Everybody leads with President George Bush’s speech yesterday announcing the United States’ intention to develop and deploy a missile defense system, which is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box.
The papers all see Bush’s speech as certifying a big change in U.S. nuclear strategy. But the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times seem the most alarmed, with the Post saying that Bush “withdrew the nation’s support yesterday from principles that have governed the world’s nuclear balance for 30 years” and the LAT seeing him as “abandoning both the treaty on which the global nuclear balance has rested for nearly 30 years and the underlying principles that have deterred nuclear war for more than five decades.” The treaty referred to is the 1972 pact the U.S. signed with the Soviet Union that still restricts the U.S. and Russia to only one anti-missile site each, far fewer than Bush envisioned yesterday. The papers agree that while Bush didn’t explicitly renounce the treaty, his remarks make it only a matter of time. Only the LAT lead gives a simple explanation of how the treaty is thought to have made the world safer: because if a country didn’t have the means to make itself invulnerable to nuclear attack, it would be less likely to launch one.
Only the New York Times and LAT go high with Bush’s additional proposal to unilaterally cut the number of U.S. nuclear warheads.
Everybody gives decent play to critics of Bush’s stance in Congress and in Europe, but other causes for concern get short shrift. The LAT lead waits until its eighth paragraph to mention costs (which the paper sets at more than $100 billion), the NYT waits until the 16th paragraph (far more than $60 billion), and the WP lead waits until the 18th ($200 billion or more). The Post mentions past test failures of a ground-based interceptor at the heart of the proposed shield in the eighth paragraph while the NYT lead waits until the 29th paragraph. The LAT lead never mentions them. The USA Today lead never gives a cost figure and never mentions the test failures. The NYT and LAT both mention that a missile shield would do nothing to stop a nuke or chemical/biological weapon brought in by a suitcase, but only in the late paragraphs. And only the LAT lead mentions the problem that an accidental launch of Russia’s huge arsenal would overwhelm the limited system Bush is proposing, but again waits until the story is almost over to do so.
The LAT editorial page weighs in harshly against Bush’s proposal, under the headline “WRONG DEFENSE, WRONG TIME.” The NYT lead editorial’s line is wait-and-see, although it says the impulse behind Bush’s plan is “reasonable” and lauds his call to cut the number of U.S. warheads. The WP lead editorial is enthusiastically pro, saying Bush had “recognized and cogently addressed both the changing global conditions that make a shield against missile attack more necessary and the technological and diplomatic obstacles that have hamstrung past initiatives.”
A second LAT fronter points out an uncontroversial feature of Bush’s proposal: It will benefit the dozens of defense contractors in Southern California.
Everybody fronts the agreement reached yesterday between the White House and Republican congressional negotiators on a total of $1.35 trillion in tax cuts over the next 10 years. This is less than President Bush’s original proposal, and which specific cuts from it will therefore have to be jettisoned remains to be worked out.
The NYT, WP, and LAT front an Alabama jury’s murder conviction yesterday of a former Klansman for killing four young black girls when he blew up their Birmingham church in 1963. Thomas E. Blanton received a life sentence. Key evidence: wiretap tapes that, reports the LAT, included Blanton’s comment that “I like to go shooting, I like to go fishing, I like to go bombing.”
The NYT, WP, and LAT also all front yesterday’s announcement that Louis Freeh would step down soon from being director of the FBI after eight years, with two years still to go on his appointment. The NYT quotes an unnamed former aide to Bill Clinton saying that Clinton, primarily irked over Freeh’s calls for independent prosecutor inquiries for various Clinton Cabinet officers and of Clinton’s own fund-raising activities, ending up thinking that appointing Freeh was one of the biggest mistakes he’d made. The paper notes that in Freeh’s resignation statement yesterday, he pointedly said Bush had “brought great honor and integrity to the Oval Office.”
The WP reports that four years after filing a $30 million libel suit against Matt Drudge, former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal has settled the case. The only money to change hands will be the $2,500 travel fee reimbursal Blumenthal has agreed to pay Drudge’s lawyer. Drudge had posted a false item suggesting that Blumenthal had beaten his wife, but a day later posted a retraction and apology. Note to print scolds: Please remember to include this result whenever you use Drudge as a poster child for irresponsible Internet journalism.
“Blew up, could blow up, what’s the diff?” The LAT has President Bush reporting part of a phone conversation he had with Russia’s Vladimir Putin before his missile shield speech: “I also made it clear to him that it’s important for us to think beyond the old days … when we had the kind of concept that if we blew each other up the world would be safe.”