Today's Papers

Russian Missiles on the Way?

The New York Times lead reveals a new Bush administration initiative toward Russia, involving U.S. offers to buy some surface-to-air missiles, to provide some help upgrading long-range radar systems, and to participate in joint military exercises, all designed to win Russia’s cooperation in dropping the missile-shield-limiting ABM Treaty the two countries signed in 1972. The top national story at the Los Angeles Times is tomorrow’s scheduled meeting in California between President George Bush and Gov. Gray Davis. The paper, mindful of recent tensions between the two over California’s energy troubles, calls the get-together “the domestic equivalent of a peace summit.” The Washington Post, which fronts the Bush-Davis palaver, leads with the worldwide rise of the smuggling of humans across borders, most of it ultimately profiting major crime syndicates in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. One reason for the trend: The penalties for smuggling bodies are less stringent than those for smuggling dope. Nowadays, the preferred method of shipment is by sea, and an increasingly central locale in the trade is Turkey.

The NYT lead says that some of the new U.S. proposals for upgraded U.S.-Russia military cooperation have already been sketched out for some Russian officials and that the full package will be presented when President Bush meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month. The paper explains that the White House sees Putin’s consent as essential to dispensing with the ABM treaty not only because it would defuse objections from European countries but also because it could mollify a Senate whose military-related committees are about to come under the control of the Democrats.

The Times lead explains that proposing joint exercises and offering radar assistance is not a new U.S. move, but that previous efforts along these lines have not netted many concrete results. The story quotes one unidentified senior U.S. official admitting that the hardest thing to offer would be joint research and development. That’s because of Russia’s prior record of proliferation: “We wouldn’t be confident that the technology would stop with the Russians.”

The story says that the Russian weapon most likely to be sold to the U.S. as part of the plan would be the S-300 (also called the SA-10), which analysts liken to the U.S. Patriot missile. But the Times oddly downplays this part of the story in several respects. It never mentions that the U.S. has never bought military missile technology from Russia. It doesn’t say whether the U.S. is talking about the S-300 because it’s actually good enough to be fielded for missile defense or merely as a way of funneling money to the Russians as an incentive for them to go along with the deal–it only has one vague quote from an administration official praising Russian missile technology in general, and nothing from any independent missile expert. And perhaps most glaring of all, the Times delays mentioning that the S-300 is no better at missile defense than the Patriot until the 27th paragraph and never mentions that actually the Patriot has been proved horrible at it.

The LAT says that when he talks to President Bush, California’s Davis plans to push for federally imposed caps on wholesale electricity prices, something Bush is against. The paper points out that both men need to get out from under the state’s energy troubles, which are hurting both of them in the polls.

The NYT fronts word that a former FBI agent, Earl Pitts, convicted of spying for Russia in 1997, told bureau interrogators back then that he suspected Robert Hanssen, a top agent recently indicted for spying, of also working for Russia. The story says the FBI has confirmed that Pitts said this. Its official explanation for why Pitts’ lead wasn’t pursued very far at the time is that Pitts said his suspicions were aroused by Hanssen’s attempt to gain unauthorized access to an FBI computer, but the bureau knew of one such incident and had accepted Hanssen’s explanation that he was merely trying to show weaknesses in the system. However, the story suggests that Pitts told the FBI about a different incident and, what’s more, that he also told the FBI that his Russian handler “seemed to have insider information” about the FBI’s New York office, where Hanssen once worked.

On a day when many readers will be porking out, the LAT soft-serves a tasty feature about people (mostly, but not all, men) who enter cash-prize eating contests, apparently a growth area: There’s the top-of-the-hill Coney Island hot dog eating competition, and similar cram-ins of crawfish in Louisiana, smelt in Washington state, ribs in Texas, curd in Wisconsin, pancakes in Pennsylvania, and matzo balls in New York. One competitor reveals his regimen: “I train with my two dogs.” The story explains that the rules vary from event to event, but there’s one constant: “If you heave, you leave.”

The NYT’s Bob Herbert has an addendum to his column that says: “In an April 12 column about a prisoner who was freed after spending 14 years on death row, I referred to a pathologist who was the prosecution’s key witness, William Brady. I reported that Dr. Brady was later fired from his job as medical examiner in Oregon and, relying on court papers, noted that an investigation found that he had performed private autopsies using state facilities and had sold human tissue for profit. Dr. Brady subsequently sued his supervisor in connection with the termination. A jury upheld his claim, finding that the improprieties he was charged with in the investigation had not occurred. The verdict was upheld on appeal.” Even for a NYT correction (which this text is pointedly not called), this raises buck-passing to new heights. Note the strained attempt to make the inaccuracies of the prior column seem to be somebody else’s fault: Yes, Mr. Herbert, you relied on court papers, but as your column indicates, not on enough of them. And even though Herbert’s April 12 assertions about Brady performing private autopsies and selling human tissues were rejected by the courts, Herbert can’t bring himself to write either of two simple English sentences: “I was wrong” and “I am sorry.”