Today's Papers

Royal Exit

The papers lead, as they have all week, with the Mideast situation. Earlier in the week it was articles about peace proposals; now it is essentially war reporting. Events are moving quickly, and the articles—three or more each in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times—are rife with conflicting, confused, and unsettled reports. All the papers also off-lead or front obituaries of Britain’s Queen Mother.

The Mideast day began at 4 a.m. with a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an Israeli pullback and condemning Palestinian suicide attacks. The vote was controversial; Syria, upset by the condemnation of Palestinian but not Israeli violence, abstained (the first country to do so in 40 years). It was also, NYT notes, “the second American vote in the Council within a month that took a position considered tough on Israel.” Until a few weeks ago such votes were unheard of. The vote, however, was sandwiched between yesterday’s statements by Colin Powell blaming Arafat for not halting the suicide attacks, and a statement by President Bush today (after a “36-hour silence” following Wednesday’s Passover bombing, WP calculates) that also harshly scolded after Arafat. Bush explicitly asked Arafat to “stand up and condemn, in Arabic, these attacks.” Bush “pointedly did not add his personal imprimatur” to the U.N. resolution, WP writes.

At his besieged compound, Arafat and “about 100 of his die-hard supporters” remained “huddled in hallways and confined to two floors of his headquarters,” reports LAT. Arafat gave interviews via his mobile phone and to a “camera crew from Reuters television that Israel allowed to enter the compound.” It remains uncertain what the Israelis want from Arafat. One Arafat aide tells the Post that the soldiers shouted over loudspeakers for Arafat and his entourage to “come out with their hands up,” and then asked for negotiations. The NYT reports that “by evening, electricity and water were restored to the compound” and the Israeli army was supplying food and medicine.

Elsewhere, “Israeli soldiers using megaphones swept through Ramallah ordering all men ages 16 to 45 to report to detention centers,” says LAT. So far, 70 people have been detained, including 14 members of the Palestinian national police force. Separately, in an office building in downtown Ramallah, five Palestinian policemen were found “shot in the head or neck at close range,” with a pattern of bloodstains on the walls that suggested they may have been executed, rather than killed in a “close-quarter firefight” as the Israeli army maintained in an official statement. Also, an Israeli soldier was killed when he confronted two Palestinians on their way to conduct another suicide attack, and there was an exchange of mortars and missiles in the Shabaa Farms area near the Lebanon border.

The day’s closing act: another suicide bombing, at a Tel Aviv cafe “packed with customers, some of whom had traveled from Jerusalem eager for a night out and hoping that Tel Aviv would be safer,” writes LAT. Miraculously, no one other than the bomber was killed, though at least 30 were wounded, six critically.

Britain’s Queen Mum died on Saturday at the age of 101. Raised in Macbeth’s castle, she served as queen for 16 years before, during, and after WWII, and served as a beloved national icon (a “living relic of empire,” says LAT) for 50 more. The papers all front distinctive, even emblematic obits. WP serves up just the facts (1,800 words); NYT goes with all the facts (3,500 words); LAT dishes like mad (2,500 words), and earns the Today’s Papers recommendation. The LAT has more of her famous bawdy jokes (to her mostly homosexual servant staff: “Are there any old queens down there who’ll fetch a gin and tonic for an old queen up here?”). LAT has more anecdotes and characteristic details, such as her outrage at Jimmy Carter for kissing her on the lips, her penchant for cutting loose at private dinners with “anti-toasts,” and the fact that she followed racing results on “the only race-ticker in a private residence in London.” LAT also has more off-hand catty remarks (“All the more remarkable in the royal family, she had some modest intellectual interests …”), and includes quotes from the wonderfully wide range of sources, from the archbishop of Canterbury to the novelist Will Self, that could only be justified by this particular obit. The LAT also delivers the most staff-writer-attempts-at-high-literary-style that one expects in a classic obit. The winning entry: “She was as delectably plump and fluffily attired as a bonbon in a frilled paper cup.”

The NYT’s off-lead on Alzheimer’s and Medicare is full of old news—all of it rather astonishing. First there’s the “old news” that Alzheimer sufferers have traditionally been denied Medicare reimbursement for psychotherapy and physical therapy to help them with their condition because of “the assumption that treatment was futile because people with Alzheimer’s were incapable of any medical improvement.” Recent research has apparently shown this assumption to be nonsense. The second old news—the news that the NYT is breaking—is that last year the Bush administration ordered the private Medicare claim-paying firms to start reimbursing. Oddly, the administration chose not to tell anyone about this laudable action. “Some officials apparently did not want to acknowledge [what] the old policy was,” the NYT writes. But the article also notes that “the new policy was adopted after two years of lobbying by the Alzheimer’s Association.” Why didn’t that group publicly announce their victory last year? Unknown. A broken fax machine, maybe.

The NYT has a piece on “militainment”: the post-9/11 surge in hero-filled, military-themed movies and TV shows, made possible in part by Hollywood’s increasingly cozy relationship with the Pentagon. An upcoming episode of JAG on CBS (a show which has risen to 10th from 28th in the Nielsen rankings) deals with military tribunals, and the NYT reports that “the show’s script writer said he learned details of the intensely debated rules on conducting the controversial tribunals two weeks before Mr. Rumsfeld released them at a news conference.” (Can Pentagon correspondents say “ouch”?) Should the Pentagon’s PR office be worried? Not quite. Donald Bellisario, the show’s producer and an ex-Marine (the show’s script writer is an ex-Army captain), says: “I want to show people that the tribunals are not what many people feared they would be.” Now if only the prisoners can find a way to get tried by CBS …

An LAT heads-up: “A surge in hiring at the IRS, better technology, stricter sentencing guidelines, a pledge to reverse the decline in audit rates and a wave of patriotism that may be pushing judges to impose stiffer penalties make tax fraud increasingly risky.” Plus, the “hundreds of agents [that] were diverted to serve as air marshals and to investigate the financial side of terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks … are wrapping up their terrorism-related work and are pouring back into IRS offices.” These are not IRS agents to be messed with. Bottom line, says one expert: “There is never a good year to be a tax cheat, but this is a worse year than in the past.”

The NYT “Arts” section reviews the Whitney Museum’s 2002 Biennial, calling it “bleak, pious, naïve, monotonous, isolated and isolating”—and that’s just the opening paragraph. Moving on, the reviewer, Roberta Smith, launches into a diatribe against “late-late-late Conceptual Art and conceptual-based object-making.” Come again? “Artists who just want to have fun, hang out, do good or promote a mild-mannered social agenda.” Ah … “And so,” says Smith, “painting houses in Puerto Rico is art instead of community activism. Pretending to be a guru is art instead of fraud. Holding séances to contact the ghost of Joseph Cornell is art instead of theater. Of course, it’s possible to define these activities as art, but it sets the bar conspicuously low.”

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