further conveys the general sense that the Gore campaign is off-message by reporting high up that as part of Gore’s debate prep, his aides “sat him down” in front of a video of last week’s Saturday Night Live comedy sketch about the first debate–which depicted him as (says the Times) “an overbearing know-it-all.” To drive home the effect, the story is accompanied by a picture of two men behind lecterns–not from last week’s debate, but from the SNL bit. Maureen Dowd refers to the SNL briefing, too, calling it “a Clockwork Orange moment.” The WP puts the detail inside.
If you don’t think the first debate was picked apart enough, check out the WP “Style” section piece about the neuropsychologist who measured the candidates’ blink rates during it. How much a person blinks can be correlated with stress, and last week, Bush outblinked Gore 2-1.
The Wall Street Journal tops its front-page business news box with the decision of EU regulators, expected to be announced today, to approve the AOL/Time Warner deal after the companies made concessions regarding digital music distribution and giving links to rival ISPs in Europe. The story notes that these give-ins don’t affect the big issues appearing to trouble the deal’s ultimate fate in the U.S.–actual or potential monopolies in the areas of immediate messaging and interactive television. A NYT inside piece on this gives a starring role to Mario Monti, the EU’s top antitrust guy, who, the piece reminds, has in recent months blocked Sprint/WorldCom, Volvo/Scandia, and the proposed merger of the world’s three biggest aluminum companies.
The NYT off-leads a very good exposé of steroid use in major-league baseball. The story says that the millions in salaries riding on big offensive numbers have jacked up the temptations to get a chemical edge. A further complication is that under the current collective bargaining agreement, major leaguers, unlike their pro football or Olympic counterparts, are not subject to random testing for performance enhancing substances. (Minor leaguers are, though, and, says the Times, in each of the past three years, about one in five of the San Diego Padres’ minor-league players have tested positive.) The story suggests most of the stuff comes from Mexico and Latin America, where many pharmacies will sell steroids without a prescription. Most of the players interviewed for the story requested anonymity although ex-All-Star Andre Dawson did not. He’s quoted saying of his peers, “When you see how quickly some of them develop from one year to the next, you know they’re using something.” The story suggests that somewhere between a one-quarter and one-third of big-league players use steroids and perhaps as many as two-thirds of the top players do.
Back to the debate for a beat: Although the papers don’t mention it, and although Dick Cheney never will, paying attention to SNL isn’t inherently politically nuts. In the first days of Desert Storm, it was a very funny SNL sketch that convinced the Pentagon heavies that their decision to tightly control the press’ war coverage was in step with public sentiment.