Today's Papers

Colin’ the Shots

Their Sunday fronts dominated by president-elect coverage, all three papers lead with George W. Bush’s official announcement of Colin Powell as his secretary of state. The move made the 63-year-old retired general the presumptive point-man for Bush’s foreign policy and the highest ranking African-American in the history of the executive branch. In his remarks, Powell emphasized that the U.S. will remain vigilant and active in its foreign policy and presented himself as an example that “there are no limitations on you.” Today, for his next trick, Bush is expected to name Condoleezza Rice as his national security adviser.

The papers cannot help but share in some of the Horatio Alger enthusiasm conveyed by Bush when he declared it “a great day when the son of the South Bronx succeeds to the office first held by Thomas Jefferson.” The Washington Post observes that Powell’s presence on the podium “seemed to dominate” that of the president-elect, noting that unlike Bush, Powell delivered his more expansive remarks without the benefit of notes and supplied all the answers duing the subsequent question-and-answer session. The New York Times lead reports that Powell’s speech seemed measured to quell anxiety that he would take an isolationist approach to foreign policy. The retired general said he would never counsel our “cutting and running” in the Balkans and emphasized his vision of a “uniquely American internationalism.” Powell also reiterated the longtime Bush position in favor of a missile defense shield and pledged continued U.S. involvement in the Middle East. All the papers suggest that in showcasing Powell as his first Cabinet appointment, Bush is making a conciliatory gesture to the nation’s African American population, which voted by a 9-to-1 margin in favor of his opponent.

In a separate piece that looks at Powell’s approach to foreign policy, the Los Angeles Times describes a heated 1993 exchange in which then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs Powell took issue with Madeleine Albright’s plan to intervene in Bosnia, reminding her that “these are not toy soldiers.” An equally impassioned Albright would later quip, “What’s the point of this superb military you’re always talking about if we don’t get to use it.” The story predicts that today’s robust rhetoric notwithstanding, Powell will be far more reticent than his predecessor to commit U.S. troops abroad and will continue to endorse the all-or-nothing approach that led to the massive Desert Storm invasion.

The WP fronts an alarming investigation of U.S. pharmaceutical companies’ policies of testing experimental medicines abroad–in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America–where regulation is lax and patients are often unfamiliar with standard medical procedures. The story focuses on Pfizer, whose 1996 decision to test an experimental meningitis treatment on infected children in Nigeria was characterized as  “unconscionable” by the WP expert. (To be fair, the piece notes that Pfizer’s operation in Nigeria had a positive effect overall but criticizes the experiment-minded treatment decisions, which, in specific cases, may have lead to unnecessary deaths.) The story explains that the Food and Drug Administration has little in the way of resources and even less authority to regulate U.S. companies overseas.
According to a piece that runs on the NYT front, many in the Democratic Party would prefer to see Bill Clinton–and not Al Gore–take the mantle of the party after the New Year. Although Clinton is still noncommittal on his post-presidential plans, he has apparently told several prominent Democrats that he will remain active in fund raising and outspoken in articulating the party’s message. The piece asserts that inasmuch as this is good news for the Clinton legacy, it does not bode well for the political future of Al Gore. A figure identified only as a “prominent Democrat in Congress ” is quoted as saying, “The problem here is if you ask for his [Gore’s] list of closest friends in Congress, there is no list.”

The WP reports that Dick Cheney and Colin Powell are at odds over whom to nab for secretary of defense. Powell is pushing for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge while Cheney has been advocating former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats. The LAT fronts a story questioning whether Bush has devoted as much attention to choosing economic advisers as he has in the area of foreign policy. The economic side of things will no doubt become more significant as indications of an economic slowdown continue to mount. And the WP offers one more such indication, running a front-page piece that chronicles the rise and fall of dot-com decadence. The piece asserts that a newfound sense of  “restraint, if not woe” has left Internet start-up employees pining for the lavish Christmas parties and frilly office perks of yesteryear.

Continuing to churn out Texas death penalty stories of the type it ran often throughout the campaign, the NYT fronts a piece depicting the troubled daily lives of the Texas prison officials who administer executions in the “nation’s busiest death chamber.” The warden admits that even after 84 executions, he remains conflicted about the death penalty (“maybe it’s not right”) while a colleague who heads the “tie-down staff” cannot bring himself to explain his job to his 7-year-old daughter. Officials dreadfully anticipate those instances in which they need to perform a “cell extraction” in order to bring an unwilling prisoner to the chamber. The piece amplifies its impact at the expense of fairness by waiting until halfway through to divulge that all its interviewees were prison officers who opted to serve on the death team (at no extra pay) and apparently could be transferred out without prejudice.

The NYT reports that midway through yesterday’s remarks, Colin Powell drew laughter from the gallery and a momentary look of surprise from the president-elect when he expressed relief that the press conference was taking place somewhere other than Bush’s Texas ranch. “Nothing wrong with ranches,” he said, “but I don’t do ranchwear well.” The intrepid general who earned a Purple Heart during his tour in Vietnam continued, “I’m from the South Bronx and I don’t care what you say, those cows look dangerous.”