Today's Papers

Lone Star Statesman

The New York Timesand the Washington Postlead with President Bush’s “denim diplomacy” (as the latter puts it), a down-home news conference held in front of a pickup truck on the ranch in Crawford, Texas. With Tommy Franks by his side, Bush touched on Afghanistan, Argentina, Enron, India vs Pakistan, John Walker, and “quality time with the first lady,” among other topics. The Los Angeles Timesfronts the president but leads with Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber” (as Bush referred to him yesterday) under the headline, “Shoe Explosive Could Have Put Hole in Airliner.”

“I mean, there’s a lot to do,” the president says in the NYT lead, referring to U.S. commitment in Afghanistan. “And the American people just must understand when I said that we need to be patient, that I meant it.” The Times faithfully (and with a touch of glee, if Today’s Papers is not mistaken) records numerous examples of Bush’s strained logic and syntax, e.g., “[We will get Osama] whether he’s in a cave with the door shut or a cave with the door open.” Or (when asked if the events of this fall have changed him),”Talk to my wife. I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, except when I comb my hair.” He also “spent much of news conference repeating some of his favorite lines about Mr. bin Laden,” the paper chides, before giving examples. (“I mean, this is a guy who three months ago was in control of a country. Now maybe he’s in control of a cave.”)

The Post paints a slightly more presidential portrait, focusing on Bush’s efforts to calm hostilities between India and Pakistan.  He trumpets the arrest of 50 “extreme terrorists—extremists or terrorists” (he means Islamic extremists) in Pakistan. “I hope India takes note of that,” he says. 

The LAT relies on an FBI agent’s testimony for its muddled lead on Reid, the shoe bomber. Paragraph 2 says the man had TATP, “a highly volatile material that has been used in previous terrorist bombing plots.” But then Graph 3 explains that TATP is an “igniter chemical” for PETN, which was used on the Pan Am 103 flight. So did he have both? It’s not obvious in the LAT, but yes, says an anonymous fed in the NYT. Of course the key point, as the LAT’s headline makes perfectly clear, is that had the man successfully ignited his wire-laden sneakers, he probably would have brought the plane down. TATP is the preferred explosive of Palestinian terrorists and is made with “readily available” chemicals, according to the NYT. “Anyone with that in his shoe would have to be very careful not to stamp his shoe in disgust,” a chemical safety man says in the NYT.

The NYT fronts rumblings in Harvard’s African-American Studies Department, as stars Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and others threaten to decamp. The trouble apparently stems from a meeting West had with Lawrence Summers, Harvard’s president, in which the latter asked the former to write something big and important. The Times notes that West’s output in recent years has been limited to a rap CD and a stint on the Bradley presidential campaign. Summers also asked West to “become a leader in tamping down grade inflation at Harvard, where one of every two grades awarded in recent years has been an A or A-.”  West took offense to one or both of these suggestions and now may go to Princeton and take others along for the ride.  He’s made the seemingly unrelated demand that Sommers speak out forcefully in favor of affirmative action and diversity.

The Post and the LAT front a slew of upbeat economic indicators suggesting that prosperity might be just around the corner. A rise in consumer confidence, increased sales of new and existing homes, and fewer unemployment claims than expected spell recovery, perhaps by early to mid-2002. “The U.S. economy is often a thing of beauty as it comes out of recession and renews expansion,” waxes an economist in the Post. Not so fast, say others, warning that the unemployment rate, now at 5.4 percent, might hit 6 percent or 6.5 percent before the turnaround.

Finally, America’s mayor swings for the fences one last time before the ball drops on his mayoralty come Monday. The NYT fronts Giuliani’s stadiums, one each for the Mets and Yanks, at a cost of roughly $1.6 billion, to be paid for by the city and the teams. Both facilities will be smaller than the existing ones, but with more luxury boxes to generate more green. The scheme now falls into the lap of Mayor-elect Mike Bloomberg, who was “conspicuously absent” from yesterday’s gala unfurling, according to the Times. He’d said earlier in the day that stadiums would not be a top priority. Not to worry, Rudy says: Mike’s on board. “It’s not a question of whether he is going to do it,” he says, “but how and when.”