Today's Papers

Bush Administration Sticks To Its Guns

The Los Angeles Times leads with China’s release of two U.S.-based Chinese academics it just convicted and sentenced to prison for spying for Taiwan. One of those released is en route to the U.S. The paper says this outcome “removes a major cause of tension” between the U.S. and China “at a pivotal moment” in their relationship. The Washington Post and New York Times front the China development but lead with the last-minute decision by House Republican leaders to postpone a vote on patients’ rights legislation because of their feeling that despite heavy lobbying–even from President Bush–they don’t have the votes for the version they favor, which puts more limits on patients rights to sue their health plans (both stories wait until the middle to mention this difference). USA Today fronts neither story, going instead with its report that law enforcement officials searching for Chandra Levy are now investigating whether a top aide to Rep. Gary Condit urged a woman not to speak to the police or FBI about the affair she alleges she had with Condit. This woman, who briefly was a Condit staffer in 1994, is the second to allege that Condit or his staff urged disavowal of an affair. The paper says authorities have more questions for Condit, who has agreed to meet with them again soon.

The LAT’s subheadline says that China’s release of the academics, coming one day after the expulsion of another Chinese but American-based academic also convicted of spying, “appears to signal Beijing’s desire for better relations with Washington.” The coverage emphasizes that the releases seemed to have been motivated by the arrival in Beijing Saturday of Secretary of State Colin Powell. And judging from the reaction quotes carried from Powell, the news seems to have considerably brightened his mood. Both Times quote him saying that U.S. relations with China are now “on the upswing.” The LAT quotes an unnamed U.S. official saying, however, that U.S. pressure on human rights issues in China would continue.

One strand of the story left unpulled by the coverage: The WP mentioned yesterday and repeats again today that the wife of one of the researchers just released appears to have been blocked from leaving the country by the Chinese government, which apparently has confiscated her Chinese passport and U.S. green card. But there is nothing in the Post about the U.S. government’s attitude toward this and no word of her at all in the LAT or NYT stories.

The WP alone fronts the Bush administration’s rejection of a proposed enforcement mechanism for a pre-existing international ban on bio weapons (that the U.S. has signed) that had been supported by nearly all the other 55 countries whose diplomats worked on it. The U.S. representative to those negotiations said the stance was taken because the lab inspections envisaged by the mechanism could lead to harassment of U.S. government laboratories and to the theft of industrial secrets. The story says that diplomats from some other countries feel this is the latest example of the Bush administration’s unilateralism in foreign policy.

The LAT is alone in fronting word that HUD has scrapped a Clinton administration program for buying back guns to get them out of public housing projects, a program credited with removing 20,000 weapons from circulation in its first year. The paper contexts this with the State Department’s recent opposition to a U.N. plan for international small-arms control and Attorney General John Ashcroft’s attempt to shorten the length of time the FBI can hold on to gun purchase records to conclude that “with surprising speed, the Bush administration is moving to reshape national gun policy in far-reaching ways. …”

The WP goes long inside to put pressure on the Bush administration’s contention that the White House counsel is the one who gets to decide whether Karl Rove’s various meetings with representatives of companies he held stock in violate conflict of interest laws and guidelines. The paper points out that in two cases similar to Rove’s that occurred during the Clinton administration–involving national security advisers Anthony Lake and Sandy Berger–the White House turned to the Justice Department for a ruling.

The NYT off-leads long with a “special report” on the failed negotiations between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, mediated by Bill Clinton at Camp David and later conducted by representatives of the two countries face to face. The piece tries to chip away at what it calls the “simplistic narrative” of the negotiations in which Barak offered Arafat “the moon” and Arafat turned it down. High up the piece says flatly, for instance, that Arafat never turned down “97 percent of the West Bank” as many Israelis believe, which would tend to support an importantly different narrative. But several thousand words later (and the reader is right to wonder about this delay), the piece says that at the face-to-face talks the “Israelis were talking about annexing 6 percent of the West Bank in exchange for land elsewhere that was equivalent to 3 percent. That would have given the Palestinians some 97 percent of the total land mass of the West Bank. …” The story reconciles these two statements by saying that Israel suspended the talks where the 97 percent offer was made because of its approaching elections. But did the Israelis rescind the offer? The story doesn’t say so. But if they didn’t, couldn’t Arafat have said at any time before the elections, “I’ll take 97 percent”? And since he didn’t, isn’t that pretty darn close to turning the offer down?