Today's Papers

Foiled Again?

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the decision by the pharmaceutical industry (specifically, 39 leading drug companies) to abandon its lawsuit attempting to quash South Africa’s plans to make or buy cheaper versions of drugs used to combat AIDS and other serious diseases. The move, formally announced in a Pretoria, South Africa, courthouse, prompted jubilation from AIDS activists and various South African government officials. The Washington Post fronts the drug story but goes instead with something nobody else fronts: President George W. Bush’s announcement yesterday that the U.S. intends to sign an international treaty designed to protect the environment against the release of dangerous chemicals. The Post sees the move primarily in political terms, calling it the “fourth high-profile Bush initiative on the environment in four days,” and quickly reminds readers (even before explaining the chemicals treaty) of widespread criticism in the U.S. and elsewhere of the Bush administration’s recent decision to ignore the Kyoto global warming treaty. USA Today’s lead has Bush’s chief of staff Andy Card not including abortion when asked about Bush’s public policy priorities. Although Card says it is a “high moral priority” for the president, “I don’t believe he feels that he’ll be able to eliminate abortions.” The story concludes by suggesting that with the Senate as close as it is, Bush won’t risk the support of abortion rights-favoring Republican senators by nominating an opponent of Roe v. Wade to fill any future Supreme Court vacancy.

The papers seem to get a bit caught up in celebrating the South Africa drug development. The NYT lead saves until its eighth paragraph the thought that it seems unlikely to dramatically improve access to AIDS drugs in South Africa because the drugs will still be too expensive and because the misgivings often expressed by South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki about their safety may still be an inhibiting factor. Similarly, the LAT, although mentioning but not describing doubts about enhanced drug distribution in its lead’s subheadline, waits until the 14th paragraph to mention them again. And the paper waits a few more paragraphs after that to deliver the obviously relevant news that even if generic versions of anti-AIDS drugs could eventually cost as little as $300 a year, that would take every penny of what many South African AIDS sufferers earn. The WP South Africa fronter waits until its 7th paragraph before broaching its similar reservations, but the Post comes down harder than the others on the South African government and the country’s leading political party, the ANC, for foot-dragging on drug dissemination.

USAT is alone in fronting news that the State Dept. has warned Chinese-born Americans against traveling to China. State says detention is a particular risk for those who’ve written critically about the Chinese government or who maintain contacts with Taiwan. The story reminds that currently two Chinese who are U.S. citizens and two who are permanent U.S. residents are being detained in China, although the U.S. says they have done nothing wrong. And the NYT front is alone in reporting that last Sunday, Chinese police and troops opened fire on a gathering of unarmed farmers protesting local taxes and fees, killing two of them and wounding at least 18. The Times says the incident has not been reported in the Chinese media.

The Wall Street Journal reports that even though Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has promised to sell his large stock holdings in Alcoa (where he used to be the boss), he still owned about $100 million worth of the stuff last week when the share price went up 4 percent in a single day off news–suggesting an imminent lessening of aluminum supplies–that a federal agency, in an energy conservation move (which apparently O’Neill had nothing to do with) asked some aluminum smelters to shut down for two years.

The WP goes inside with a scientific panel’s finding that there is some evidence of a link between a soldier’s exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and his children’s risk for a rare but usually fatal type of leukemia. The secretary of veterans affairs has responded by saying he’ll seek congressional authority for disability payments to vets’ kids who have survived the disease. An AP story running at the WSJ online adds that President Bush has directed that such legislation be prepared. But as in almost all Agent Orange coverage, these stories dwell on the hazards experienced by the Americans exposed to the toxin accidentally and don’t breathe a word about the damage suffered by the children of the Vietnamese it was intentionally dropped on.

The LAT op-ed page features an essay by William Blinn, a TV writer, who makes a good point: If he’s entitled to praise for putting out positive messages in Fame and Roots (both of which he won Emmys for), why isn’t it also right that he be criticized for the countless scenes of violence he’s written (he also created and/or produced Starsky and Hutch and TheRookies)? He asks, “Do only positive portrayals have an impact?”

In case you’re wondering what groups can still be safely stereotyped by newspapers, please turn to the LAT editorial about today’s trade talks in Canada, the one headlined “A Free Trade Role Model, Eh?”