Today's Papers

Namming Names

The Washington Post leads with President Bush’s pledge yesterday that the U.S. “would do whatever it took” to defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, including using the U.S. military. The story also tops the Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box. USA Today doesn’t front the comment but (its final edition) leads with the Pentagon’s conclusion that the crew of that EP-3 that landed in China did not destroy as much of its secret material as was initially believed, and that therefore the plane represents “a significant technological and intelligence windfall for the Chinese.” The New York Times does front Bush/Taiwan, but its top nonlocal story is yet a third China story (coming out more fully today in Nature and fronted by USAT): There, paleontologists have discovered a dinosaur fossil with clear traces of having been completely covered with feathers, the clearest evidence so far that birds stem from dinos. The Los Angeles Times goes above the fold with Bush/Taiwan but leads with a semi-national story, the decision by federal energy regulators to implement conditional temporary price caps on wholesale electricity in California that would go into effect only in an energy emergency.

Even though the coverage notes that later in the day, President Bush and a State Dept. official said that U.S. Taiwan policy had not changed, it also reports that his initial remarks suggested otherwise. The WSJ says that they had “sowed confusion,” and both the Journal and the NYT say they are “certain to further rile Beijing” (the Journal’s words), coming as they do on the heels of the EP-3 incident and a new U.S. offering of weapons to Taiwan. The papers ably explain the problem: Since 1979, the U.S. position has been to endorse “strategic ambiguity,” which is to suggest the possibility of a U.S. intervention on behalf of Taiwan without promising one, so as to perhaps deter China while not giving Taiwan a means of automatically pulling the U.S. into any conflict it might provoke with China over its status. The WP is alone in noting that four senior administration members once signed a letter advocating scrapping this ambiguity.

The papers themselves provide examples that Bush’s statements hardly eliminated vagueness. The NYT says that the president “did not go so far as to say that he would send American forces into battle with China” over Taiwan, although everybody else seems to think he did. And the WP concludes, “At the end of the day, it was unclear whether Bush had made a significant change in U.S. policy or had misspoken and did not want to acknowledge it.”

The papers are full of ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey’s revelation that a 1969 Vietnam raid he led as a Navy SEAL officer and for which he won a medal and was credited with killing 21 Vietcong actually resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen civilians instead, a story that first broke into print yesterday in the WSJ and the Omaha World-Herald. Kerrey says the deaths came inadvertently in a night firefight. The NYT Magazine is coming out with a story this Sunday (posted online last night) that includes charges by another SEAL on the raid that the civilians died after Kerrey ordered them rounded up and killed, and that Kerrey helped kill some of them. The Post fronter goes high to say that the remarks by Kerrey (who has not ruled out running for president in 2004) after 32 years of silence are “an effort to preempt” this more critical account. The NYT runs a fairly tough editorial, reminding readers that the purposeful killing of civilians was what happened at My Lai and is a violation of American military law, and that Kerrey once called Bill Clinton “an unusually good liar.”

The WP off-leads President Bush’s comment yesterday that he will have to scale back his $1.6 trillion/10-year tax cut because of resistance from some Senate Democrats. The story has another Bush switch: The president didn’t say no when asked on CNN if he would accept a budget with a 6 percent increase in spending, rather than the 4 percent he proposed.

The WP reports on a poll regarding U.S. attitudes toward Chinese-Americans. Large majorities of those surveyed (from 68-73 percent) believe Chinese-Americans are “taking away too many jobs from Americans” (Ahem–aren’t Chinese-Americans also Americans?), “don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind,” and “have too much power in the business world.” And 46 percent believe that “Chinese Americans passing on information to the Chinese government is a problem.” A full quarter of respondents were found to have “decisively negative” views of Chinese-Americans. The poll was taken before the EP-3 incident took place.

The WP reports that a self-described “former CIA narcotics officer” who was interviewed on CNN on two of its shows Monday was yesterday declared an impostor by the CIA. A CNN anchor read a statement from the CIA to that effect, but the network did not issue a retraction or apologize. The Post adds that the man had previously appeared on Fox News. According to the story, after doing some pre-interview due diligence, neither network had been convinced that the man was a fake. Today’s Papers could have helped: It thoroughly investigated the man’s claims and found them wanting nearly 10 years ago.