Today's Papers

Run of the Millennium

The Washington Post leads with President Clinton’s decision that the U.S. should sign the treaty creating a permanent international war crimes tribunal. The Los Angeles Times leads with the separate Middle East killings yesterday of a militant Jewish settler (and his wife) and a top leader of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization. Because today the federal government starts offering its employees insurance benefits for mental health problems equal to those it has long offered for physical ones, the New York Times leads with a long look at the pros and cons of such coverage parity. With the exception of this story, the subject of every lead is on the other fronts. The Times, which in its lead of one year ago referred to the “inconvenient fact” that the millennium was still a year off, gets points for consistency today with an AP dispatch saying that with last night’s celebrations, “the third millennium officially began.”

All the stories on Clinton’s decision about the international tribunal emphasize that it came over the objections of conservatives and the Pentagon, who fear that it could become the vehicle for groundless politically motivated trials of U.S. soldiers on overseas peacekeeping duty. The WP and NYT explain that one of Clinton’s key reasons was that signing would enable the U.S. to influence the ultimate nature of the court so as to minimize such risks. Everybody explains that the signing is not Senate ratification of the treaty. The NYT elaborates the most, noting that besides failing to ratify the treaty, the Senate could also renounce it. President-elect George W. Bush hardly appears in the Post story, and the LAT version says his position on the court is “unknown.” But the NYT says the treaty is likely to face vigorous challenges from the Bush administration and adds that Secretary of Defense-designate Donald Rumsfeld signed a letter last month warning that “American leadership in the world could be the first casualty” of the court. None of the papers mention that no American soldiers have ever been brought up on politically motivated charges by any of the specific war crimes tribunals the new court would be superseding.

The WP and NYT say that a Muslim group claimed responsibility for the murder of the Israeli (the son of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, himself assassinated by a Muslim 10 years ago in New York City). And both the Post and the LAT suggest without actually stating that the Israeli military was responsible for the shooting of the Fatah official. The NYT says flat out it was Israeli soldiers who did it. Both Times note that during the funeral of the Israeli victim, mourners chanted “Death to the Arabs” and beat some Palestinians and that some responding Israeli police officers were injured as well. The LAT says that in the wake of these latest developments, President Clinton’s efforts at peace “appear doomed.”

The NYT lead explains that under the new federal policy, no health plans for federal employees can impose higher co-payments or deductibles or lower hospital stay limits for mental health coverage than for physical health coverage and that they also include treatment for alcohol and drug addiction under this new umbrella. The story also makes it clear that in this regard, federal employees are better off than most folks, even many of those living in states that have taken some steps toward parity. For instance, in Texas, a law signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush provides equal coverage for several types of psychotic disorders but not for drug or alcohol problems. Even though the next Congress will be debating coverage parity for the rest of us, the Times waits until the middle of the story to mention this aspect of Bush’s record.

The WP and NYT both run stories inside noting that Chief Justice William Rehnquist has released his annual report on the Supreme Court. The Post goes high with Rehnquist’s reference to how the courts were involved in the presidential election “in a way that one hopes will seldom, if ever, be necessary in the future.” The NYT puts that concern at the bottom, going up high with Rehnquist’s call for more pay for federal judges.

The NYT fascinates but disappoints in its off-lead about President-elect Bush’s selection of Rumsfeld. The story collects rave reviews for Rumsfeld from some Bush sources and Henry Kissinger and when raising the question of Rumsfeld’s leadership abilities, quickly mentions that he was a Navy pilot and a college wrestling team captain. But the story also says he “played a role in the 1975 Cabinet reshuffling known as the October Massacre, some historical accounts say,” without saying boo about what the role was, or, for that matter, actually explaining what the October Massacre was. Is it just possible that Rumsfeld’s behavior during this episode is more indicative of his likely political performance than his long-vanished ability to fly or wrestle?

The Times was similarly myopic in a “Week in Review” piece yesterday that said Dick Cheney “is redefining the scope and influence of” the office of vice president, an office he doesn’t hold yet.