Today's Papers

Beijing Duck

The Los Angeles Times leads with the capture in Venezuela of fugitive Peru spy-master Vladimiro Montesinos, who will likely be deported to Peru very quickly. The New York Times fronts Montesinos but leads with what the paper calls the House Republicans’ “new way” to block campaign-finance reform legislation that would ban soft money–appealing to liberal Democrats, and especially to blacks and Hispanics, who are concerned that soft money is crucial for minority voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. The Washington Post also fronts Montesinos but goes it alone with the Bush administration’s decision to remain neutral on China’s bid to win the 2008 Olympics. The story quotes an unnamed State Department official saying that China’s getting the Olympics might give China “a powerful but intangible incentive” to improve its human rights performance and to exercise restraint toward Taiwan. The paper also says momentum in Congress to take an Olympics stand against China “seems to be fading,” although it says many conservative Republicans in Congress disagree with the administration’s neutrality stance. USA Today’s lead is also missing from all the other fronts, including, oddly, the NYT’s: the likelihood that today, New York will become the first state to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, meaning that millions of drivers will have to buy headsets or dashboard mounts. Violators could be fined up to $100, but hand-helds would still be OK in an emergency. The story quotes a national highway safety association official complaining that there are other driving distractions–such as eating or changing the radio–that are more dangerous.

The LAT lead says that the FBI played a key role in Montesino’s capture, especially by gaining key information about his whereabouts from one of his allies in Miami. The NYT effort says this source gave the information after being arrested by the Bureau. The WP early edition fronter mentions the FBI role, but has no further details. The LAT story says the Montesino arrest makes it more likely that Peru can advance its transition to democracy and the rule of law and could mean more trouble for its former president, Alberto Fujimori, who fled to Japan in the wake of revelations about corruption involving him and Montesino.

The NYT fronts a conflict over a shipbuilding loan subsidy program that the paper sees as epitomizing the broader struggle now taking place in Washington over President Bush’s avowed goal to eliminate many business-related government support programs. The White House wants the ship program zeroed out while a bipartisan group of 38 senators led by Republican Minority Leader Trent Lott want to triple its funding in the next budget to $100 million.

The NYT fronts the dilemmas faced by 38,800 New York City families with the approach of a December federal welfare cutoff imposed by welfare reform’s five-year lifetime limit on federal cash by focusing on three sample families. The story says these families’ stories suggest that such cases are “far more diverse and complex than champions and critics of time limits expected–on the whole, they are neither the most recalcitrant nor the least resourceful of the poor.” The stories are admittedly heart-wrenching: They include a man trying to take care of three kids on $6 an hour and no benefits and a welfare mother forced to deal with a 9-year-old and a 14-year-old who’ve come down with tuberculosis they apparently got at school. But a lot of important questions go unanswered. Why, for instance, doesn’t the paper include at least one detailed example of a welfare recipient who is among the “most recalcitrant” and tell us how many of the 38,800 fall into that category? And why is the NYT so artful about some details in the stories it does tell that suggest the problems detailed are not the system’s fault? For instance, the reader doesn’t learn of the $6/hour man’s prior prison stretch or drug problem until the 15th paragraph. The story never says whether he’s married to the woman he has three kids with, and it waits until the 18th paragraph to mention that their family lost food stamps and a rent subsidy through a mix of “missed appointments” and bureaucratic errors, without ever giving any details. And while the story describes one of its profilees up high as “noncooperative,” it waits until the 24th paragraph to put any meat on that description by informing that she never attended high-school equivalency classes or ever showed up for welfare-to-work training. And even with this buried concession, the paper tries to paint over such inconvenient facts by reassuring the reader that “she always meant to” do these things.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page intrigues with a tale of a 4-year-old Cuban child trapped between Washington and Havana, where the mother died tragically and the surviving father just wants his child. No, it’s not Elian Gonzalez–it’s Giselle Cordova, whose father is in the U.S. after having defected from Cuba in Zimbabwe and whose mother was recently killed in a motorcycle accident. The paper is wondering why Fidel Castro and the National Council of Churches aren’t engaged with reuniting this child with its sole surviving parent as they were in the Elian case. That seems reasonable, but so does wondering where President Bush and his attorney general, John Ashcroft, are on this one, wonderings that wonderfully go unwondered.

The NYT debunks a Slate piece that purported to describe a monkeyfishing expedition in Florida. Following up on previous doubts raised in the WSJ’s and elsewhere, the paper calls the story a “fairy tale.” Slate has issued an apology.

The WP reports that the U.S. Forest Service is installing a $55,000 animatronic Smokey Bear in the lobby of its Washington, D.C., headquarters building. Smokey will not be depicted fighting forest fires. He will “sit with his feet propped up on the edge of a roll-top desk,” reading his mail.

A WPMagazine story yesterday (written by a woman, Liza Mundy) bravely blew the lid off covert operations apparently engaged in by scores of professional women. After they spend their “entire lunch hour” hitting a shoe or clothing sale, in order to protect their professional standing with their male colleagues, they then take elaborate steps to keep their purchases a secret. Two recommended techniques: 1) leave them at the guard’s desk; 2) repackage them in Staples bags.

A NYTMagazine story yesterday covering the senior prom at Los Angeles’ Crenshaw High School managed to be simultaneously lamely would-be hip and condescending-borderline-racist. The headline was “Girl, It Was Scandalous.” And one caption under a dance floor photo read, “Ebony, ‘freaking’ with her date, Marques Calcote, and Veronica, looking especially fine.”