Today's Papers

Comity Isn’t Pretty

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with President Bush’s issuance of an executive order denying federal funds to overseas groups providing counseling or other support services relating to abortion. Both papers note high that the move reverses an 8-year-old Clinton administration decision, thus reinstating a policy held during the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Bush’s move is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box. The Washington Post, which fronts abortion, leads instead with a story nobody else fronts: an international scientific panel’s report predicting that the Earth’s pollution-caused temperature increase will bring about terrible droughts and floods during the next 100 years. The UN report, which is also the first ever to declare unequivocally that global warming is man’s fault, was based on the application of new computer simulations to 150 years’ worth of weather records as well as to other data from ice, coral, and trees that provides far older climate information. The paper calls the finding “the most forceful warning yet” on global warming. USA Today, which fronts a more near-term weather story reporting that this past November and December were the coldest two months on record in the U.S., tops its front with the capture yesterday at a Colorado RV park of four of those Texas prison escapees. Rather than also surrender, a fifth shot himself, and the remaining two convicts are still at large. The cops got their key tip from a viewer of America’s Most Wanted. The WP and NYT also front the story.

Both Times leads emphasize that by quickly broaching the abortion issue, the new administration was diverting press and political attention from its stated goal of bipartisanship–which was to be exemplified, for instance, by this week’s planned priority, education–and from other agenda items such as a tax cut. Both papers quote Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer denying that the abortion move was divisive on the grounds that most Americans do not support the use of taxpayer money to promote abortion. But is this so? The normally poll-happy papers don’t say.

Both abortion leads note that the Bush decision came the same day–the 28th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision broadly legalizing abortion–as a large anti-abortion protest at the Washington Monument. The NYT reports that in not addressing the protesters, Bush “seemed intent on striking a balance.” (The WSJ reinforces this idea by pointing out that former Presidents Reagan and Bush did speak directly to earlier versions of yesterday’s protest.) The NYT lead carries the statement Bush issued that was read to the protesters by a Republican congressman: “The promises of our Declaration of Independence are not just for the strong, the independent or the healthy. They are for everyone–including unborn children.” But neither the NYT lead nor the WSJ nor USAT reports the reaction the statement got from protesters. (The WP puts it in a separate story inside.) The LAT lead does: “They roared approval.” The paper even puts the roar in the lead’s subheadline.

It’s also the LAT that points out that actually, taxpayer dollars haven’t gone to overseas groups facilitating abortions since 1973–what Bush has actually just done is prevent groups receiving U.S. funds from using other monies for abortion-related services.

The NYT front reports that the Palestinian Authority has e-mailed out a blast at the Clinton administration’s participation in the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. The statement says Clinton had placed the Palestinians “under tremendous, and sometimes unconscionable, pressure to sign weak and vague agreements that could be used by political leaders to show progress to their constituencies.” The story goes on to note that the negotiations currently going on in Egypt between Palestinian and Israeli representatives embody the feature that marked the Oslo peace talks–no third-party mediators from any other country.

Today offers up the second front-page story in two days proposing an overseas situation as an early test of the Bush administration’s foreign policy mettle. Yesterday’s NYT said the problem was that Iraq may have rebuilt its chemical and biological weapons factories. Today’s LAT says it’s Syria’s pipeline for smuggling oil out of Iraq, in flagrant violation of sanctions the UN imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War.

The papers go inside with word that President Bush has picked Michael Powell, Colin Powell’s son and a current FCC commissioner, to head up that agency. The coverage is quite favorable and describes MP as generally leaning against imposing many government conditions on media deals. Only the NYT raises the issue of whether or not Powell had a conflict of interest when he didn’t recuse himself from the FCC’s consideration of the AOL-Time Warner deal, even though his father has a significant stake in the company. The paper suggests (somewhat opaquely) that even though the FCC ethics folks OKed that stance, it was impugned by the “generous” contributions made by the National Association of Broadcasters to a foundation started by Colin Powell. The paper is also alone in explaining that since Michael Powell is already an FCC commissioner, his upgrade doesn’t require Senate hearings.

The WSJ goes long with plenty not to like about former President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, a billionaire who fled to Switzerland in 1983 rather than stand trial on 65 counts of financial wrongdoing. Rich’s lawyers, the story reports, including a former Gore chief of staff, never filed a pardon petition with the Justice Department, which as a result was completely unaware it was being contemplated. And Rich can now legally not pay U.S. taxes on income he’s made since fleeing, since in the meantime he renounced his U.S. citizenship. The Journal has several ex-feds, including Rudy Giuliani, fulminating against the pardon. The paper adds that according to one source, the pardon came at a great time for Rich because the new treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, is an old business adversary. Under the header “Unpardonable,” the WP editorializes against Bill Clinton’s move, stating, “[W]ith his scandalous present to Mr. Rich, Mr. Clinton has diminished the integrity and grandeur of the pardon power just as surely as he diminished the various privileges he abused by invoking them to defend his tawdry conduct in office. What a way to leave.”

USAT’s front-page “Snapshot” reports on the post-presidential career suggestions offered to Clinton by a random sample of 800 baby boomers (all age 55). The top suggestion? Not motivational speaker (only 5 percent favored this). Not college professor (only 11 percent). Not UN peace negotiator (19 percent). Nope–it’s to form a jazz ensemble as lead sax player (40 percent).

The WP’s “Reliable Source” reports that incoming Bush White House staffers have been hampered by an apparent scheme hatched by their departing Clintonite counterparts: Many of the computer keyboards in their new offices have just one teeny-tiny missing or nonfunctioning key–the Dubya.