Today's Papers

Innocent Until Peruvian Guilty

The Washington Post leads with fallout from the U.S. missionary plane shot down Friday after a Peruvian fighter jet mistook it for a drug-runner. The latest word has the Peruvian air force acting on an errant tip-off from a U.S. customs surveillance plane. An American mother and her daughter lost their lives in the incident, which comes just as the summit of the Americas is getting started in Quebec. Leading with the summit, the New York Times  weighs the significance of Bush’s opening pledge, which pushed for free trade but at least rhetorically linked its expansion to the deepening of democracy in Latin America. Fronting both the crash and the summit, the Los Angeles Times leads with an exclusive: advance word that the Federal Trade Commission’s Tuesday report will brutalize the recording industry for continuing to market “mature material” to children in violation of the self-policing agreement worked out last summer.

The WP lead reports that Peru’s aerial intercept operations are frequently prompted by U.S. customs surveillance and have played an integral role in stemming the flow of raw coca from Peru into neighboring Colombia. The story goes high with surviving passenger Jim Bowers’ charge that the Peruvian fighter shot without warning, killing his wife and infant daughter, and shattering the legs of the pilot. According to protocol diligently unearthed by the WP, the Peruvian fighters were required first to engage by radio, hand waving, and wing tipping before firing warning (read: non-fatal) shots. Peruvian officials insist that their pilots followed standard procedure, though (at least in print) offer no insight into Bowers’ account. None of the papers reveal whether this is the first time that Peru has shot down a suspected drug plane, while all make prominent mention that the interceptions have been suspended for the time being. Employing a distinction that must have seemed all too familiar, President Bush expressed sorrow for the victims of the crash but cautioned that it was premature to assign blame.

The NYT lead parses Bush’s vision of “an age of prosperity in a hemisphere of liberty” and finds cavernous wiggle room. Drawing on the lessons of the Seattle fiasco, Bush dispatched administration officials to meet with protestors, and linked any new accord to “a strong commitment to protecting our environment and improving labor standards.” Although such stipulations represent a symbolic break from free trade bravado, the NYT reminds that Bush has yet to articulate any specific minimum standards or explain how they’re to be enforced. The WP’s summit write-up goes high with Bush’s pledge to lobby congress for “fast track” negotiating authority that would preclude Congress from amending a trade agreement before voting on it. The paper sees the move as an attempt to stifle free trade’s Democratic opponents in Congress by simplifying the decision facing on-the-fence Republicans. The NYT takes particular note of Bush’s gushing praise for NAFTA, pushed through by his predecessor at “considerable political cost.”

While the FTC report sees progress from the film and video game industries, it accuses the recording industry of making little effort to repond to concerns voiced during Senate hearings last summer. The LAT lead highlights the contributions of John McCain, who as Commerce Committee chairman pushed the FTC to stick to its guns amid tepid White House support. It also notes the ongoing role played by fellow Election 2000 figure Joe Lieberman, who, the paper says, plans to introduce legislation empowering the FTC to prosecute when industries fail to live up to their word. The story goes low with the thorny constitutional issues raised by regulation that isn’t self-imposed, leaving the reader to wonder whether the FTC’s tough talk gives the recording industry cause for much concern.

On its front, the NYT checks in on the federal investigation of Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli, whose office has steadfastly denied that he took extensive steps on behalf of donor David Chang’s failed bid to acquire a South Korean insurance company. But the NYT finds Torricelli not only discussed the takeover with Korean officials, but actually brought Chang with him to a policy meeting during his visit to Korea, prompting a written apology from a sheepish U.S. ambassador. Sure to show the senator’s behavior “ruffled feathers” in Washington, the investigation still hasn’t unearthed anything that the NYT sees fit to pronounce as illegal–a fact Sen. Torricelli no doubt wishes the paper mentioned.

The NYT Magazine section buries its lead when, in an article profiling the New York Knicks, it waits until near the end to reveal the troubling (to say the least) comments of point guard Charlie Ward, a devout Christian who has brought his spirituality into the locker room: “Jews are stubborn, E. But tell me, why did they persecute Jesus unless he knew something they didn’t want to accept?” And then later, “They had his blood on their hands.” The Knicks open the playoffs today, but this story may well take the headlines off the court. For now, the NYT stashes news of the burgeoning controversy on Page 7 of the sports section today (after a similarly inconspicuous report appeared yesterday on Page D4).

Fighting in South Africa against relative unknown Hasim Rahman, Lennox Lewis suffered a knockout in the fifth round and lost his heavyweight title. The LAT runs a story from the Associated Press calling this “one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.”

Several state legislatures have empowered the courts to lock away sex offenders (in treatment centers) even after they’ve served their time, provided their psychological profile suggests they’re likely to “reoffend.” As a NYT fronted effort gets across, there is something decidedly Orwellian about such incarcerations, which are explicitly pre-emptive and unbounded in duration. The story is threaded through the personal narrative of Thomas Wilcox, a “soft-spoken delivery truck driver” who molested a 13-year-old girl and whom prosecutors sought to continue treating beyond his three year sentence. The piece raises some dark moral dilemmas, but tips its hand a bit by choosing Wilcox as its focal point. Not only is he painfully remorseful, but at the end of the day we learn that a jury denied the prosecution’s petition for extended treatment and opted to set him free when his time is up. Perhaps a report headlined “In Some States, Sex Offenders Serve More Than Their Time,” ought to present us with one who does.