Today's Papers

Fetus Don’t Fail Us Now

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with the House’s approval yesterday of a bill that would make it a federal crime to harm a fetus while committing another federal crime against a pregnant woman. USA Today stuffs that, leading instead with a report, based on unnamed inside sources, that defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld will soon seek something like 10 percent to15 percent more in money for the Pentagon over the next six years than current plans call for. The paper says that Rumsfeld’s wish list includes more money for satellites and unmanned aircraft and for more B-2 stealth bombers, while retiring older bombers and de-emphasizing the role of ground troops, while contracting out to private companies many non-war-fighting activities like maintenance, supply and accounting. The Los Angeles Times fronts the House fetus bill but leads with criticism from California government officials and energy experts of Wednesday’s federally ordered power cost caps for the state. According to the paper, the day-after consensus is that the scheme is so flawed that power prices there will continue going up, because the caps don’t apply at all unless the power supply is officially deemed dangerously low, nor to rates charged by power vendors based outside California, and only loosely to brokers.

The coverage reminds that the House bill, which passed handily, is identical to one that passed there in 1999 only to stall out in the Senate while facing a veto threat from Bill Clinton, but that now with the change of administrations, the president would sign it. Advocates say it would help combat a growing trend of assault on pregnant women while opponents depict the bill (which explicitly does not apply to abortions) as the first step in an incremental campaign to erode abortion rights by incorporating into the law the concept that a fetus has rights. The papers say yesterday’s floor debate was particularly emotional. Both Times see no chance that it will pass the Senate any time soon. The papers completely overlook one question that gets at whether or not the bill is purely a means to the end of overthrowing abortion rights: What sorts of anti-women activities are federal crimes and what percentage of crimes against women do they constitute?

For a few days, stories on the Peru missionary shootdown have been quoting U.S. officials’ descriptions of tapes of the incident, and it has emerged that U.S. personnel on board a nearby surveillance plane expressed doubts that the missionaries’ aircraft was a drug runner. USAT is apparently the first paper to actually hear the tapes and today, it top-fronts its finding that three CIA crewmembers on that U.S. plane “repeatedly questioned” the assessment of the suspect plane and then “tried in vain” to stop the Peruvian jet from shooting. The story says that one of the CIA crew can be heard screaming, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

The WP reports that in the mid-1980s, a United Nations agency made shooting down any civilian plane not engaged in a military attack a violation of international law, but that the U.S. never signed on because some members of Congress and other officials worried it could be construed as an admission that the United States was subject to the International Court of Justice.

Both the NYT and WP front the new Japanese prime minister’s selection of a cabinet, both emphasizing how conspicuously his choices depart from traditional Japanese political mores in that he selected a record five women and several men in their early forties, and that to do so he had to leave some powerful political factions unrepresented. The LAT continues to seem out of synch with its city by again stuffing the day’s Japan politics story–on Page 12.

The WP and LAT both front pictures of ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey at the press conference he gave yesterday in response to a mounting controversy over a 1969 Vietnam raid he led and received a Bronze Star for, but which he this week admitted resulted in the deaths not of Vietcong but of a dozen or more civilians. The WP goes high with Kerrey saying he doesn’t care if the military takes away his Bronze Star. The story also reports that Kerrey conceded that the civilians’ bodies were found grouped together in the village center in a manner suggestive of an execution rather than a firefight. The Post reports that it tried without success to find out who wrote the Bronze Star citation crediting Kerrey’s SEAL team with killing 21 Vietcong, and that Kerrey said yesterday his superiors knew civilians had been killed but he could not remember if he had mentioned those deaths in his report. The LAT says Kerrey says he gave his superiors the information orally. The Wall Street Journal op-ed page has John McCain weighing in on behalf of Kerrey, explaining that war is corrupting and that readers “should be careful not to form your judgment of [Kerrey] on your understanding of what constitutes a war hero.” McCain also writes that Kerrey “would be the first to agree that his conduct, no matter how unintentional, did not merit commendation.” (Well, actually he wasn’t the first.) The LAT story emphasizes that the Pentagon said yesterday an investigation into Kerrey’s medal might be launched if it appeared based on a false report. The papers report that during the press conference, Kerrey said he wouldn’t be running for president in 2004.

USAT and the NYT report that Timothy McVeigh has, in a letter sent to a Fox News reporter, admitted considering, before deciding to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building, assassinating Janet Reno, a federal judge, or an FBI sharpshooter.

The NYT features an editorial that’s a perfect specimen of the genre’s slippery slopes. It addresses an important topic–humanitarian organizations’ efforts to free Sudanese slaves by purchasing them. The editorial says redemption “may be expanding the very market it seeks to eliminate,” and that it “may be a textbook case of good intentions gone awry” and that such efforts “are bound to fail unless Washington is prepared to lead a concerted international campaign to end the war itself.” But the reader is never told whether slaves should be freed through purchase or not. Even the headline–“Redemption of Sudanese Slaves”–gives no clue.

Back for a beat to an overlooked aspect of that CIA tape of the Peru shootdown: That tape is unquestionably classified. If the tape instead had on it CIA officers ordering a resistant Peruvian pilot to shoot down the missionaries’ plane, how many years and how many Freedom of Information Act requests would it have taken before any paper would have gotten to hear it? In other words, the USAT story is a reminder that classification rules only matter when the government wants them to.