Today's Papers

Artificial Bush Marks

All three papers brim with stories on the first 100 days of the Bush presidency. While the Washington Post leads with a story on the optimistic outlook of the world economy, its Bush fronter tries to gain a better understanding of the dual perceptions of the president.  The New York Times lead story implies that the president is a quick study and offers evidence that he’s toning down his Texas tune. The Los Angles Times leads with polling data to assess the Bush beginnings.

The WP’s “A QUESTION OF CAPITAL” shows how assessments of Bush are contradictory: He is either an engaged tactician or a passive administrator. The article acknowledges, but does not elaborate, on what seems to be the central difficulty of reporting the story: The problem of wringing information from the loyal Bush staffers who are intent on “dispelling suspicions that he is less than fully in command of his own presidency.” While Bush’s detractors question his involvement, his aides, and the president himself, respond that the White House is merely conserving “political capital.” The contrast between Bush’s public and private personas may lie in his obvious unease in front of the TV lights. In private, with his Cabinet and more junior aides (presumably according to these very aides), there’s little doubt about Bush’s command of the issues or his penchant for cutting off long-winded staffers, not to mention rolling Secretary Colin Powell or Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. One example of Bush’s aggressive style: his discussion with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, when he challenged the German leader on his own energy policy and pointedly asked, “Where are you going to get your energy in the next 20 years?”

The NYT’s lead, “IN FIRST ONE HUNDRED DAYS, BUSH CHECKED HIS SWAGGER,” deals less with the two supposed Bush personas and gives more attention to the administration’s celebrated discipline and its successes on taxes and the unexpected showdown with Beijing. The brunt of the NYT’s coverage is that Bush is willing to bargain on issues that were once considered non-negotiable, like the exact size of the tax bill or drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. While Bush is certainly affable with the opposition, there are signs that his charm is sputtering out. Many Democrats will not be attending Monday’s 100 day celebration at the White House.

The LAT runs two front page stories on the first 100 days: The lead, “BUSH RATES WELL EXCEPT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT,” analyses his approval ratings; a separate article, “AT 100 DAYS AND COUNTING, BUSH’S STAR IS ON THE RISE,” echoes the president’s own self-assessment of  “pretty darn good.” Next to the lead, the LAT plops a graphic that compares Bush’s national number with his California ones: His 57 percent approval rating slips to 54 percent; and on handling the environment, his 41 percent national support falls to 33 percent. 

The WP actual lead story relays the sentiments of finance ministers and central bankers from the leading industrial countries that the world economy is fundamentally “sound.”  The story goes high with a suggestion that their economic optimism and general good spirits may have been buoyed by the absence of the globalization protestors whom they seem to encounter at most of their gatherings.

The WP reports that European allies are struggling to make sense of the new Bush team. While most of the “left-of-center news organizations” were aghast at his rejection of Kyoto, Europeans are comforted by the seasoned hands in the administration and Bush’s handling of the spy plane situation. Still, Germany’s Der Spiegel calls him “the little sheriff.” In the last paragraph, the article speculates about a widening cultural gap on “value issues” as Europeans cannot understand America’s support for the death penalty or its environmental policies. 

In yet more Bush assessment, the WP goes inside with a list of campaign pledges and their status. 

The NYT Magazine article on ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey’s Navy SEAL squad and the killing of over a dozen women and children in a firefight during the Vietnam War continues to make news. The WP and LAT carry front page articles on the subject and both articles raise questions about the NYT’s sourcing. The WP reports that six of the seven members of “Kerrey’s Raiders” gathered at Kerrey’s New York home Friday night to discuss their recollections of the 1969 raid. After the “extraordinary” meeting, they issued a statement that disputes the account of the seventh member of the team, Gerhard Klann, who was not invited. The nearly 8,000 word NYT piece, written by a former Newsweek (which passed on the story) reporter, Gregory L. Vistica, airs the version of Klann, who maintains that the SEAL team was involved in a My Lai-type massacre. While the WP seems to be siding with Kerrey, the LAT goes with a report from the village of Thanh Phong and quotes two villagers, who claim to have witnessed the massacre, that corroborate the Vistica/Klann version of an event 32 years past. 

The WP carries a front page story on the controversy surrounding the drug Sarafem, an antidepressant that is aggressively marketed to women who suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe version of premenstrual syndrome. The challenge for phychiatrists is differentiating between common PMS and PMDD. The controversy over whether PMDD stigmatizes women by characterizing them as having a mental illness once a month is fanned by a new ad campaign by the drug’s owner Eli Lilly. Is Eli Lilly trying to guide the medical research in favor its drug? Chemically, Sarafem is identical to Prozac (also owned by Eli Lilly), which raises other issues about treating two different conditions with little more than a different brand name. 

The NYT fronts a story about a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Mexican laborers who worked in the U.S. during World War II and never received any of the money that was deducted from their paychecks. “I don’t even know for a fact that anybody got their money back,” say Manuel Garcia y Griego, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. The laborers, known as braceros, began coming to the United States in 1942 and worked in the agricultural and railroad industries possibly until 1949. Following the strategy of the successful lawsuit brought against the Swiss banks by Holocaust survivors, this Mexican legal challenge gives shape to an issue of longstanding complaint. The lawsuit, which names both the U.S. and Mexican governments, as well as banks in both countries, comes at time when the two countries are working to establish a guest worker arrangement that allows Mexicans to work in America for part of the year.

Spies like us:  Richard Hanssen was apparently throwing lots of his Russian spy money at an area stripper, Priscilla Sue Galey, whom he met at her place of work in 1991, according to a WP front-page article. Before he lavished her with a car, a computer, cash, and jewelry, he ran a background check “to make sure she was clean.” But Hanssen was not interested in sex. No, this spook wanted to bring her closer to God, she says. The double agent was hardly leading a double life, and he made no secret of his happy family life during their strolls along the mall, trips to Washington’s art galleries, or lunch at those fancy restaurants where the prices are not listed on the menus. And yet the money was always there: help with the rent, electricity, and dental bills and of course tickets to see Aerosmith with her sister. Whenever she asked Hanssen about matters, he would joke, “I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.”