The New York Times leads with the findings of a Scottish court convened in the Netherlands under a diplomatic compromise to try two Libyans for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people: One of the men was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison (with parole considered after 20 years); the other was acquitted and freed. Everybody else fronts the verdict. USA Today and the Washington Post lead with yesterday’s decision by the recession-wary Federal Reserve to cut short-term interest rates by a half-point, which is also the top national story at the Los Angeles Times, is top-fronted at the NYT and tops the Wall Street Journal’s front-page biz news box. The papers all note this is the second such cut within the past month.
The Lockerbie verdict coverage explains the thinking of the three judges in their two unanimous verdicts: They were convinced that the man they found against was a Libyan intelligence agent traveling on a false passport and that based on a Malta shopkeeper’s identification, it was he who had bought the clothes, remnants of which were later found to have been wrapped around the bomb. But they were not convinced that the other man, a Libyan airline employee based in Malta–where the suitcase containing the bomb was first put on a plane–was in the Libyan intelligence service, nor that he helped place the suitcase aboard a plane at the Malta airport. The NYT lead and USAT go high with President Bush’s reaction that the verdict would not cause U.S. sanctions against Libya to be lifted. The coverage depicts many victims’ relatives as satisfied although this remark from one of them is widely quoted: “Twenty years for 270 murders is less than a month per victim. It’s just not right.”
The WSJ reports that yesterday, without realizing that his remarks were being broadcast on a feed to some White House reporters, President Bush told the heads of some Catholic charities that his faith-based social services initiative was linked to his goal of curtailing abortions, a connection he did not make when he announced the initiative earlier this week. During the same meeting, reporters were also able to hear Bush say that his plans for federal funding for school vouchers may not succeed because a lot of Republicans don’t like them. Online, the NYT carries an AP dispatch about the same meeting, which plays the voucher comment and Bush’s joke that he’s about to name his brother Jeb ambassador to Chad above the abortion comment.
The NYT fronts another meeting Bush had yesterday–with 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, all of them Democrats. The paper quotes one Caucus member as saying that the first topic was Bush Attorney General-pick John Ashcroft and “why we couldn’t buy Ashcroft in 100 years.”
A NYT op-ed plumps for an idea favorably discussed by the WP’s David Broder in his column yesterday and now apparently making the policy rounds in Washington: Instead of a tax cut programmed over the coming decade based on guesses about future budget surpluses, how about returning a portion of each year’s actual surplus to taxpayers in the form of a rebate check? The key advantage: When the surpluses don’t pan out, the government isn’t committed to giving away money it turns out not to have. The Times piece suggests that this year’s check could and should total $500 per permanent resident, so that a family of four would get $2,000.
USAT fronts word that next Monday, Bill Clinton will give his first post-presidential paid speech, for $100,000. The story also reports that Clinton turned down a $2 million Super Bowl commercial and a Saturday Night Live gig.
The WP, citing a National Enquirer story due out tomorrow, reports that a November 1999 letter unearthed by and reproduced in the tabloid shows that one of Jesse Jackson’s tax-exempt organizations provided funds to the woman with whom he had an out-of-wedlock child and that the letter does not mention any professional services provided by the woman but instead says the money was, in the Post’s paraphrase, “for securing house financing.” The story says the amount paid to the woman was $35,000 and that she now owns a $365,000 house in Los Angeles.
The WP and LAT fronts report that for the first time ever, during the Super Bowl police used new computer technology on surveillance video taken of each fan entering the stadium to compare their faces at incredibly high speed with pictures of known criminals and terrorists. The WP says that the gear was used during game-related events in Tampa throughout Super Bowl week as well. The stories feature the usual civil liberty objections and police defenses. Both suggest that the new technology is probably legal because people have no reasonable expectation of privacy in such a public place and because although far more powerful, the system is in principle no different than a surveillance camera at a convenience store. The system identified 19 people as having a known criminal history, but no one was arrested. The Post says that one ticket scalper who was ID’d was pursued but not caught. Without the benefit of any high-speed surveillance technology, Today’s Papers was able to find several wrongdoers, however–the editors and reporters at the LAT who (unlike their counterparts at the Post) let the story go into the paper without mentioning that it was broken yesterday by the St. Petersburg Times.