Spring Breakdown

Spring Breakdown

Spring Breakdown

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 24 1999 7:13 AM

Spring Breakdown

The whimper-not-a-bang end for now at the Kosovo talks leads at the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. USA Today puts the talks on page 9 and instead leads with the guilty verdict in the race-tinged dragging murder case in Jasper, Texas. The New York Times, which off-leads the Kosovo talks and fronts the murder conviction, goes with the Senate's imminent reevaluation of the independent counsel statute, which, the paper says, will probably either not be renewed at all or will be substantially revised, primarily because of widespread dissatisfaction with the way the law worked in the Kenneth Starr investigation of President Clinton. The WP runs a similar piece inside. USAT's news section "cover story" on the statute is more categorical, saying flatly, "there is virtually no chance that a scandal-weary Congress" will renew it.

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Rashomon reporting reigns supreme in the papers' coverage of the Kosovo talks. The talks ended with nothing signed, no peacekeeping forces in place, and no NATO airstrikes. Instead, there was the surprise quartum quid of the Albanian negotiators saying they "understood and accepted" the proffered Western peace plan but would take a few weeks off to check in with the home folks before signing anything. The WP sees this as a "major setback" for U.S. and European leaders and drives home the tenuousness of the situation by noting renewed Albanian vs. Serb fighting and passing along U.S. intelligence reports of Yugoslav troop movements "in apparent preparation for a large-scale offensive." Somehow though, the NYT goes with the glass-half-full headline, "Kosovo Albanians, in Reversal, Say They Will Sign Peace Pact," and calls the outcome a "limited success." But even within such a cheery take, the paper has to admit that it will be difficult in the interim for NATO to intimidate or contain Slobodan Milosevic's forces. The LAT sees a "piecemeal success," but does point out that the result is very close to what only a few days ago Madeleine Albright called "a worthless piece of paper." (Actually, the LAT informs, the non-result is on 81 pieces of paper.) The LAT further brings out the day's non-accomplishments by noting that thus far, the Serbs have refused to even discuss military and police issues. Only the Wall Street Journal points out high and clear that the Albanians' promise to sign would quickly evaporate if they meet with strong internal criticism before the talks reconvene.

USAT reports that white supremacist John William King was convicted of capital murder in Jasper in less than 2® hours and that the jury immediately plunged into the case's penalty phase, which could result in a death sentence. Two other white men are awaiting trials for their alleged part in the grisly murder of a 49-year-old black man. The LAT's coverage of the case includes some good detail on courtroom spin: King appeared in court with his hair grown out so as to cover the pentagram tattooed on his skull and in a turtleneck shielding the Nazi SS symbols on his body. The WP reports that King's father offered his condolences to the dead man's family.

Contemporary reporting has a hard time lighting on a topic unless it can find a way to make it into a political story, preferably one about a personality conflict. Witness the story about competing African trade bills inside the WP. One bill was devised by Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and the other by Rep. Charles Rangel. So naturally, the Post waits until the ninth paragraph of a fourteen paragraph story to say what the two bills are and how they differ, and none too clearly at that. Far more important apparently, is taking up the top of the piece with the back and forth sniping between the two bill sponsors.

Both the NYT and WP report that tonight, NBC will broadcast its long-held interview with Juanita Broaddrick, who claims that in 1978 Bill Clinton, while Arkansas Attorney General, raped her. The Times, which has not previously covered the story per se, weighs in with a lengthy account of its halting path thus far. The paper includes this interesting detail, which drives home the unusual course the Broaddrick story took getting to the WSJ op-ed page: Alan Murray, the Journal's Washington bureau chief, says he first found out about his paper's article by reading about it on Matt Drudge's web site.