Today's Papers

Shaky Start

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with updates on the earthquake Friday in India’s Gujarat state. In the last day, officials have tripled their estimates of how many people were killed, putting the quake on par with Turkey’s in 1999. The New York Times leads with a recap of Bush’s meet-and-greet sessions with congressional Democrats; the other papers front similar pieces.

The WP and the LAT put the estimated death toll in India at 13,000 and 16,000, respectively. The NYT, which off-leads with the quake, goes with a more conservative figure–the 2,400 deaths that have been confirmed. Shoddy construction standards are being blamed for the high body count. Both the WP and the NYT note that a 1-year-old school building in Ahmadabad collapsed, killing 40 kids. The total would likely have been higher if schools had not been closed there on Friday for a national holiday.

All three papers go high with a look back at Bush’s first week in office. One of Bush’s campaign promises was to be more bipartisan than his predecessor, and everyone says the new president is getting high marks for reaching out to Democrats, especially bleeding hearts like Ted Kennedy. Last week, Bush met 90 congressmen, about a third of them Democrats. Presumably this is a lot, though no one offers any comparison to past presidents. But they do say Bush is extending the little courtesies–like returning calls promptly and starting meetings on time–that Clinton famously ignored.

Of course, no one can resist commenting on the elaborate planning behind acting civilized. The NYT tells us that the Bush team prepared reports on every president since 1960 just to figure out how some managed smooth transitions. Despite this, Bush has still been the victim of pols’ pointed humor. At a meeting over coffee, a prominent Democrat joked that Bush the Elder had invited him to the White House for dinner during his first days in office. The LAT advises Bush the Younger not to slough off comments like that. But the WP has the most cynical analysis of Bush’s first week. It suggests that Bush modified his education plan to pander to congressional Dems, and it concludes with the thought that Ted Kennedy’s goodwill this week is just a ploy to sabotage Bush’s education agenda.

The news goes all over from there. The LAT off-leads with an optimistic piece on the California energy crisis. The story quotes several economists who think the crisis will not send the state into a recession. None of them disputes that the rolling blackouts have hurt manufacturing. But they counter that the state will be saved by the things it has going for it economically, including a recent sales tax cut and low per-capita power use. Sound too rosy? The Times thinks it might. Not long after the jump, it notes that California’s economists completely missed the state’s fall into recession in the early 1990s.

Both the NYT and the WP front today’s real news event: the Super Bowl. The Times goes with a straight sports story, somehow managing to mention Ravens’ star Ray Lewis without bringing up his involvement in a murder trial last year. Few papers have managed that feat this week. Meanwhile, the Post focuses on the parties and politics surrounding the game. The headline says it all: “IN TAMPA, SUPER BOWL IS AN AFTERTHOUGHT.” For the record, both papers seem to expect a low-scoring game tonight.

The NYT and the LAT front dispatches from Israel. The NYT goes high with news that Israeli and Palestinian officials are as close as they’ve ever been to a final settlement after a week of talks ended yesterday. But the NYT adds that the whole round is probably meaningless. Ariel Sharon, the man likely to become Israel’s next prime minister next month, has already said he won’t honor anything that comes out of the talks. The LAT picks up that theme with a story on Ehud Barak, who is running on the simple message that Sharon is a warmonger. The story concludes that Israelis don’t care and will vote for Sharon anyway.

The WP goes above the fold with a huge account of how the Bush and Gore campaigns reacted to the conflicting reports out of Florida on Election Night. This story is full of great, behind-the-scenes nuggets. The best? Gore scolding Bush for being “snippy” when he rang Bush to retract the concession call he had made a few minutes before.

The NYT fronts what seems like an evergreen piece on children and cartoon violence. The paper claims that today’s cartoons are more violent than ever before, etc., etc. But there is a twist to this story: Parents don’t care anymore. Deep inside, one expert–and not one who works for a TV studio–explains that today’s cartoons teach kids that fighting is sometimes necessary and that perseverance pays off. These apparently are lessons that parents want their children to learn.

Finally, the NYT fronts a great article on the Oldsmobile, which General Motors is discontinuing after 103 years of production. To hear the NYT tell it, this was not your father’s Oldsmobile; it was your grandfather’s Oldsmobile. Most of the anecdotes are set in post-World War II America, when the Olds was the sensible luxury car–fancier than a Ford but not as ostentatious as a Cadillac. These are stories of first dates and car-loving dads. A bit hokey, to be sure, but a nice tribute to one of the most important brands in this country’s history.