Today's Papers

Letter My People Go

Everybody leads with China’s release of the EP-3 crew, which has been flown to Hawaii on a commercial aircraft.

The coverage explains that the proximate cause of the release was an English-language letter over the signature of the American ambassador to China tendered to the Chinese foreign minister. It stated that the U.S. was “very sorry” for the loss of the Chinese pilot in the collision and “very sorry” for entering Chinese airspace and landing on China’s Hainan Island without permission. The Washington Post calls the letter an “exercise in linguistic gymnastics.” The Los Angeles Times says that every word in it was negotiated by ranking officials on both sides. And both the Post and LAT report that the key edit was the insertion of the two “very sorry”s some time within the previous 48 hours. It’s noted that the Chinese referred to the document as a letter of apology, which was what they had demanded all along as the condition of the crew’s release. The Wall Street Journal, in reporting this, adds that neither Chinese officials nor China’s state-run TV released the actual text of the letter. (Although, the paper points out, it’s only a matter of time before that text shows up on Chinese Web sites.) The WP sees flexibility not just on the Chinese side but also in the U.S.’ seeming abandonment of its original claim that the Navy airplane was sovereign U.S. territory, which had to be returned immediately. The status of the plane will be discussed, say the papers, at meetings between the two sides to be convened next week. The LAT says the letter stopped “just short” of the formal apology China had been demanding, but “went much further than the original U.S. position.”

The New York Times lead goes high with the anti-U.S. sentiment expressed by “ordinary Chinese,” who formed a small crowd of protest outside the building where the U.S. crew was staying, and chooses high placement for this quote from a laborer: “If Mao were still around, there would have been a war.” The WP lead has a similar quote from the same person but plays it near the bottom.

The NYT lead editorial says that the “administration performed well.” The WSJ says President Bush’s handling of the incident showed more restraint and attentiveness to China’s sensitivity than expected. The LAT says his performance in the crisis drew “bipartisan praise” on Capitol Hill, adding that he had been able for the most part to persuade congressional critics of China “to hold their tongues.” And the WSJ gives a concrete example, reporting that at one point Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld–himself hawkish but quiet during all this–convinced Sen. John Warner to call several reporters back to retract his description to them of the plane’s crew as “prisoners.” Journalism question: On the assumption that Warner’s original remarks were on the record, why did reporters go for this? Or at the very least, why did all of them go for this?

A WP insider says, based on the comments of an unidentified “senior U.S. defense official,” that the U.S. plane’s crew “destroyed or jettisoned the most secret documents and equipment” while en route to its emergency landing. The official tells the paper he doubts that the Chinese will get much out of the plane’s surviving equipment: “It’s a pig looking at a watch.”

The NYT and LAT front a line item from the Bush budget in which the Bush administration has asked Congress to set aside for at least a year the part of the Endangered Species Act that allows citizens’ groups to use the courts to consider whether a given species should be added to the endangered list. Bush Interior officials explain that the move would allow the agency to establish its own endangerment classification priorities. The LAT says that more than 90 percent of the species listed as endangered or threatened in California in the last nine years gained that protective status via citizen petition and/or court action. The WP, which runs the Interior item inside, runs another budget-nugget insider revealing the administration’s desire to drop the provision that currently provides federal employees with health insurance coverage for a broad range of birth control methods.

The LAT is alone in fronting an Israeli tank and bulldozer assault deep into Palestinian territory on the Gaza Strip, the first such ground attack since the renewed Palestinian uprising started last fall. The Israelis claim their goal in demolishing more than two dozen homes–an action that led to a four-hour firefight with Palestinians–was to take out positions responsible for increasing uses of mortar fire against nearby Israeli communities.

The WSJ fronts the latest trend for police dogs: steel or titanium caps for their broken teeth. The story gives the economic argument: The dogs’ training costs around $50,000, and dogs with uncapped, broken teeth stop being effective because the biting hurts them, not the bad guys. Plus a mouth featuring metal is much more intimidating, which can help defuse a situation. The story features this quote from an ACLU rep: “Innocent bystanders see these dogs, too. Do they deserve to be scared by bionic police dogs?”

A WP “Style” section piece says that Washington, D.C., is “An Easy Target for Politicians, Media.” And an easy payday for Sally Quinn, who apparently produced the 3,700-word piece by having a party in which the admission fee was a lame quote. Today’s Papers’ favorite is one from former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein, which must have made Quinn feel just yummy about herself, in which he says the people who migrate to Washington are “the cream of the crop. You don’t get elected class president unless you’re good. You don’t get elected to Congress unless you’ve been through the wars, or get into the Senate or the Cabinet or the presidency unless you’ve got good things going for you. There are nothing but high achievers here.”

“If you know what I mean.” The WP reports that President Bush’s appointment of openly gay Steve Evertz to run the White House AIDS office is drawing criticism from social conservatives. The story quotes the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, as saying that the appointment is “monumental–the White House is the highest visibility point in the world. We don’t want this to become the leak in the dike.”