Today's Papers

I Want My NTV!

All the papers lead differently today. The Washington Post leads with (and the NYT and LAT front) the takeover of the Russian television network NTV–the country’s only major independent news network–by Gazprom, a state-controlled energy corporation. The New York Times goes with the announcement yesterday by a Navy court of inquiry that the skipper of the U.S. Greenville will not be tried by a court martial for the sub’s collision with a Japanese fishing vessel. Instead of a jail sentence, the skipper, Cmder. Scott D. Waddle, is likely to receive some form of reprimand that will “effectively end his career and could reduce his retirement benefits.” And the Los Angeles Times previews an analysis by congressional Demos to be published next week that finds that the long-term cuts in President Bush’s domestic budget–especially in the environment, community development, and law enforcement–will be considerably greater than the proposed cuts for next year. According to the Democrats’ numbers, to provide favored education and medical research spending, the Bush administration’s budget will shortchange the current level of funding for other domestic programs by $78 billion over the next decade. A spokesman for the Bush administration dismissed the findings as erroneously based on “place-holding estimates” for domestic spending that the administration plans to revise.

The NTV media coup occurred early yesterday morning in Moscow as a security force hired by Gazprom’s director forcibly (but peaceably) seized the network headquarters, ending a standoff that began 11 days ago when Gazprom, which owns 46 percent of NTV, voted in new management. Critics call Gazprom’s seizure of NTV “the culmination of a year-long campaign to silence the one network that has aired critical reports about Russian President Vladimir Putin” (WP). NTV journalists had been barricaded inside the studio since April 3 in protest of the management shift. In response to yesterday’s takeover, dozens of NTV correspondents quit and then set up camp across the street in the offices of TNT, an affiliated cable channel where they resumed their broadcast and briefly pirated NTV’s signal to do so. Boris Jordan, picked by Gazprom as NTV’s new director, claimed the takeover was not planned by the government, but rather necessitated by NTV’s financial mismanagement.

The NYT gives more play than the rest to Jordan’s own spin on the coup–namely, that the network’s previous owner, Russian media tycoon and former Kremlin insider Vladimir A. Gusinsky, used the station (the “bastion of an oligarch”) to smear political enemies while lining his pockets. The new management, as Jordan sees it, will free the network of shareholder interest. The LAT quotes a former NTV staffer’s pithy response to Jordan’s spin: “He’s too disgusting to even listen to.” The coverage notes that negotiations are pending to relocate NTV’s “rebel staff” (WP) and its most popular anchor, Yevgeny Kiselyov, to TV6, a smaller, independent Moscow channel.

The NYT lead reports that the Navy’s announcement will probably “trigger anger and resentment in Japan” and outrage among the victims’ families. The exact punishment will be decided by Adm. Thomas Fargo, the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, who must be careful not to further irk Japan or to demoralize his fleet by scapegoating Comdr. Waddle. The three admirals heading the public inquiry heard from over 33 witnesses over the course of the investigation and considered charges ranging from “dereliction of duty” and “subjecting a vehicle to hazard” to negligent homicide, a felony carrying up to 10 years in prison. The testimony revealed a host of operational errors and safety violations aboard the sub the day of the accident. During the inquiry, Comdr. Waddle expressed remorse over the collision to the victims’ families; Waddle’s lawyer conveyed his client’s plans to retire from the Navy after the punishment is determined.

All the papers go above the fold with photos of yesterday’s homecoming of the EP-3E crew, which was met by family and thousands of well-wishers at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state. The WP’s and LAT’s coverage of the emotional celebration highlight the comments of the plane’s pilot, Lt. Shane Osborn, who countered China’s assertion that the collision was caused when his plane made a sharp turn into the Chinese fighter jet. According to Osborn, the EP-3E was “straight, steady” and on autopilot when the Chinese jet closed to within “three to five feet,” finally striking his plane and forcing him to make a harrowing emergency landing. Osborn added, “I’m here to tell you we did it right. No apology is necessary on our part.”

In a related front, the NYT gauges the increasingly chilly political climate between China and the U.S. and reports that China hopes to use the recent imbroglio as leverage to influence President Bush’s forthcoming decision about the sale of arms to Taiwan. Specifically, China wants to stop–or at least delay–the sale of Aegis-equipped destroyers, Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems, and submarines. China contends that the sale of such sophisticated weaponry would not only encourage Taiwan to resist China’s efforts to reunify Taiwan in years to come but would also violate an 1982 American-Chinese agreement in which the U.S. promised not to increase its arms sales to Taiwan.

The NYT off-leads a burgeoning trend of phased retirement in the workplace, whereby companies in the private sector offer workers in their early 50s (who might normally retire early) the chance to work reduced hours and supplement their decreased income by tapping their pensions. The benefits of such arrangements: 1) Many 50-something workers want to continue working, and 2)companies get to maintain experienced labor in a tight market while keeping their retirees from getting a new job with a competitor. Other, more skeptical retirement analysts suspect a plot to get workers to cash out their pensions at the time they (the pensions) tend to mature most rapidly.

The Real World-Cincinnati: The WP and LAT reefer the open-casket funeral yesterday of Timothy Thomas, the 19-year-old black man whose death at the hands of a white Cincinnati police officer ignited three nights of rioting in the city this past week. Thousands of mourners, mostly African-Americans, gathered inside and outside of the New Prospect Baptist Church. The city’s mayor and Ohio’s governor called for a “new Cincinnati”; a spokesman for the Nation of Islam encouraged the crowd to “Get angry and register to vote”; and a representative from the New Black Panther Party told the mourners that the week’s violence was a “righteous, divinely ordained rebellion”  (LAT). The WP adds that Thomas was the 15th black person killed by Cincinnati police since 1995 and the fourth since November.