Today's Papers

National Missive Defense

The New York Times’ top nonlocal story is the Israeli tank assault on the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, being conducted, says Israel, to stop Palestinians who’ve been shooting at and mortaring Israelis in the adjoining town of Gilo. As was foreseen yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, the Israeli forces have given no indication of an imminent pullout, which is, says the NYT, “a new benchmark” in the Middle East crisis. USA Today leads with a July drop in the most common measure of U.S. consumer confidence, which the paper says was steeper than economists expected. The story also says that today the government is expected to downwardly revise U.S. second quarter growth, “to zero or even less,” reminding that such a negative quarter would be the nation’s first since 1993. The Washington Post goes with the latest SAT scores–finding that the average for D.C.’s college-bound seniors dropped sharply from last year, but that suburban and nationwide scores didn’t change much. The LAT leads with emerging concerns that the just-begun NATO mission in Macedonia will have to last longer than the planned 30 days. The story reports that on Tuesday, British troops there escorted residents back to homes they’d been forced out of by Albanian guerrillas–a mission that falls outside NATO’s stated aim of collecting arms from the Albanians–and that unnamed U.S. officials have already begun indicating that the 30-day term is just an estimate. USAT, the WP, and the LAT each front Beit Jala.

The USAT Beit Jala headline, “ISRAELI TROOPS WON’T RELINQUISH WEST BANK TOWN,” seems a bit misleading, in that Israeli officials said they would stay only until the shooting stops, a detail noted by the WP subheadline. The papers report high that Israeli soldiers took up a position inside a Lutheran church compound that includes an orphanage housing some 45 Muslim and Christian children. The LAT gives this aspect of the story the most space, while top-fronting a large picture of two small kids in front of an Israeli tank. The paper’s headline refers to “VILLAGERS TRAPPED.” The coverage gives less play to the situation of Gilo’s shot-at residents, with the LAT saving until near the bottom their expressions of approval of the Beit Jala operation, and the NYT going low with an elderly Gilo man’s expression of his fear.

USAT’s fronter goes high with the U.S. State Department spokesman’s call for Israel to withdraw from Beit Jala. The LAT plays this in the middle. The NYT breaks out State’s statement into a separate story inside. The WP puts it in the middle of its fronter, adding that although Colin Powell’s condemnation of an earlier Israeli incursion was followed by Israel’s quick pullback, yesterday he was silent.

The WP lead notes that the average verbal score for graduating seniors rose one point to 506, while the average math score stayed the same as last year’s 514. But the paper also uses part of its headline and early paragraphs to report on the increasing disparities among various minority students, noting a small decrease for blacks and Latinos, and a small increase for whites and Asians. Question: Why didn’t the paper break out the national scores for these different groups, so the reader could see for herself what small means? USAT’s online effort does precisely this: Blacks (V: 433, M: 426), Hispanics (V: 456, M: 460), Asians: (V: 501, M: 566), Whites (V: 529, M: 531). The LAT, is less specific than this, but a bit more forthcoming than the Post. Both USAT and the LAT report in some detail that women’s scores are falling further behind men’s, with the LAT making this the story’s headline. The WP merely buries a passing reference to this. The NYT SAT effort doesn’t quantify the race/ethnic differences and ignores the gender differences, but does have the money angle, noting that students from the highest-earning fifth of families achieved a V: 555, M: 567. Another question: Should the WP, which has a corporate connection to a major SAT test preparation company, mention that fact in such stories?

A WP op-ed by Geoffrey Forden, a senior researcher at MIT, reports that the U.S. government is giving another MIT scientist, Theodore Postol, a suspiciously hard time. Postol, a skeptic about national missile defense, wrote letters, using Defense Department information available on the Web, to then-president Clinton and more recently to Congress explaining why such a defense system could be defeated by the use of incoming decoys. But now the DOD has classified the letters as “Secret” and has ordered MIT to seize all Postol’s relevant research materials under the threat of losing its defense-related federal funding. Forden says this episode “raises serious concerns about how the government uses secrecy laws to suppress individuals who question policy.”

Cheek-by-jowl with Forden’s op-ed is another rather less convincing one, by WP columnist Robert Samuelson, who argues against the NYT’s choice of Howell Raines as its next top editor on the grounds that his now-concluding job as the Times editorial editor should “disqualify” him. Noting that the NYT editorial page under Raines “took stands on dozens of local, national and international issues,” Samuelson concludes, “Does anyone believe that, in his new job, Raines will instantly purge himself of these and other views? And because they are so public, Raines’s positions compromise the Times’ ability to act and appear fair-minded.” It follows from this of course, that any alleged facts put forward in this or any other piece by Samuelson are similarly tainted. And to anybody thinking of hiring Samuelson for an editor-in-chief job at any newspaper or magazine, it also follows that you shouldn’t bother trying, since Samuelson would obviously readily admit that his job history disqualifies him.