Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic formally join NATO, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times lead. Both also front the death of virtuoso violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin at age 82. The Washington Post puts the NATO story in its off-lead spot. It goes with the International Olympic Committee investigative group's recommendation that IOC member Paul Wallwork be expelled for his involvement in the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, that nine members receive warnings, and nine be exonerated. Investigations began following allegations that the bid committee of Salt Lake City, which won the right to host the 2002 games, bribed IOC members who voted on the site issue. IOC VP Dick Pound claims the recommendation represents "a very serious rebuke." But U.S. Olympic Committee members and others criticized the decision, which brings the tally of recommended expulsions to six among 30 investigated members, as too soft. The NYT's story, in its "Sports" section, makes a point the WP misses: The six recommended for expulsion were "relatively powerless," while "the most powerful delegate implicated," Kim Un-Yong of South Korea, was only censured. The implication is that his transgressions were more serious. However, Kim could face further penalization; his case is still open.
In a ceremony at the Truman Presidential Library, chosen because NATO was founded under Truman in 1949, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright welcomed the three countries, represented by their foreign ministers--Poland's Bronislaw Geremek, Hungary's Janos Martonyi, the Czech Republic's Jan Kavan--into NATO.
The NYT piece gives the most concise and thorough background on NATO: formed in reaction to the communist "threat of the Soviet Union under Stalin," it "calls for the collective defense of its members" and originally had 12 members. NATO has expanded thrice before but never, as now, to include "former Eastern-bloc enemies." It also tells the most about Albright, a Prague native who fled after the 1948 Communist takeover.
All the papers note Russian leaders' opposition to the NATO up-sizing, the LAT in the sixth paragraph, the NYT in the ninth. The WP's somewhat exuberant story waits till its 18th graph to note Russia's repeated objections. The LAT quotes a Thursday LAT op-ed piece written by Mikhail Gorbachev: "The problem is ... the rejection of the strategy for a new, common European system agreed to by myself and all the Western leaders when we ended the Cold War. I feel betrayed by the West."
Another important point, one the NYT misses and the LAT makes best: NATO operates by unanimity and as such could be paralyzed by the expansion, which the Clinton administration wants to continue.
The LAT calls NATO growth "the foreign policy cornerstone" of Clinton's presidency. The NYT calls it one of "the administration's foremost foreign policy goals," while the WP says "a cornerstone of U.S. security planning for Europe."
The LAT fronts an exclusive that warns of a probable "multi-billion dollar financial crisis" for the nation's private health care system as a result of mismanagement by health plans (like HMOs) and doctor groups, and unsustainable growth and low reimbursement rates in the health care industry. The primary evidence of the predicted crisis: bankruptcy filings by 20 major hospital, physician management, and HMO firms in the last year. The piece notes medical and legal experts don't think sufficient care for patients will be permanently affected, but health care experts think the situation could cause serious structural changes in the U.S. health care system.
An informal coalition of major oil-producing countries, consisting of four OPEC members and Mexico, declared their agreement to reduce oil production by another two million barrels a day; the NYT fronts it. If carried out, the reduction would eventually affect higher gas prices, analysts predict. The story goes high with an analyst's quote that the move "will not kick off a wave of inflation," but goes on to say prices could rise across a range of industries by year's end as a result. (Ain't that inflation?)
Two letters to the WP editor complain the paper was irresponsible in publishing its March 8 lead, "Reagan Building Vulnerable to Attack," a story TP noted, because it provided potential terrorists with information they wouldn't have had otherwise.
The Post's "Style" section fronts JFK Jr.' s visit to boxer Mike Tyson--who's serving a year in jail for assault, is on probation for rape, and bit off part of boxer Evander Holyfield's ear in 1997. Jr. said Tyson "was really putting his life back together." (If only he could put ears back together.) The WP wonders if it was a PR stunt to benefit Jr.' s magazine George; his friends say the editor empathizes with those, like Tyson, who are the victims of bad PR.