Today's Papers

Yugo, Democracy!

Everybody leads with yesterday’s events in Belgrade, where hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters–called by the Washington Post a “vast citizen army”–confronted Slobodan Milosevic’s police and braved tear gas to take over the parliament, the state-run radio/television facilities, and police stations, claiming the presidency of Yugoslavia for their candidate, Vojislav Kostunica. President Clinton and many other Western leaders quickly supported the developments. As the papers filed, Milosevic’s whereabouts were unknown.

The papers offer much excellent on-the-ground reporting. (All the majors except USA Today have at least one reporter in Belgrade.) According to the coverage, the riot police initially tried to prevent the huge crowd from entering the parliament but quickly did the math and retreated, many, the papers report, throwing down their weapons and riot shields on the spot. The Wall Street Journal says the first person through police lines up the building’s steps was a four-year old running away from his father. The coverage says that then demonstrators rushed inside, setting fires and looting and tossing from upstairs windows documents and pictures of Milosevic. The WP says some of those documents were ballots from the presidential election, and the New York Times delivers a coup de détail when it notes that the ballots were “already circled to vote for Milosevic.”

The sheets portray a wide range of scenes and emotions: the commandeered tractor crashing into Radio Television Serbia (WP), the protester from Darko wearing the police car license plate around his neck (WP), the protesters wielding nail-studded sticks (WP) or shooting handguns off in the air in celebration (Los Angeles Times), the looting and arson, the parliament occupiers who paused to urinate on the floor (LAT). There’s the Milosevic-era television anchors, trying to discreetly exit their building out a side door only to be greeted by a spitting crowd (NYT). And there’s this from the WSJ: “[W]hen a policeman took off his green gas mask, the crowd surged forward, extending their hands. A woman leapt over the line and kissed him. The other policemen took off their masks too.”

A separate LAT front-pager on Kostunica runs under the header “MILOSEVIC FOE IS NO GREAT FAN OF THE U.S.” The point of the story is to emphasize that he’s a Serbian nationalist, but it also states that he’s a longtime anti-communist and that he did a translation of the Federalist Papers. And the NYT reports that last night he told the huge crowd of his supporters not to march on Milosevic’s home with these words: “Answer their violence with nonviolence. Answer their lies with the truth.”

Everybody fronts the vice presidential debate. The consensus is that it was more low-key and nicer than Tuesday’s presidential model. Probably the most pointed remark of the night was Lieberman’s comment that Al Gore had delivered “big-time” on promises he’d made, a sly reference to the comment Cheney recently made when he agreed with George W. Bush’s potty-mouthed assessment of a NYT reporter. Curiously, the NYT lead doesn’t run the remark, although the paper does put it in its debate editorial.

USAT reports on its “Money” front that four years after that ValuJet went down in the Everglades, some airlines are still making the same kinds of dangerous mistakes in shipping oxygen containers known to have caused that lethal crash. The paper says the FAA is aware of 60 incidents since the ValuJet crash in which oxygen generators were illegally shipped. The offenders are brand-name–they include United and Northwest. But big airlines are victims of the shoddy practices, too–Federal Express and Air France are examples given–when others don’t accurately tell them what they are being asked to ship.

The WSJ runs a commentary by one of the paper’s editors concerning a miscaptioned picture from the Mideast turmoil that recently appeared in the NYT and Boston Globe. The picture shows an Israeli cop in the background, yelling and holding up a baton, and in the foreground, on his knees, a bleeding young man initially identified as a “wounded Palestinian.” It turns out that he was in fact a young American Jew who wasn’t hurt by the baton-wielding officer but rather had been pulled from a taxi by a mob of Palestinian Arabs, then beaten and stabbed. The editor suspects media bias fed this mistake–he argues that in the minds of many journalists covering the conflict, the Palestinians are oppressed innocents, not people who could gratuitously inflict the depicted injuries on an uninvolved civilian. Ditto, he argues, for the idea that the Israeli officer might have been trying to save a life, not take one. The piece sees the same kind of journalistic sloppiness in the practice engaged in by the NYT and other media of saying that Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount “provoked” or “set off” the current fighting. Charles Krauthammer, in his WP column, makes a similar point. Few wars, Krauthammer writes, break out spontaneously, and this sort of passive phrasing is a scandalous way of being agnostic about known causes, akin to saying that in September 1939, war “broke out” on the German-Polish border.

Whether or not the causes of the current Mideast fighting are known is one thing, but the dangers of newspapers smuggling in opinion (or as Krauthammer would have it, lack of opinion) are very real. Witness please this correction from today’s NYT: “Because of an editing error, a phrase was omitted in some editions on Wednesday, altering the meaning, in a front-page article about the debate between Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. As written, the article said the confrontation took on greater significance because the contest was ‘disturbingly close for both candidates.’” Now, not one reader in a hundred could figure out what’s going on here, and the Times is betting the other 99 won’t bother to try. But here’s the deal: the Wednesday story described the campaign, in which Gore enjoys a narrow lead, “as disturbingly close.” Period. In other words, the original story facilely slipped into the POV of a Gore supporter. Is the news section of the NYT rooting for Gore? The correction protests that certainly not; this was merely a matter of an editing mistake. The paper would be more convincing on this point if it had clearly presented the correction as Today’s Papers has, so that it displayed the original text.