Today's Papers

The No Opinion Pol

The New York Times leads with a crucial decision in the imminent Manhattan federal trial of three men accused of bombing two American embassies in Africa in 1998: that statements they made to U.S. investigators in Kenya are admissible in a U.S. court even though at the time they were made, FBI agents told the defendants they could not be provided legal representation, which was true because in fact, Kenyan law does not afford this right. The paper says the ruling–which in effect says that Miranda rights are not automatically violated if good faith investigators cannot completely fulfill them because of foreign laws–not only will help the prosecutors in this case but “could also have a major impact on the interrogation of terrorism suspects in the future.” The top national story at both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times is the one tipped in yesterday’s NYT lead: President George W. Bush’s establishment yesterday of a White House office for enabling religious organizations to receive government funds for providing social services. The story on top of USA Today’s front is that Napster will start charging soon for music downloads, probably $4.95 a month, probably starting in June. But the paper reserves its big front print for noting that very few states are going to be using much of their first shares of the $250 billion tobacco lawsuit settlement to combat teen smoking, even though it’s been proven that anti-smoking public service campaigns really work. The paper puts up an adjacent graphic showing that over the past 10 years, smoking among high schoolers has been on the rise. The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page biz news box is DaimlerChrysler’s announcement that it’s reducing its U.S. workforce–via attrition and layoffs–by 26,000 jobs. The paper says the move, also fronted by the WP and stuffed elsewhere, is the biggest retrenchment in the U.S. auto industry in nearly a decade.

The stories on Bush’s faith-based initiative report that he surprised by also proposing widening the tax deductibility of charitable donations to cover those made even by taxpayers who don’t itemize and by also, as the WP emphasizes, potentially expanding the national service organization AmeriCorps to include more faith-based projects, a distinct switch from mid-90s Republican calls to cancel the organization. The papers’ editorial pages urge caution about trampling the constitutionally protected separation of church and state, and a separate LAT front-pager says the Bush initiative will probably end up in the Supreme Court.

The WSJ reports that computer experts have discovered a flaw in widely used software that leaves most of the Internet–including corporate and government sites–vulnerable to hacking, take-overs and e-mail rerouting. The story says the bug hasn’t been exploited yet but that tools to do so should be expected to surface on the Web “within days.” The experts are urging corporations and service providers to quickly upgrade their software. And on Monday, the federal government issued urgent warnings to its civilian agencies. As a consumer, says one researcher quoted in the piece, “there’s nothing you can do really …”

The NYT goes inside with an update on the Clinton gift motherlode and the last-minute Clinton pardons. The story is headlined (online at least) and goes high with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s disapproval of both. Why not headline and/or give higher play to George W. Bush’s decision not to try to reverse any of the pardons or to Hillary Clinton’s remarks about them yesterday? Instead, the Times reprises the facts of the two matters before quoting Sen. Clinton in the 14th paragraph as saying about the gifts: “We followed all the rules. I am not going to get into any more details. We complied with everything that presidents and their families are expected to comply with.” And before quoting her in the 17th paragraph as saying about the pardons: “You’re going to have to ask the president’s transition office for a comment. … I have no opinion. I had no opinion before. I had no opinion at the time. I have no opinion now.”

USAT bottom-fronts the cold cuts congressional Democrats are serving Ralph Nader. A Florida Democratic congressman is quoted as saying, “We’re not going to touch him with a 10-foot pole . … He has divorced himself from the very ideals that made him a worthwhile political actor. He sold out his constituency.” The story describes Nader as “stunned by the backlash.”

The LAT fronts G. Gordon Liddy’s testimony yesterday in the trial at which he’s being sued for defaming a woman by claiming that she helped arrange assignations between visiting Democrats and call girls during her tenure as a Democratic National Committee secretary. Liddy has long believed, and repeated on the stand yesterday, says the paper, that the Watergate burglaries were not ordered by Nixon for political purposes but by John Dean, who was desperate to find out if his girlfriend (later on, and still, his wife) was involved in the ring. Dean had previously sued Liddy and the publishers of the book that first made these allegations, settling for an undisclosed sum. The NYT AP story on Liddy’s testimony, which runs inside, is far clearer, explaining right at the top that Liddy testified that the Watergate burglars were seeking photos of the future Mrs. Dean from the call girl ring file in the DNC secretary’s desk, and a bit lower down, that Liddy is convinced that the phone they were trying to bug belonged to her boss.

The WP reports inside that a big story in Mexico right now is that thanks to a $4,500 bribe, a circus elephant was smuggled into the country from Texas. The story goes on to quote the Mexico City newspaper that broke the story, Reforma, referring to the elephant as “the biggest ______ in the history of the Mexico-U.S. border.” Except instead of the blank, the Post prints a rather harsh epithet for illegal Hispanic immigrants. Does the prior occurrence in another paper automatically excuse the Post’s use of the word? Would, for example, an African paper’s use of an equally scurrilous word for black people mean that readers of the WP would see it printed out t,oo? Or in this area does the paper firmly believe in different strokes for different folks?

For those who fear that op-ed columnists are off in their own little world, check out today’s Thomas Friedman effort in the NYT, in which he describes the difficulty he had mastering the Compaq pocket PC he was given at the Davos conference and reports that the WP’s Richard Cohen was having the same problem with his new toy. Or you could read Cohen’s column in the WP about the very same thing.

What a welcome change in the hit-or-nine-times-out-of-10-miss world of NYT op-ed comedy: one that’s FUNNY! Andy Borowitz conjures up Hollywood’s solution to the threatened screenwriters’ strike: a $120 million vehicle for Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts based on the Yellow Pages. This, says Borowitz, will lead to such follow-ons as “Panasonic VCR Manual,” “The Pledge of Allegiance,” and “the sleeper hit of the season: Form 1040, Schedule A.”

“I don’t get it–we get the Times interested in doing the piece, they finally run it and still not one damn call!” A correction in today’s NYT states in its entirety: “Because of an editing error, an article in Business Day yesterday about the former computer hacker John T. Draper misstated the financing plans of his start-up company, ShopIP. It is soliciting venture capital, not excluding it.”