Today's Papers

Papal Bull Tension

USA Today leads with the second Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel in two days. The Bush administration announced it will designate the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which claimed responsibility for the bombing, a “foreign terrorist organization.” The Los Angeles Times, which fronts the bombing, says that the move will further erode Yasser Arafat’s standing, as the Brigade has ties to him and his Fatah movement. The New York Times goes with the Bush administration’s proposed amendments to medical privacy guidelines. The major proposed change would eliminate a requirement that patients sign privacy consent forms before receiving treatment. TheWashington Post also leads with the privacy amendments and reefers the bombing with a large front-page photo of the scene. TheWall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the kickoff of President Bush’s Latin America tour, in the wake of Wednesday’s car bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru. Bush said that the bombing, which now appears to be the work of Shining Path dissidents, will not dissuade him from visiting the city. TheLos Angeles Times leads with, and the other papers front, Pope John Paul II’s annual pre-Easter message, which included a brief statement of regret for the sex abuse cases currently roiling his church, his first public comment on the scandals.

In the wake of the attack, which killed three and wounded “scores” (WP), Israeli Prime Minister Sharon called Arafat “solely responsible” and canceled what the WP calls a “critical” U.S.-brokered meeting between Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs. Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell urged Arafat to do more to stop the violence. The NYT notes that a proposed meeting between Arafat and Vice President Cheney next week is now “highly unlikely.”

The stories note that the bomber was arrested and released in February by Palestinian security forces who suspected he was planning a suicide attack on a shopping mall. Only the NYT has the detail that he actually surrendered an “explosive belt” to the authorities at this time. In all the fuss over Al Aqsa, only the WP notes that the group Islamic Jihad also claimed responsibility for yesterday’s bombing.

The LAT says that the move to make the Martyrs Brigade a “foreign terrorist organization” was taken Tuesday, reported to Congress Wednesday, and will take effect next week. The designation makes it illegal for Americans to fund and support the group and requires U.S. banks to freeze their assets.

The NYT says that the privacy consent forms were “core” to the medical privacy guidelines drafted in the last days of the Clinton administration. Health and Human Services officials tell the papers that the new proposals will make it easier to treat patients without sacrificing privacy. The WP says this reasoning “essentially embraces the arguments the insurance industry has raised.”

All the stories mention another proposal that would make it easier for parents to inspect their children’s medical records in states that don’t explicitly forbid this access. Beyond that, the coverage seems contradictory: The WP mentions a proposal that will let patients decide whether their records can be used for marketing purposes. But the USAT alludes to measures that will allow pharmacies to send unsolicited product information to certain groups of patients. The WP says that physicians and consumer advocacy groups largely oppose the proposals, while the NYT and USAT say that hospitals and insurance companies are supporting the measures. None of the stories feature any comment from an actual medical doctor.

The WP notes that one paragraph of the pope’s nine-page message alluded to a “grave scandal” and said priests had succumbed to the mysterium iniquitatis—the “mystery of evil”—while avoiding other Latinate terms like “pedophilia.” The NYT says that at a press conference discussing the letter, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, a possible successor to the pontiff, lost his patience with reporters who kept asking about the scandals and blamed the abuses in part on the current “environment of pansexuality.” The WP also fronts a local development in the church’s sexual via dolorosa: the suspension of a prominent D.C. pastor after accusations this month that he sexually assaulted two teen-age girls.

The papers also front the San Francisco jury that convicted a woman of second-degree murder after her dogs attacked and killed a neighbor. The NYT says the case is the first of its kind in California, and one of only a “handful” in the country. The woman faces 15 years to life in prison. The dogs were euthanized prior to the trial.

The LAT and NYT front news of a record-breaking soft money gift to the Democratic Party, announced only a day after a soft money ban passed in the Senate. The $7 million donation from Haim Saban, who made his fortune from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show, will help pay for the Democratic National Committee’s new D.C. headquarters.

The Islam Bombshell: A Wall Street Journal fronter profiles the winner of the first “Miss Pakistan Earth” pageant, who will now have to don a swimsuit to compete in the Miss Earth competition in Manila this October. Beauty pageants, which are controversial in Islamic countries (Egypt issued a fatwah against swimsuit competitions last year), begun popping up in Pakistan after India swept the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions in 1994. To one pageant organizer, a healthy beauty contest culture is as essential to national pride as a good cricket team or nuclear capability. Both Pakistan and rival India “have nuclear weapons” he says, “why not beauty queens?”