Today's Papers


The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit southwestern China yesterday afternoon and killed nearly 10,000 people. The quake’s epicenter was approximately 60 miles northwest of Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital. Most of the casualties appear to be in Sichuan province, but the “quake was so powerful that it was felt hundreds of miles away, from Beijing to Bangkok,” reports the LAT. Everybody warns that the death toll is likely to climb as rescue workers reach some of the worst-hit cities and towns in the mountainous region that were quickly cut off from the rest of the country because of severe damage to roads and communication lines. There are reports that more than 80 percent of the buildings collapsed in some places close to the epicenter, and the NYT points out that China’s state media reported today there are still 10,000 people buried under rubble in Mianzhu.

USA Todayfronts news of the earthquake but devotes its traditional lead spot to a new poll that reveals a majority of Democrats still think Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should continue the campaign. Meanwhile, the number of Democrats who want Clinton to drop out of the contest has increased by 12 percentage points in a week. Overall, 55 percent of Democrats want Obama to choose Clinton as his vice president, but it’s clear that backers of the former first lady are most enthusiastic about a joint ticket.

The quake that struck China yesterday was the country’s largest natural disaster since 1976, when an earthquake killed 240,000 people and the government came under heavy criticism for trying to cover up the disaster. This time, the government seems to be confronting the problem head-on and Premier Wen Jiabao quickly traveled to Chengdu to oversee the rescue operations. Around 50,000 soldiers and police officers were mobilized to help with the efforts. The LAT notes that checkpoints were set up in an apparent effort to bar journalists from entering some of the hardest-hit areas. It’s little wonder that the Chinese government would be nervous about the media’s portrayal since everyone says the rescue effort will be a test of the country’s ability to handle a crisis before the Olympics in August.

The NYT and WSJ both point out that the devastation caused by the earthquake could raise questions about whether Chinese builders have been  cutting corners during the country’s ongoing building boom. Since the 1976 quake, China has had strict regulations in place that require buildings to be able to withstand earthquakes. But after so many structures, including schools and hospitals, quickly collapsed yesterday it seems clear that these regulations were not always followed.

The NYT and LAT front dispatches from Dujiangyan, where perhaps one of the most devastating scenes from the earthquake played out after a school simply collapsed, killing as many as 900 students. Within seconds, the building’s entire structure pretty much disappeared and buried the children who were in classes at the time. Both papers describe the heart-wrenching scenes of devastation where desperate parents hope against all odds for some good news and much of the population is in the streets, either because their homes collapsed or simply because they’re too afraid to go inside.

The WP fronts its own poll that shows even less pressure from Democrats for Clinton to quit the race than what USAT’s survey found. According to the WP,almost two-thirds of Democrats said Clinton should stay in the race, even as Obama now holds a 12-point lead over the former first lady. The poll found Americans hold an extremely pessimistic view and a “near-record” 82 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction. This, along with the fact that Democrats have a “21-percentage-point advantage” as the party best able to handle the country’s problems, should translate into bad news for Republicans. But, like previous surveys, the WP’s poll found that negative views of the Republican Party aren’t necessarily transferring to McCain, who continues to be competitive in hypothetical matchups. Obama leads McCain 51 percent to 44 percent, while Clinton beats McCain with a smaller margin of 49 percent to 46 percent. The poll picks up on the general feeling that McCain’s age might work against him as only three in 10 said they were “entirely comfortable” with a president who would be 72 when inaugurated. And while Obama leads McCain in being the candidate who can best handle most issues, including health care and the economy, McCain holds a 21-point lead on dealing with terrorism.

As Democrats geared up to vote in the West Virginia primary today, the LAT finds many Clinton supporters, particularly women, who are not quite ready to let go of the dream that she might make it to the White House. Clinton is expected to beat Obama by a wide margin, but few of her backers believe she actually has a chance. “For every point of pride welling up in those who hadn’t thought they might see a black man become president, there is a counterpoint of disappointment for those who thought it was finally a woman’s turn,” notes the LAT. Among those the paper interviewed, there are “plenty” who say they’ll either vote for McCain or stay home on Election Day.

The WP fronts a look at how some Obama supporters have been surprised by the amount of racism they’ve encountered while on the campaign trail. Volunteers and field workers have had to deal with slammed doors, derogatory names, and racist rants, to name a few. Part of the story has the feel of idealistic young people who are suddenly coming to grips with the fact that racism exists. But it is true that, as the story points out, “the raw racism and hostility” that these Obama supporters have encountered “have gone largely unnoticed.” And it seems the Obama campaign is trying to avoid these stories from getting out. In a few cases, the racism has gone a step further. An Obama campaign office was vandalized, and there were three bomb threats in Indiana alone.

None of the papers give much play to (and the NYT seems to ignore) news that former Republican Rep. Bob Barr announced he will run for president as a Libertarian, saying that none of the major party candidates would do enough to cut the size of the federal government. “The government has run amok fiscally,” Barr said. There’s not much agreement over whether Barr could tip the race one way or another. The most obvious answer is that it could hurt McCain’s standing among conservatives. For what it’s worth, the Post poll found that only 47 percent of conservatives said they would definitely back McCain, which should suggest there’s room for a third-party candidate to squeeze in there somewhere. But there are those who think a Barr candidacy might hurt Obama if Barr manages to get support from many of the younger, college-educated voters who gravitated toward Rep. Ron Paul.

The LAT asks handwriting experts to analyze signatures and writing samples from Obama, Clinton, and McCain to find out what they say about each of the presidential contenders. It turns out that Obama and McCain have some things in common. They both have illegible signatures, “which suggests a need for privacy or an aversion to transparency,” and emphasize their first names, which shows “a desire to distance themselves from their fathers.” For her part, Clinton’s signature “is readable, but lacks emotion and warmth.” As for their writing, Clinton’s is “disciplined” while Obama’s is “flexible” and McCain’s is “disconnected, forceful and intense.”