Today's Papers

Suddenly Surfacing Civilians

The Washington Postand Los Angeles Times lead with the U.S. Navy’s revelation yesterday that civilian visitors aboard one of its submarines were at two of its three main control positions when it quickly surfaced into and sunk a Japanese fishing vessel, leaving nine of the latter’s crew missing at sea. Both the New York Times and USA Today front the story. But the NYT leads with President George W. Bush’s speech yesterday at a NATO command in Virginia repeating a view he’d expressed during the campaign: that he wants to invest in new military technologies rather than make “marginal improvements” in the weapons the U.S. already has. Bush gave no specifics, saying that “before we make our full investment, we must know our exact priorities,” a reference to the comprehensive review he’s having his secretary of defense conduct. The NYT, which is alone in fronting Bush’s remarks, says high up that his approach is bound to set off a scramble within industry, especially among software companies who haven’t previously been in the defense business, for the likely billions in new Pentagon contracts. And USAT leads with new polling suggesting that while Americans favor a tax cut, for them it ranks significantly behind education, maintaining prosperity, energy problems, balancing the budget, and military security.

The sub coverage says that during the surfacing maneuver that led to the collision, one civilian was at steering controls and another was at buoyancy controls. The Navy insists that this in no way contributed to the accident. The WP says that according to unnamed Navy officials, the civilians were constantly supervised by the controls’ ordinary operators. The LAT and NYT have sources saying that there is nothing the civilians could have done to have altered the sub’s course once it began its surfacing maneuver. But the WP says some submariners it talked to view it as possible that the civilians impeded communications between the ship’s personnel or distracted them. The coverage says that visits by civilians–especially congressman, journalists, and businessmen–to Navy ships underway are common. Both the LAT and NYT say the tours are used by the Navy to rally public support at a time of defense budget cuts. (Note to editors: Have a closer look at these VIP ship tours as well as at the “Tiger Cruises” offered to crew members’ relatives.)

Both the WP and LAT front the killing in the Gaza Strip of a senior Palestinian security official by two Israeli helicopter gunships hitting his car with guided missiles. Afterward, Israeli officials charged that the man was a terrorist involved in recent attacks on Jewish settlements and an arms and drug smuggler with close ties to the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah. The LAT gives considerable space to detailing the criticism of such Israeli attacks by not just Palestinians but also by human rights groups and some Israeli leftist politicians as a form of execution without trial. But it’s the WP that uses “ASSASSINATED” in its headline, a word not used over either the LAT fronter nor the NYT reefer. The papers also report the shooting death yesterday of a 14-year-old Palestinian boy. Palestinians claim he was shot by Israeli fire, which Israel denies.

Among the available early editions, the LAT is alone in reporting that later yesterday near Tel Aviv, in an apparent intentional hit-and-run attack, a passenger bus driven by a Palestinian plowed into a crowd of Israeli soldiers and civilians, killing nine of them and hurting 14 others. The driver was later wounded and captured by Israeli police.

The Wall Street Journal tops its front-page business news box with Alan Greenspan’s Senate testimony yesterday and finds him sounding more chipper about the economy than he did when he was last on the Hill three weeks ago. But the Journal says that doesn’t lessen expectations that the Fed will cut interest rates again at its next policy meeting. The NYT fronts Greenspan and also sees him as “upbeat.” But the paper’s Paul Krugman says in his column that if the rumors he hears that Greenspan was taken aback by the tax cut frenzy his previous remarks set off are true, then his performance yesterday–during which, says Krugman, he repeatedly evaded chances to rein in runaway cuts–was a “profile in cowardice.”

The NYT off-lead reports that not every rich person is cheering on President Bush’s push for an estate tax repeal. The paper reports that “dozens” of the wealthy are lobbying on behalf of the status quo, including William H. Gates Sr. (Bill’s father), Warren Buffett, George Soros, Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, and a coupla Rockefellers. All of these richies and more, says the paper, will have their signatures affixed to a petition ad appearing this Sunday on the Times op-ed page and on those of other papers. The story says that père Gates has not asked fils Gates to sign the petition.

The WSJ reports that federal antitrust officials are reviewing recent investments by Microsoft into two other software manufacturers: Corel, maker of WordPerfect, and Great Plains, a maker of business accounting programs. The paper points out that the WordPerfect deal (unlike the other) was not subject to automatic review but is getting the look-see anyway, perhaps because WordPerfect is also available in a version based on Linux, the competitor to Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Back to the sub accident for a beat. The WP says that even if the civilians played no causal role in the accident, not releasing information about what they were doing until yesterday raises new questions about the Navy’s slow disclosure of information. The paper quotes the Navy’s chief spokesman saying, “Does it look bad? … Only to people who don’t understand how submarines work.” (You know, like the people driving the sub at the time.) And regarding the Navy’s continued refusal to release the names of the 15 or so civilians on board the sub, both the Post and the NYT quote another Navy spokesperson saying, “We don’t think a person surrenders their right to privacy by riding on a submarine.” But none of the papers wonder why this applies to the rights of those sitting in control positions at the time of a crash. If, none of them wonders, the Army let a civilian drive a Humvee and it struck a car full of civilians, killing some of them, would the Pentagon be right to remain silent about who was at the wheel?