Today's Papers

EP Jeebies

The USA Today lead, about the Navy aircraft and crew sitting silent on China’s Hainan Island, says “US-CHINA STANDOFF HEATS UP.” Also, the paper fronts the Senate’s passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, which would, if the House goes along, ban soft money from political campaigns. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the reform bill and front the plane in China.

The papers all note that yesterday President Bush demanded that China immediately release the Navy plane and its crew. The NYT assesses him as “looking tense” when he made his statement, and the paper quotes an unnamed administration official saying that each hour that goes by without China’s returning the plane and crew “only makes things worse.” But the papers also note the administration’s conscious effort not to ratchet anything up. Both USAT and the LAT observe that U.S. officials have not harshly condemned China and that three U.S. warships initially in the region have moved on. The NYT quotes an unnamed senior administration official as saying of the Chinese, “we have to give them some time to come up with the right decision.” There’s a smattering of less patient quotes in the sheets from members of Congress.

The WP says nothing has been heard from the plane’s crew since it sent an initial mayday radio call after its collision with a Chinese fighter. However, USAT and the NYT describe a later transmission from the plane after it landed saying it was about to be boarded by Chinese military personnel. The WP cites an AP report, based on a remark of a Chinese sailor, that the crew had been moved to a “military guest house” and says that the U.S. has been assured they were in good condition, although in “military custody.” The U.S. ambassador is quoted saying U.S. diplomats would be seeing the aircrew on Tuesday.

The coverage includes much discussion about whether the Chinese should have and/or have had access to the intelligence equipment on the Navy EP-3. The coverage quotes the U.S. ambassador to China saying that the plane has “sovereign immune status” that bars its boarding or detention. And the NYT says that several experts in international law agree. But the Post mentions that in 1976 when a Soviet pilot defected in his fighter plane to Japan, the plane was only returned after being disassembled and inspected by U.S. experts. USAT has U.S. officials assuming the plane has been boarded. The WP has the CIA director saying, “If we were in a similar situation, we’d probably be on that plane, too.”

The coverage notes that intelligence-mission aircrews generally have a plan for destroying sensitive data and equipment, but the consensus is it’s not clear how much could have been accomplished before the plane landed. The LAT runs a good fronter on some of the intricacies of the process, pointing out that such devices as destruction grenades and burn bags aren’t much good on planes, for safety reasons. The NYT has perhaps the strongest authoritative statement indicating the likelihood of information compromise, quoting an unnamed senior Pentagon official saying, “You could not possibly neutralize everything on this aircraft that would be of interest to a foreign nation without destroying the aircraft itself.” Although the WP at one point mentions North Korea’s 1968 capture of the intelligence ship Pueblo, the paper doesn’t mention that not all sensitive material or equipment was destroyed in time by its crew. Nor does anybody mention that classified material was left behind in the Iranian desert after the U.S.’ aborted attempt to rescue hostages in 1980.

The papers’ roundup of the 59-41 Senate vote notes that it was Democrat-powered (all but three voted yea) with 12 Republicans coming along. It’s also widely observed that while President Bush hasn’t promised to veto the bill, the Senate totals fall short of what’s needed for an override. The coverage makes it clear that the outcome was primarily due to the political stamina of Sen. John McCain. Meanwhile, a WP fronter reports that after long hard days of debating campaign-finance reform, Congress members eager to bank soft money while it’s still legal are “working their donors ever more aggressively by night.” The story’s headline: “RAISE IT WHILE YOU CAN.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that before Dick Cheney left Haliburton Co. last summer, the oil concern paid its former CEO $806,332 in salary and a bonus of $1.45 million–“considerably more than he received for working a full year in 1999.”

Everybody goes inside with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision yesterday that a criminal suspect who has retained a lawyer in connection with one investigation does not automatically get to have the lawyer present when the police are questioning him regarding a separate crime, even if it’s closely related.

10:30, Channel 4: Terminator, starring Johnny Apple and Maureen Dowd. The NYT runs an “Editor’s Note” reporting that a TV listing from last Sunday’s paper for one movie carried a fictitious plot summary and named two employees of the Times as the stars, explaining that the text was dummy copy used for testing when the paper’s movie database was set up in 1998. The paper says that it is “frankly, speechless at the coincidence of the April Fool’s Day publication.” In hoary Times correction style, the note volunteers neither the phony plot nor the suddenly cinematic staffers.