Today's Papers

The Book of Virtual

Everybody leads with the increased attention being paid by all concerned parties to President Clinton’s recent Middle East peace proposals.

Everybody reports the most significant developments of the past news cycle: 1) An Arafat-Barak summit meeting in Egypt originally planned for today was in jeopardy. (The early editions of the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal flatly say it’s off.) 2) The Israeli Cabinet basically accepted the Clinton proposal, under which a) Israel would cede control of the Gaza strip and most of the West Bank, including a much-contested site in East Jerusalem considered holy by both Muslims and Jews in return for b) the Palestinians’ declaring an end to this conflict and giving up the claim that Palestinians have an absolute right of return to Israel. But how these elements are played and what other details are added varies widely from paper to paper. USA Today’s subheadline flatly refers to Israeli acceptance but adds a Palestinian assessment of that as a “trap.” (A quote also found elsewhere but in nobody else’s big print.) The WP headline calls the Israeli position an agreement to “discuss” the Clinton plan. The New York Times headline expresses hopefulness, stating “3 ARAB COUNTRIES REACT FAVORABLY TO MIDEAST PLAN.” The reference is to Clinton’s phone conversations with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The story quickly announces that according to an unnamed administration official, their reaction was much more positive than their take on last summer’s Camp David talks. The Times dedicates a separate inside story to Palestinian misgivings about the Clinton proposal, which ends with some Palestinian officials saying it is in some respects “a retreat from Camp David.”

The NYT, WP, LAT, and WSJ wait until the middle of their stories to report that the U.S. has received an official letter from the Palestinian side which does not address the Clinton proposals. The WP quotes an unnamed State Department official as saying the letter was “not responsive.” The NYT has an unnamed administration official saying the letter was not negative, but was rather a “place holder,” allowing Yasser Arafat to delay a decision. The LAT says that the letter seeks clarification on some points but “rejected others outright.” The Journal says administration officials were “dismayed by the Palestinian response.”

The LAT gives the most space to the Israeli right’s criticism of Ehud Barak for his willingness to proceed with Clinton’s plan, quoting one far-right member of the Israeli parliament saying Barak “has gone mad” and reporting that the mayor of Jerusalem will in reaction move his office to a disputed corner of old Jerusalem, which, warns a subhead, “may spark more bloodshed.” The story also reports that two unnamed members of Barak’s Cabinet said they would never agree to divided sovereignty for Jerusalem.

The NYT, citing a Palestinian press report that it then had confirmed by a Clinton administration source, says the Clinton plan countenances the insertion of international forces in Palestinian areas where Israel would be withdrawing troops.

The NYT continues to work the Clinton legacy watch, with efforts on his foreign policy and his performance as commander in chief. According to the Times, the 1995 bailout of Mexico marked Clinton’s signature change to an economic-based foreign policy. Since then, Clinton has signed more than 300 trade agreements. And the paper confirms the widely held view that the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers in Somalia made casualty-free combat a Clinton priority. The paper adds, citing several unnamed foreign policy officials in the Clinton administration, the episode also “led to a president unwilling to exercise full authority over military commanders.”

A WP front-pager showcases a workplace trend: increasing numbers of people having sex-change operations and then, as opposed to moving away and starting a new life, coming back to their old jobs. The story says that about half of the 1,000 people who have transsexual surgery each year now do that. Society’s dealings with gays and lesbians has, explains the story, broadened its tolerance–and there’s the tight labor market.

The business section of the WP reports that William J. Bennett, who was secretary of education in the Reagan administration, will become the CEO of a new company specializing in online schooling. The story says the company’s offerings will follow the vision of education Bennett propounded along with two co-authors in a 1999 book. But the NYT, in reporting on the same development, adds this quote from that book: “When you hear the next pitch about cyber-enriching your child’s education, keep one thing in mind: so far, there is no good evidence that most uses of computers significantly improve learning.” The Times also mentions something else the Post does not: that the new venture’s funders include a company backed by convicted securities defrauder Michael Milken.

A letter writer to the WP observes that in a Dec. 20 Post story, former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres is referred to as a Nobel Laureate but co-recipient Yasser Arafat is not. It turns out that the imbalance is even more widespread–a quick search of the Post archive finds the same asymmetry in all six of the paper’s articles mentioning the two men published in the past 14 days.

A NYT front-pager delves into the rise of abstinence-based sex ed classes, a curriculum that next year will receive $100 million in state and federal funds, compared to $30 million in federal funds for HIV ed. The story provides a special glimpse into where the money is going when it describes a video used in some of these courses that shows a half-dozen teen-agers chewing cheese snacks, then spitting into glasses of water, which they then pour into one another’s glasses. (Federally funded studies have not shown that students who see this film never eat cheese snacks again.)