Timorous Reporting

Timorous Reporting

Timorous Reporting

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 30 1999 6:55 AM

Timorous Reporting

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with at-long-last independence elections in East Timor. The New York Times puts that inside and leads instead with the apparent readiness of the White House and Senate Democrats to fight for a treaty banning all nuclear testing. USA Today goes with Hurricane Dennis hitting the Carolinas and Florida.

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The WP gives the clearest, highest account of the context of the East Timor election, starting right off with mention of 300 years of Portuguese rule of the region followed by the past 25 years under Indonesian military occupation. (The LAT doesn't mention the Indonesian invasion until five paragraphs from the end.) The Post is also alone in mentioning that the U.S. winked at the Indonesian invasion in 1975. But the paper squanders a bit of this edge when it writes that the situation in East Timor "has for two decades remained a largely invisible problem closed off to journalists, and the scene of some of the world's worst reported human rights abuses," thus falsely suggesting that poor coverage of the topic was somehow mostly caused by something other than press inattention.

The gist of the Post and LAT pieces is of a long-oppressed people finally getting their say, while the NYT goes rather more postmodern, noting that "though the anti-independence militias have clearly had the upper hand in terror, the pro-independence forces, with 24 years of experience in both war and propaganda, have seized the role of well-intentioned victims."

Everybody mentions that a much-violated nonviolence pact between pro- and anti-Indonesian forces seems, at the very last minute, to be finally holding up. The WP says that if violence is avoided, "most analysts" say the residents will choose independence.

The NYT lead says that, armed with polls and the support of many scientists and military leaders, the Democrats are threatening to bring the Senate to a standstill unless Republicans agree to hold hearings on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which 152 other nations have already signed and which President Clinton signed and sent on to the Senate in 1996. The biggest obstacle, says the Times, is Jesse Helms, whose main interest in the area of nuclear weaponry is not traditional arms control, but enhanced anti-missile defenses.

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A LAT front-pager distills scientists' early thoughts about what the Turkey earthquake portends for California's seismic future. The main findings: The overriding explanation for devastation is bad building practices, soft and loose soil (as opposed to rocky soil) amplifies a quake's effects, as do valleys. Biggest new puzzle: Previously, it was thought that a quake couldn't jump a large body of water to activate a fault line on the other side, but in Turkey, this seems to be precisely what happened--across three miles of lake. Which could mean that several areas of California functionally have much larger fault lines than had been thought.

The papers all note Sunday chat show calls by Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, and other lawmakers, for a full-bore outside investigation of federal agents' use of incendiary devices at Waco. None of these stories note that these calls come right after Congress let the independent counsel law lapse.

The WP runs a story inside reporting that a new study shows that the pay gap between average workers and top corporate executives has exploded during the 1990s, going from a ratio of 42 to 1 in 1980 to 419 to 1 last year. Why didn't the Post assign this at least the same priority as such front-pagers as organic school lunches and a summer camp for women?

Another Post mystery: A brief inside item says that in defiance of State Department objections, five U.S. congressional staff members have visited Iraq on a fact-finding mission, the first such since the Gulf War. Why doesn't the paper identify the staffers, or more importantly, their bosses?

Even though handgun deaths are actually down a bit from the early '90s, says a piece in Sunday's NYT "Week in Review," recent well-publicized shootings tend to stimulate lawful gun purchases for household protection, which may be bad news for those households, since according to one quoted expert, "the odds that a home will be the scene of a homicide are substantially greater if there is a gun in the home."

A Wall Street Journal front-page feature points to an interesting reason why established large corporations haven't exactly reaped the Internet's rewards: The large corps are used to insular, if not paranoid, decision-making, and Internet operations force them into all sorts of relations with outsiders they can't really control.

The WP reports that the Federal Aviation Administration has weighed in on Fox's proposal to devise a television special of an airplane purposely crashed into the desert with a resounding, "NO WAY!" But in a separate story the paper also notes that a recent study shows that surviving a plane crash can profoundly improve one's mental health. Let's hope Rupert doesn't connect the dots and pitch his show as psychiatric social work.