Today's Papers

Cowed by Vanity

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with a new U.S. demarche toward China over the reconnaissance/spy plane incident: a draft letter (not released to the press) that would have President Bush expressing regret without apologizing. The Wall Street Journal puts the development atop its worldwide news box. Both the Post (high) and the Journal (low) report the letter would say the regret extended to the U.S. plane’s landing on Chinese soil without permission. The Los Angeles Times reefers its Page 14 treatment of the crisis and leads with early returns from the city’s mayoral race. The paper’s top nonlocal story is the Netherlands becoming the first nation on the planet giving terminally ill people the full legal right to commit suicide and doctors who assist them complete legal immunity. Everybody else stuffs this. The LAT story contexts the large street protests against the legislative vote creating the new law by reminding that the Netherlands has already legalized gay marriage and that prostitutes there are not only legal but draw state-funded health and retirement benefits. USA Today fronts China, but leads with a story stuffed elsewhere: Attorney General John Ashcroft’s comments suggesting that he might approve broadcasting Timothy McVeigh’s execution (scheduled for next month) over a closed circuit for viewing by survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing and relatives of its victims. The paper also reports that Ashcroft is considering unspecified ways to minimize McVeigh’s ability to use such a broadcast to make any sort of terrorist statement.

The WP China headline refers to “SIGNS OF PROGRESS” while the copy beneath runs a quote from President Bush referring to “the stalemate” rather low. The subheadline over the NYT lead refers to Bush’s comment, as does the headline over the USAT fronter. The NYT has an unnamed senior administration official saying of the latest letter draft, “[W]e think we have done as much as we can possibly do.” Which, apparently, does not include sending in Jesse Jackson, who, says USAT, offered his services to the White House but was turned down.

The coverage notes that there is more than one faction within the Chinese government that must be satisfied by the U.S. proposal, with the military probably the most resistant. The NYT makes the point that there’s similar complexity on the U.S. side of the impasse, noting that while the White House and the State Dept. continue to stress the EP-3 crew’s comfortable surroundings on Hainan island, one unidentified senior military officer at the Pentagon told the paper, “They should have been back the day after they arrived … They’re not being treated as tourists on Hainan, that’s for sure.”

The NYT and USAT both report that the U.S. plane was flying on autopilot when the collision with the Chinese fighter occurred, which, says USAT, “virtually rules out the plane veering suddenly into the Chinese jet.”

The WSJ describes China’s interest in leveraging the incident into a discontinuation of all U.S. surveillance flights this way: “The effort is a favorite Chinese negotiating tactic: First establish cardinal principles, then everything that follows can be traced back to those principles, preferably in a way that exposes the insincerity of the negotiating partner.”

The NYT fronts word that Kmart has received thousands of calls and e-mails from customers urging it to reduce its purchase of Chinese goods, which has prompted the company to warn Chinese diplomats that it would have to soon seek new suppliers if the American aircrew isn’t returned. And the WP detects another related protest: The State Dept. ordered its employees to stay away from Monday night’s party at the Chinese Embassy.

The WP reports on a Pew Research Center poll concerning attitudes toward federal government funding of faith-based social welfare programs. Although three-fourths of respondents endorsed the idea in principle, they tended to be against participation by Muslim and Buddhist groups (46 percent were opposed), Scientology (52 percent opposed), and by the Nation of Islam (53 percent opposed). And 78 percent said religious groups participating in a government program should not be able to exclusively hire only those who share their religious beliefs.

The WSJ reports that today Amazon is expected to announce that it is effectively taking over Borders’ online operations.

The WSJ reports that the credit-rating service Moody’s has pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing justice by destroying documents during a federal antitrust investigation of the agency’s deal procurement and fee-setting practices. The company also accepted the resignations of three executives. The story reports the company will pay a $195,000 fine. What it does not report is the total value of the deals the government thought questionable. In other words, the reader ends up not knowing if Moody’s ended up being punished at all.

The WP’s Marjorie Williams detects phenomenal apathy among women-oriented groups about the recent reminder that lung cancer is killing far more women than breast cancer. She notes, for instance, that the latest Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues list of 30 health agenda items didn’t include smoking. And she details the vast array of women’s groups who take funds from cigarette companies. Williams notes that actually “smoking is the quintessential feminist issue” in that tobacco marketers prey on girls’ fears of being fat and use the imagery of women’s liberation.

The NYT runs an insider on a new Jerusalem-based phone hot line, which the headline (online at least) says is run by women counseling callers on “Family Purity.” The story mostly describes the training the women receive and how it’s a breakthrough that women are now beginning to get into this area, formerly dominated by male rabbis. Unfortunately, the story flunks Journalism 101 by waiting until the 13th paragraph to even begin to explain what the counseling is about: telling Jewish couples how to obey the Jewish law “forbid[ding] all physical contact between a married couple, including holding hands,” during menstruation and after childbirth, miscarriage, or certain gynecological procedures. The story waits until the 14th paragraph to say this pure period is 12 days a month and to the 15th to talk about the rules for determining which stains on a sanitary napkin mean the pure period is over and which don’t.

The Times’ Maureen Dowd is also on the purity beat today, much more effectively. She notes that even in this mad-cow mad world, increasingly women are getting collagen injected into their lips and faces even though most of the stuff comes from … cows. She quotes a leading New York dermatologist (female) saying, “I’ve never had a patient ask about a kosher cow. I’ve never had a vegetarian model object to bovine collagen. I’ve never had an animal rights activist object to cows getting killed for collagen. When it comes to cosmetic matters, women have a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell me, please!’ policy.”