Today's Papers

Recon Games

Everybody leads with state-of-play coverage of the spy/reconnaissance plane in China. The USA Today headline refers to the intensifying talks between the two sides’ representatives, with the story seeing them as edging closer to a diplomatic solution for freeing the aircrew. The Washington Post’s headline says that President Bush’s expression of regret (run by everybody) over the apparent death in the incident of a Chinese pilot had helped to “ease China tension.” The New York Times headline has “BUSH AIDES SAYING SOME HOPE IS SEEN TO END STANDOFF.” The Los Angeles Times, benefiting from its later closing deadline, headlines China’s positive reaction to Bush’s statement–“VISIT WITH CREW OK’D AFTER BUSH OFFERS ‘REGRET.’ ” The Wall Street Journal’s headline is the least cheerful: “U.S. EXPRESSES HOPES FOR A SOLUTION, WHILE CHINA SENDS MIXED MESSAGES.”

USAT, the WP, NYT, and WSJ mention that U.S. and Chinese diplomats are discussing the possibility of using a pre-existing maritime commission as the vehicle for investigating the air collision and Chinese complaints about coastal U.S. reconnaissance flights. The NYT observes, however, that to this point, China has been represented in the talks by its Foreign Ministry, which is more supportive of maintaining good relations with the U.S. and less powerful than the Chinese military, which the paper says will have to be a party to whatever agreement is hammered out.

The NYT reports that President Bush has “instructed his staff to tone down anti-China rhetoric” and that this was being heeded “even [at] the Pentagon, where anger over the collision runs high.” The WSJ “Washington Wire” makes a confirming observation: that during the crisis, hawkish Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has not been heard from. The Pentagon seems to be venting its animus mainly through briefing reporters on the missing Chinese pilot. An LAT fronter reports that he was “well-known as ‘cowboy’ who aggressively pursued spy flights,” and a NYT fronter is headlined “CHINESE PILOT REVELED IN RISK, PENTAGON SAYS.” (Risk-taking jet pilots! Outrageous!) Both stories report that on a previous intercept of a U.S. plane, this pilot held up a piece of paper with his e-mail address on it.

Among the encouraging signs, the WP and LAT note that the Chinese media seem to be moderating the anti-U.S. tone of their coverage, and the authorities are discouraging street protests, something they did not do after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade two years ago. On the other side of the ledger, the LAT and WSJ go high with reports that the Chinese have already started interrogating the U.S. aircrew, with the LAT saying that U.S. officials “expressed anger” over this and adding that these officials weren’t optimistic about quickly winning the crew’s freedom.

The WP and NYT front word that the secretary of agriculture yesterday reversed a proposal that had been previously announced by her department (and widely reported) that would have eliminated salmonella testing on ground beef to be served to kids in federal school lunch programs. She said she had never approved the proposal. The LAT runs the story inside, but its little front-page reefer has something the other stories do not emphasize: It says the decision came “after lawmakers and consumer groups complained …”

The LAT fronts a statewide TV address last night in which the governor of California, Gray Davis, dropped his opposition to increases in the prices consumers would pay for electricity, endorsing a tiered increase plan targeting heavy users. Davis also for the first time said that his state has an “energy crisis.” The story also reports that consumer advocates see the plan as a customer-financed bailout of the state’s mismanaged private utilities.

The papers go inside to report on continuing violence between Palestinians and Israelis. The two most significant incidents: 1) After a meeting with their Israeli counterparts, a car-convoy of Palestinian security officials got into a firefight with Israeli soldiers. Both sides say the other started shooting first. 2) A top official of Islamic Jihad was killed when a bomb went off in the public phone booth he was using. The NYT reports Palestinian charges that this was an assassination while the Post just flatly calls it this.

The WP and LAT front yesterday’s huge stock market surge. The LAT says the catalyst for the rally was positive earnings news from Dell and Alcoa. The Post says “the more likely explanation is simply that no one knows.”