Today's Papers

Coffee, Tea, or Knuckle Sandwiches?

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with the latest from the Florida election contest trial brought by Al Gore. The story also tops the Wall Street Journal front-page world-wide news index. USA Today stuffs the trial, leading instead with Gore’s vow, on 60 Minutes last night, to press on with his legal fight for a recount.

The Florida case–neatly summarized by the LAT as the first attempt to adjudicate a presidential election–wrapped late last night, and the judge, Sanders Sauls, said he would hand down a decision this morning. The WP says Sauls can specify in his ruling “relief appropriate under the circumstances.” The Post states the trial’s basic issue simply: The Gore lawyers maintained that any ambiguous ballot should be examined manually while the Bush lawyers say that a recount would only be required by law if the local election authorities had committed some sort of abuse and that no evidence of this was submitted to the court. But both the WSJ and the NYT make the point high up that the time spent in court over the weekend–and not spent on a recount–may have meant more than any of the arguments made there. Indeed, the Journal story’s first sentence says that with the extended court time, “Al Gore’s prospects of becoming president of the U.S. steadily declined.” The LAT lead mentions and the NYT top front picture shows that the sermon topic at the church service Gore attended yesterday morning was “A Time for Waiting.”

All the Florida trial coverage emphasizes that one of the Bush expert witnesses, a designer and manufacturer of the voting machines used in south Florida, originally testified about their accuracy but then admitted under questioning by a Gore lawyer that they could miss incompletely perforated ballots, which would then require a manual reinspection. The NYT has the most detail about this, noting that in his application for a patent on a newer version of his voting machine, the witness had described problems of chad clogging in the very model used in the contested areas of Florida. The Times adds that the man had tried to sell Miami-Dade County an improved stylus to mitigate these problems, but the county didn’t purchase them. And USAT’s inside story on the trial describes how, when one exhibit, a voting machine supplied by Palm Beach County–another jurisdiction with ballots in dispute–was opened in court, it proved to be stuffed with chad debris. The paper calls the development “a surprise that helped Gore.”

The NYT reports that Judge Sauls questioned many witnesses himself and that once he asked a Bush witness why he had participated in a demonstration at the Miami-Dade County election board’s offices. The LAT notes that one of the Bush witnesses was a man who testified that he started to vote and then suddenly left the voting booth and who offered that he didn’t want any dimple he left on the ballot to count as a vote.

The USAT lead says that Gore made the decision to go on 60 Minutes on short notice, after hearing Dick Cheney’s televised comments calling on him to concede. The story quotes Gore’s interview comment that he thinks the election will be resolved within two weeks and also that if George W. Bush does become president, he’ll be “my president, too.” The LAT lead adds that Gore said he would in that case “spare no effort” to tell his supporters not to talk about a stolen election.

And yet, the WP reports inside on what it sees as the “latest indication that [Gore] is determined to pursue every legal and political avenue in his quest for the White House”: When he met yesterday at his official residence with advisers, one of the topics discussed was possible countermeasures to take if the Florida State Legislature produces its own slate of Bush electors. The story has no legal particulars but makes it clear that in that eventuality, the Gore campaign would try to emphasize Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s role.

The NYT goes inside with a new academic study concluding that Internet users were far more likely this year to e-mail jokes to each other about presidential candidates than to exchange serious political e-mail or browse politically oriented Web sites.

The USAT front fascinates with a few tidbits about the latest moves airlines are making to contend with the upswing in air rage. Frontier is teaching its aircrews cop-based verbal dissuasion techniques called Verbal Judo. US Airways crews are being taught how to physically restrain people. One tip: Seek three strong passengers to help with handcuffing. And at Delta, which also teaches how to handcuff, there’s Mike Brooks, a 6-foot-7-inch former Washington, D.C., police hostage negotiator, who phones previously abusive passengers to chat about their behavior and also sometimes meets them in person before they board.

Yesterday’s NYTMag issue on secrecy included screenwriter and novelist Erik Tarloff’s confession of his little secret: As an 18-year-old, he got a job writing pornography. (Actually a semiconfession: he doesn’t reveal the pseudonym he wrote under.) Tarloff explains that this never really followed him in later pursuits until President Clinton named his wife, Laura Tyson, to a Cabinet-level position, and he was asked to submit some of his writings as part of her vetting process. He decided not to include his skin stuff, and his wife got the job. Tarloff found out later that at least one journalist did find out but wrote nothing. Lingering question: Tarloff seems convinced that if he’d submitted his porno books, his wife would never have made it. If there’s ever a George W. Bush administration, will Lynne Cheney’s novels or the Starr Report be held to the same standard?