The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post lead with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to give in to pressure from the Israeli parliament--upset on all sides over the course of the peace process with the Palestinian Authority--and stand for re-election this spring, more than a year before the scheduled end of his term. The Wall Street Journal also runs a front-page leader on the development. USA Today puts Israel on page 11 and goes instead with the latest ripple in a story that's been percolating below the fold for a while: allegations of vote-buying by the Salt Lake City Olympics bid committee in its successful drive to land the 2002 Winter Games. What's new, says the paper, is that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (rumored to be under consideration as President Clinton's defender in the Senate's impeachment trial) has agreed to lead a U.S. Olympic Committee investigation into the charges.
Israel's move to new elections, the papers explain, is not finalized yet, but virtually guaranteed, with the field likely to pit at least two candidates against Netanyahu. The cause of the Netanyahu government's unraveling, the papers say, is the U.S.-brokered Palestinian deal, the Wye accord. The Israeli right, dominated by adamant settlers and the devoutly religious, was unhappy with Wye, and Netanyahu's response of opting out of scheduled Israeli troop pullbacks hurt him with the center and the left, which had come to accept land for peace, and infuriated the Palestinians. The papers say that Wye is now in limbo until the outcome of the new elections, even though, the Journal reports, polls show 70 percent of Israelis support it.
The WP, NYT, and LAT fronts report on China's handing down of stiff prison sentences--11 to 13 years--to dissidents who'd been trying to start China's first democratic opposition party. (The WP reports on the sentencing of two organizers, while the other two papers also mention a third.) The LAT and NYT report that a State Dept. spokesman denounced the sentences. But the Chinese leadership seems unbending--the NYT reports that in a speech last Friday, China's president and Communist party chief, Jiang Zemin, stated, "The Western mode of political systems must never be adopted." The papers note that this crackdown comes at a time when unquestionably Chinese people have more personal freedom than they've ever experienced before under Communist rule. But the LAT quotes a professor's explanation for this stern crackdown: "The Chinese government has always been worried about any movement that might tie people in one province with people in another." The NYT runs a second piece inside reporting that critics of China cited the prison sentences as proof that the Clinton administration's policy of economic and diplomatic engagement with China has failed.
The Houston octuplets are continuing to get front-page coverage. But today, it's tempered with concerns about the ethics of so fully unleashing state-of-the-art reproductive therapy. The Post quotes a doctor saying flatly that such extreme multiple births are not a victory for science and warning against "exuberant therapy." And the NYT quotes another saying the event is "a wake-up call for the medical profession." One problem emerging via the coverage is that the fertility-enhancing technology is so expensive that when patients have to pay for it out of their own pockets, instead of via insurance, whether or not a pregnancy results--they pressure doctors to use increasingly potent measures, greatly increasing the chance of high-multiple births.
The LAT front fascinates with reporter Elizabeth Shogren's exclusive look into President Clinton's mindset as he holiday-partied at the White House with friends Sunday night. Shogren, a party guest, snagged a lengthy interview with Clinton. Highlights: Clinton believes that in 20 or 30 years, he will be vindicated. He is determined to find a quick way out of the crisis, but is stumped about how to do that. His friends at the party were "gloomy and distraught" and it was Clinton who was cheering them up. He has been buoyed from recent personal advice not just from a longtime minister friend, but also from Nelson Mandela and former House Speaker Jim Wright. Besides Mandela's spiritual counsel against harboring hate towards your attackers, Clinton cited a practical reason for not being more prominent in his own defense: focusing on himself rather than his job would make his approval ratings plummet.
One of the reasons journalists are so despised by other folks is their bent for comments like the one the WP's James Glassman tosses off in his column today: "(Rep. Dennis Hastert, a former high school wrestling coach, may be a fine fellow, but speaker of the House?!)" Would Glassman be so quick to criticize another wrestler-turned-politician from Illinois, with only one year total of formal education--Abraham Lincoln?