Today's Papers

Collision Courses

Everybody leads with the safe return of the EP-3 crew to the U.S. USA Today (“BUSH SCOLDS CHINA AS CREW RETURNS TO HERO’S WELCOME”), the New York Times (“WITH CREW IN U.S., BUSH SHARPENS TONE TOWARD CHINA”), and the Wall Street Journal (“ITS FLIERS SAFE ON U.S. SOIL, WASHINGTON TO GET TOUGH WITH CHINA IN MEETING”) emphasize tough talk from President George Bush while the Washington Post (“RETURNING CREW TELLS OF COLLISION”) and the Los Angeles Times (“CREW WAS SURE ALL WOULD PERISH IN WILD PLUNGE”) focus on the harrowing details of the plane’s collision with a Chinese fighter.

Everybody quotes President Bush’s remark yesterday that “The kind of incident we have just been through does not advance a constructive relationship between our two countries” and his promise that at meetings next week with the Chinese to take up residual issues relating to the incident, the U.S. attendees will raise “tough questions.” The WSJ has the most detail on what other more lasting forms the administration’s toughness toward China might take: a reduction or suspension of exchange programs with the Chinese military, curtailing diplomatic contacts, and perhaps even canceling Bush’s planned fall trip to Beijing. The Journal quotes an administration source as saying, “There will be a price.” The NYT lead is alone in pointing out a second audience for Bush’s remarks besides the Chinese–the “right flank of his own party.”

The coverage shows that China isn’t budging either. The LAT reports that Premier Zhu Rongji told a high U.N. official that “all responsibilities for the incident lie with the U.S. side” and that a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said China might bring up the issue of compensation for its lost pilot. And China has repeatedly called for a halt to the U.S. reconnaissance flights, but Bush yesterday said they will continue.

The WP says the initial debriefings of the U.S. crew revealed that the plane and crew’s lives came much closer to being lost than had been believed previously. Apparently, the collision with the Chinese fighter damaged two of the U.S. plane’s propellers, many of its essential flight instruments, and its flaps (which are crucial for slowing a plane down). The NYT says that immediately after the collision, the U.S. craft was “virtually inverted” while the WP differs by 90 degrees in having the plane “standing on its left wing.” Both the LAT and the WP report the crew had prepared to bail out but that the plane’s chaotic descent made that impossible. The Post says that as soon as the pilot, Navy Lt. Shane Osborn, regained control of the airplane, he began broadcasting a “Mayday” call, which he repeated 10 times. The paper says that although he repeatedly asked Chinese authorities for permission to land, he “did not seem to get any answer.” But the paper adds that Osborn told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a 10-minute phone call that could have been because holes in his plane caused by the collision generated a lot of noise in the cockpit.

The NYT and WP front President Bush’s decision yesterday to accept Clinton administration safeguards giving patients sweeping new access to and control over their medical records. But as both stories point out, the decision means a new struggle over the details because Bush said his view is that the rules could be revised or clarified to address the (primarily cost-based) concerns of the health care industry.

After nearly a week, violent demonstrations in Cincinnati, a reaction to the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, finally make the fronts, at the LAT and WP. A citywide curfew has been imposed, and the local police presence has been augmented by some state troopers. The mayor has acknowledged “a very legitimate and real problem with race relations.”

The LAT fronts two new studies about rising ocean temperatures, coming out today in Science (which are stuffed in the other majors), providing some of the strongest evidence yet that humans are to blame for global warming. Even as recently as a year ago, the paper reports, one of the lead investigators was reluctant to conclude that increasing greenhouse gasses were the main cause of ocean warming, but the data is so good in the latest research that it “looks faked.”

USAT fronts a Census report released yesterday indicating that the traditional nuclear family–a married mom and dad living with their biological children–is making a comeback. The report’s author thinks the explanation may be baby boomer women waiting longer before marrying and having children. The paper reports that in 1991, 51 percent of U.S. children lived with both biological parents, but in 1996, that had climbed to 56 percent.

According to the WP, yesterday two leading consumer groups asked the government to ban sales of the Megga Surprize–which beneath a layer of chocolate contains a plastic egg filled with paper toys–because they are worried about kids choking to death. But the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission will not take any action because the thingies are over the government’s anti-choke size minimums. And hey, says the Megga CEO, what about Legos?

The China/plane coverage notes that several state-run Chinese newspapers have run headlines declaring that the U.S. had apologized for the incident, even though it hasn’t. The WSJ offers a closer look at how the official Xinhua news agency played statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell to maximum effect. Apparently key is slicing and dicing quotes and never using ellipses–

Powell: “We do acknowledge that we violated their airspace, but look at the emergency circumstances that the pilot was facing. And we regret that, and we’ve expressed sorrow for it, and we’re sorry that happened. But that can’t be seen as an apology accepting responsibility.”

Xinhua: “Appearing on CBS television’s Face the Nation program Sunday, Powell said: ‘We do acknowledge that we violated their [China’s] airspace. And we regret that. We have expressed sorrow for it. And we’re sorry that that happened.’ “

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Powell: “… there is a widow out there, and we regret that. We’re sorry that her husband was lost no matter what the fault was.”

Xinhua: “The secretary also repeated his regret over the loss of a Chinese pilot in the April 1 spy-plane incident. He said that ‘there is a widow [the wife of missing Chinese pilot Wang Wei] out there, and we regret that. We’re sorry that her husband was lost.’”