Today's Papers

Presidential Priority: Job Protection

The New York Times (online at least) leads with last night’s decision by the United States and Israel to walk out of the U.N. racism conference, prompted by a proposed conference document referring to “the racist practices of Zionism” and calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “a new kind of apartheid.” The pullout is fronted by all the other majors save USA Today. The Los Angeles Times leads with Hewlett-Packard’s late Monday announcement that it will buy Compaq, which would create the No. 2 computer company (behind IBM, measured in sales) controlling about 70 percent of the retail PC market. H-P is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page business news box and is fronted by USAT’s final. The Washington Post lead is that White House officials are saying for the first time that the economy is the most important issue facing President Bush, supplanting education. Like a USAT story last week, the WP immediately contexts Bush’s new emphasis on the employment security of workers by noting his determination to “avoid paying the political price that his father paid” for an economic downturn. The USAT lead is that Janet Reno is on the “verge” of running for the Democratic nomination for the Florida governor’s job now held by Bush’s brother Jeb. Everybody else stuffs Reno.

The NYT lead notes that at the meeting’s site of Durban, South Africa, the U.S. action was the subject of street protests by “black Americans and their allies” and was also criticized by Jesse Jackson (who, says the Times, had also been urging the Arab League to back away from the proposed charged language). The paper, the only one attempting to see the U.S. and Israeli withdrawals’ impact on U.S. social relations, adds that the pullout was applauded by “Jewish groups” but was met with anger “by black Americans and their supporters” and was therefore likely to heighten polarization between the two. The Times, which like many other papers often overuses polls, here seems to underuse them. Since there is no solid connection between the statements of groups and the individuals they purport to represent nor between the attitudes of American blacks protesting in South Africa and those quite generally of blacks in the United States, the paper at least needs a poll before it can say what American blacks and Jews think about all this.

The H-P/Compaq coverage consenses that the deal enables H-P to move into computer services (where Compaq has recently developed strength), an attractive strategy when PCs themselves have become commodities. The LAT lead mentions the deal’s need for regulatory approval, but it doesn’t suggest any problems with getting it. But the WSJ says it “would likely provoke antitrust scrutiny” and that even if the government doesn’t block the deal, “its investigation could take many months to complete and require divestitures of overlapping product lines.” The NYT splits the difference, saying the deal “could raise antitrust concerns” and slow things down by months, but it doesn’t mention possible changes the government might mandate. USAT does not mention the regulatory angle.

The USAT front “cover story,” by the paper’s on-a-roll Mideast correspondent Jack Kelley, is a long disturbing look at extremist Israeli settlers. The piece includes Kelley’s eyewitness description of 12 settlers setting up an ambush of a Palestinian taxi. “From a hill 50 yards away,” he writes, “the men could be seen removing the safety locks from the weapons. Their wives were grabbing extra ammunition clips. Their children, all of them under age 12, were picking up rocks.” Kelley couldn’t tell if anybody was wounded in the assault, but he reports that at least two of the vigilantes’ rounds hit the car, one shattering its back window. One of the shooters, who moved to Israel from Brooklyn, is quoted as saying, “We’ll keep this up until we eliminate all the Muslim filth.” The story is accompanied by a dramatic picture of a Palestinian woman whose Islamic head covering is being grabbed by an Israeli girl and whose leg is being kicked by an Israeli boy.

The NYT front goes long with an investigation into heretofore secret U.S. government bioweapons research, begun under the Clinton administration but expected to be continued under President Bush, that may violate the 1972 international treaty against such weapons signed by the United States. The research, purportedly conducted to better understand threats such as germ bombs and battlefield anthrax agents, is problematic because it involved building close-enough-to-work-if-somebody-wanted-them-to versions of a germ bomb and a germ factory. The paper goes inside with a tour of the Nevada site of the germ factory (with the Pentagon’s permission). That second story has the tour-guide, the place’s former director, saying that the White House was never briefed about it, an allegation seemingly confirmed because the Times says several unnamed former White House officials were “stunned” when told that the facility had been approved without White House or congressional review.

“But on the other hand, Mr. Tagami, we will not budge from our encyclical morally condemning the Prelude.” The WSJ front reports that a Honda project to develop a two-legs-two-arms robot (most previous industrial robots have more legs and hence look less human) included an unusual step: The project’s lead engineer consulted with a Vatican theologian to make sure the Catholic Church wouldn’t complain. The machine was given the Church’s “unofficial blessing.”