Today's Papers

Ad Hoc Reasoning?

Everybody leads with the collision of a U.S. Navy plane and a Chinese fighter over the South China Sea, which apparently caused the fighter to crash (its pilot is missing) and forced the U.S. plane to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island. China blames the U.S., but a Pentagon spokesman observes that jet fighters are far more maneuverable than the propeller-driven Navy plane.

The coverage puts the incident in the context of increasingly edgy relations between the U.S. and China. Most prominently mentioned in that regard is President Bush’s imminent decision about whether to sell sophisticated arms to Taiwan. Plus, the papers report that in recent months the Navy flights off the coast of mainland China have been met by increasingly aggressive Chinese fighter responses. There’s also mention of lingering Chinese resentment over the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war. Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times find plenty of anti-U.S. sentiment in Chinese Internet chat rooms. The Wall Street Journal, which puts the story atop its front-page world-wide news box, mentions one factor that might mute China’s official indignation: Beijing’s desire to host the 2008 Olympics.

USA Today goes high with the Pentagon’s concern that 18 hours after the collision, it still hadn’t been able to contact the Navy plane’s crew. Both USAT and the LAT quote a U.S. admiral complaining that the island where the plane landed is “a place that has telephones.” The coverage reports that U.S. officials are inbound to that island. The NYT says they would seek to escort the crew out of the country and make sure the plane was not inspected or tampered with by the Chinese. The Washington Post quotes an unnamed “Western former military officer” predicting a “long standoff” over the plane, and an unnamed “former U.S. Air Force officer” (does the WP allow describing the same unidentified source as if they might be two different people?) saying that Chinese military officers would attempt to get a look at the plane’s “advance radar and surveillance devices.”

As to the Navy plane’s mission, the WP says Asian media report that most such flights are aimed at obtaining information about Chinese missile deployments. The LAT’s is the only headline calling the aircraft a “SPY PLANE.” The paper goes on to say that the aircraft contains “top-of-the-line electronic data-gathering equipment that can intercept telephone calls and e-mail as well as radar and fax data.” The paper also identifies the plane’s squadron, which Today’s Papers remembers used to have the motto “In God We Trust. All Others We Monitor.”

The fronts all feature follows on Slobodan Milosevic’s capture. The NYT headline says that the promise of a fair trial was crucial to his peaceful surrender. The WP big print says that the heavy defenses at his villa complicated his capture. And USAT reports that one key development was the withdrawal via underground tunnels of Yugoslav army troops who had been guarding Milosevic’s house. Inside, the papers report President Bush’s reaction: Congratulations to the Yugoslavia government but also insistence that Milosevic should be tried by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The WP reports inside that more than three dozen black business leaders plan to form a group to support the repeal of the estate tax. The group will be headed by Robert L. Johnson, CEO of Black Entertainment Television, who cited efforts by “very wealthy white Americans” such as William Gates Sr. on the other side of the issue as a reason for organizing. The paper has Johnson saying the “first generation of significant black wealth is threatened by the estate tax.” Johnson is also quoted saying that the black community’s support for repeal might give President Bush an opening to reach out to black business leaders.

The WP’s Jonathan Yardley finds interesting fault with a premise many college newspaper editors wielded in rejecting David Horowitz’s anti-slave-reparations ad, namely that advertising space is governed by restrictions and standards far different from those governing op-eds or editorials. Yardley notes that the Supreme Court, in handing down its majority opinion in the ground-breaking New York Times v. Sullivan decision, says this about the paid political advertisement at issue in that case: “That the Times was paid for publishing the advertisement is as immaterial in this connection as is the fact that newspapers and books are sold. Any other conclusion would discourage newspapers from carrying ‘editorial advertisements’ of this type, and so might shut off an important outlet for the promulgation of information and ideas by persons who do not themselves have access to publishing facilities.”

Yesterday’s LAT runs an opinion piece by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in which she is astounded that a recent report (false, she claims) that she and Steven Spielberg were planning to portray Abraham Lincoln as “a manic depressive racist” in a forthcoming movie project was published in the London Times and then picked up by the Drudge Report and then dozens of newspapers and then the Rush Limbaugh Web site, all without anyone–including the LT reporter–bothering to check with Goodwin or Spielberg.

You could help. Or you could turn the page. Ever alert to tragedy among its readership, today’s WSJ front tells the sad tale of Michael Schwartz of Tampa, Fla., who a year ago with a stock portfolio soaring to roughly $2 million, had gone into semi-retirement and looked forward to enjoying his spacious home on a canal near the Gulf of Mexico and to having his sons attend Ivy League schools. But not anymore. Things started going bad “as the Schwartz family celebrated its good fortune with a month long vacation in British Columbia.” Now, says the paper, because Schwartz’s portfolio was telecommunications-heavy, “it has lost more than half its value in the past year.” In other words, now Schwartz ONLY HAS ABOUT A MILLION DOLLARS IN SAVINGS AND CAN’T RETIRE AT AGE 50.