Today's Papers

Peace in Pieces

Everybody leads with yesterday’s Middle East cataclysm–the Palestinian mob murder of two or more Israeli soldiers in Ramallah and the Israeli helicopter rocket strike in response, or the apparent suicide bomb attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer in Yemen that killed six American sailors and disappeared eleven others, who are presumed dead. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times run banner headlines for both stories clear across their top fronts, and these papers and USA Today give almost all their front space to various aspects of the developments.

High up in its lead, USAT snap-gauges yesterday as possibly threatening U.S. lives and interests more than anything else since the Gulf War, raising the specter of increased terrorism against the U.S. and of a spike in oil prices that might end the U.S. economic boom. Not to mention, adds the paper, potentially having a decisive impact on the U.S. election.

According to the coverage, what happened in Ramallah is that a carload of Israeli reserve soldiers got lost on the West Bank and blundered into the immediate vicinity of a funeral of a Palestinian killed by Israelis in last week’s fighting. They were then chased by a gathering mob and took refuge in a Palestinian police station. The mob eventually occupied the police station–accounts differ as to whether the Palestinian cops resisted this or not–and in an upstairs office beat and stabbed two of the soldiers to death, afterwards throwing one of their bodies out of the window to the rabble below, who for good measure stomped the corpse some more. There are some press reports that a third Israeli soldier was murdered in the incident and that his body was burned beyond recognition.

Given these details, the NYT’s off-lead is too even-handed when it starts out saying, “What happened today was a collision of what each side sees as the other’s core ugliness.” A similar evasion is on display in the WP sub-headline: “GRIEF, ANGER SPURRED FRENZIED CROWD TO KILL ISRAELIS.” After all, the Times reports that the Israeli counterstrike–which rocketed both that Ramallah police station and a Palestinian Authority building–but not the one 150 yards away where Yasser Arafat was sitting–seems to have been preceded by warnings so that target sites could be evacuated. And indeed, the WP reports that no one died in the attacks. But once the NYT’s Deborah Sontag gets past the paid political announcement part of her story (quite possibly imposed on it from New York), she powerfully shows what really happened, describing how dancing Palestinian “youths” (there must be a better word!) chanted in a call and response, “Here is where we gouged his eyes! Here is where we ripped off his legs! Here is where we smashed in his face!”

And then there are the pictures. The most unforgettable, credited to Agence France Presse, appears on everybody’s front–in it, a piece of shit posing as a human being is only too proud to show the other turds below that on the West Bank, “having someone’s blood on your hands” is not just an expression. The LAT is the only one of the majors that is afraid to say in its caption what’s really going on in the picture.

Another picture on the fronts, that of the gaping hole left by the explosion in the side of the U.S.S. Cole, is similarly dispositive. Although the LAT and NYT quote Yemen’s president as insisting that there is no evidence of terrorists operating in his country (and they then go on to raise doubts about his statement), the picture shows the side of the ship buckled inward, which means that the explosion didn’t originate from within.

Another picture point: Yesterday, Secretary of Defense William Cohen thanked the press in advance for not using available pictures taken in a Yemen hospital of injured members of the Cole’s crew. That’s because the Pentagon wanted to avoid having family members back home see this sort of thing without having any explanatory information from the DOD. So why does the NYT print just such a picture on the top of Page One?

And in his press conference yesterday, Israeli PM Ehud Barak (who, the papers report, is about to invite super-hawk Ariel Sharon into his governing coalition) stated that he doesn’t now consider Arafat a partner in the search for peace. Yet of the leads and other main stories, only the LAT effort notes this, and it does so very near the bottom. But the headline over Thomas Friedman’s column isn’t so cryptic: “ARAFAT’S WAR.” This view is only buttressed by the quotation from Arafat in a Times inside story, “We will continue our march to Jerusalem, the capital of the independent Palestinian state.” But this quotation should have been on Page One.

Yesterday’s events drive a NYT exclusive potentially troublesome to Al Gore below the fold. The story claims that in 1995, Gore signed a secret agreement with then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin that required an end to all Russian conventional weapons sales to Iran by the end of last year. An agreement, the paper explains, that has never been disclosed to the public or even to Congress. But, says the story, Russian weapons sales to Iran have not stopped, despite complaints to Russian officials from Gore and other administration heavies. The banned sales have included a diesel submarine.

Short odds favor Bush. The Wall Street Journal “Washington Wire” reports that in the underwear purchase poll being conducted by Banana Republic, elephant boxers are outselling donkey boxers by 6 percent.