Today's Papers

Shifty Business

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post all lead today with the massive earthquake that devastated Western India yesterday. The tremor collapsed homes and high-rise buildings, killing a confirmed 2,300 people, injuring 3,000 more, and sending shockwaves throughout India, Pakistan, and Nepal. The papers all splash the same grim AP photo of a collapsed building in Ahmadabad (near the quake’s epicenter) above the fold. The NYT cites officials who predict that the death toll could rise by the thousands, and the late-closing LAT confirms the prediction, upping the estimated fatalities to 6,000, with 12,000 injured.

The quake, the worst in the subcontinent in nearly half a century, interrupted India’s Republic Day, a national holiday honoring the adoption of the Indian constitution. The quake was centered in the heavily industrialized state of Gujurat, which borders Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. (Gujurat, the WP notes, is also home to a nuclear power plant that, according to local officials, was unaffected by the tremor.) The coverage cites differing estimates of the earthquake’s magnitude: Indian authorities clocked it at 6.9, but French, American, and Chinese seismologists measured it between 7.6 and 7.9. (No explanation is given for the discrepancies.) Gujurat, the WP notes, has been a region “especially vulnerable” to quakes, most recently in 1956, when it was struck by a magnitude 7 tremor. After horrifying eyewitness accounts of the disaster, the NYT lead (at least in the online version) concludes strangely, with a detached scientific account of how the region’s tectonic hyperactivity is rooted in the slow collision of the Indian subcontinent with the Asian landmass, the same phenomenon that created the Himalayan Mountains.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has mobilized the Indian air force to fly tents, medical supplies, doctors, and heavy equipment to aid in the rescue and recovery operation. The WP offers up President Bush’s condolences to the people of Western India and neighboring Pakistan, “We stand ready to assist as needed and as desired by the governments.” Bush also observed that “earthquakes know no political boundaries.”

The WP off-leads an exclusive analysis of invalidated presidential ballots in Florida that shows “for the first time” the voting pattern of overvotes. (To brush up on our ballot vocab, “overvotes” are the ballots that were invalidated for showing more than one choice for president.) The results? Democratic voters’ ballots were three times more likely to have overvotes (and thus their votes voided) than Republicans: Of the 2.7 million ballots reviewed in the WP study, Gore was “overvoted for” 46,000 times, whereas Bush was one of the choices punched on only 17,000 ballots. Remember Palm Beach County’s tricky “butterfly” ballot? The WP analysis also finds that the same 8,000 ballots tossed there for overvoting voted Democratic in the Senate race by a margin of 10 to 1.

Following the latest developments in California’s energy crisis (stuffed today by the NYT and WP), the LAT fronts the first signs from the state’s governor, Gray Davis, that a solution may involve raising energy rates for consumers. Davis, who had until now maintained that such hikes would not occur, was quoted today as saying that this once-firm conviction was now only his “hope and expectation.” The comments came after the governor announced the completion of a bipartisan agreement on a nine-point plan for resolving the state’s power woes.

A WP front-pager reports on Saddam Hussein’s recent works of charity in Palestine: A representative of the Iraqi government has presented a $10,000 check to the families of every Arab killed (an estimated 343 boys and men) since fighting erupted four months ago between Israel and Palestine. The WP explains these donations as part of Hussein’s dogged attempt to “rebuild credibility among his Arab neighbors and chip away at international support for U.N. sanctions” on Iraq. His bid seems to be enjoying considerable success, not only in Palestine, where he currently bests Yasser Arafat in public opinion polls, but throughout the Arab world and even in France, Russia, and Turkey, which have begun to call for Iraq’s reintegration into the global community.

An NYT front reports on a “SENATE AGREEMENT REACHED ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE ISSUE,” which is not, as the headline may suggest, a substantive agreement to support or oppose campaign finance reform, but rather an agreement by Majority Leader Trent Lott to consider such reform in March and, says the NYT, to “discourage efforts to kill the legislation through prolonged debate.” Sen. John McCain of Arizona, author of the bill, announced that he was “pleased” with Lott’s promise of a full-floor battle. The NYT pronounces Lott’s pledge “significant,” especially in light of past efforts by Republican senators to keep the bill from ever seeing the legislative light of day.

A good number of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s former staffers, a WP front claims, now characterize the dynamic duo’s last weeks in Washington as a baffling demonstration of public relations klutziness. The uncharacteristic bumbling includes the couple’s acceptance of $200,000 in parting gifts, Hillary’s purchase of a second expensive residence in Georgetown, Bill Clinton’s lengthy list of pardons, his last-minute environmental executive orders, his immunity deal with independent counsel Robert Ray, and the alleged vandalism of the White House by Clinton aides. The “clumsy exit,” says the WP, has “raised concerns among their supporters about how the former president and Hillary Clinton will manage their new roles.” Huh? One disgruntled former aide opined bitterly, “Now the Clintons are finding out first hand what it’s like not to have a press operation.” Sounds like somebody besides Bill Clinton is out of a job.