Unfriendly Skies

Unfriendly Skies

Unfriendly Skies

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 1 1999 3:50 AM

Unfriendly Skies

All the papers lead with the crash of an EgyptAir flight carrying 217 passengers from New York City to Cairo. The plane plummeted into the Atlantic shortly after takeoff. No one holds much hope for survivors, though only the Los Angeles Times actually declares "217 killed" in its headline. Graphics illustrating the jet's final moments and articles detailing the grief the passengers' friends and family accompany most of the stories. It is believed that the majority of the passengers were Americans. The cause of the crash remains unknown.

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Bill Clinton was one of many government officials who stressed that there was no evidence to suggest sabotage. Only one body and some debris have been found, none of it marked with signs of fire or explosion. Most of the papers mention and dismiss a threat to bomb a New York- or Los Angeles-based flight made to the Federal Aviation Administration in September. Only the Washington Post and the LAT explain why so little is made of the threat: The person behind it is being held on a homicide charge in Italy and has made such claims falsely in the past.

The WP and the LAT both hint at a manufacturing defect as a potential cause. Another 767, produced at the same plant only two weeks later, crashed in Thailand in 1991, killing 217. A faulty braking device was blamed, and Boeing issued retrofitting kits to 767 owners after the accident. A Boeing spokeswoman said it was "way too early" to look for a causal link between the two tragedies. The New York Times emphasizes the 10-year-old plane's clean bill of health and calls the Boeing 767 "a workhorse of trans-Atlantic travel."  The WP points out a macabre, ironic wrinkle to the story: the one passenger who disembarked in New York works as a "grief consultant."

A WP front-pager puts Portland, Ore., in the center of "a national battle over the future of the Internet." City officials decreed that customers who use AT&T's cable network must be allowed to choose their Internet service providers, effectively forcing the company to share its wires with competitors. AT&T is suing the city, arguing (along with the FCC chairman) that government intervention will ultimately hurt consumer freedom more than AT&T's potential dominance in the cable Internet market.

The NYT front page reports that the popular RealJukebox computer program surreptitiously sends its creator, RealNetworks, information about a user's computer, including the title of the CD in its CD-ROM drive. RealNetworks doesn't mention this disclosure in its privacy agreement, and the company could be in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Executives give conflicting explanations about the purpose of the information collected: One claims that RealNetworks is only recording aggregate information, while another maintains that the data is used to identify "sophisticated" users and steer them toward the program's advanced features.

A NYT story explores a crisis in China's educational system. Only 40 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls in China go to school, and the dropouts rate is climbing. The government has undertaken a campaign for universal enrollment with some success, but no one's sure how much, because the campaign has also caused eager-to-please administrators to fudge statistics. A lack of funding has also caused many schools, theoretically free, to charge education fees that low-income families are increasingly unable or unwilling to afford. Now that Chinese universities are no longer free, and graduates are no longer assured a comfortable government job (the public sector is shrinking), more and more families are deciding that educating their children doesn't make financial sense. What's missing from the article is context: What's the enrollment rate in the United States, or other comparable countries? 

The WP fronts Al Gore's confirmation that writer Naomi Wolf consults for his campaign. Previously, the Gore campaign had funneled money through other consulting firms to conceal Wolf's involvement. Wolf was also an unpaid adviser during President Clinton's 1996 campaign, and had earned as much as $15,000 a month working for Gore. Wolf has engendered controversy with her claims that teaching kids "sexual gradualism" techniques like masturbation and oral sex is "as sensible as teaching them how to drive." Clinton, at least, seemed to take the advice to heart.

None of the above: A NYT/CBS News poll shows Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani in a dead heat in the 2000 New York Senate race, with only 8 percent of those responding indicating no preference. Analysts believe that the election belongs to the candidate who can identify and woo this mysterious swing group. The poll also has some alarming news for the would-be candidates: Even though neither has declared their candidacy, voters are already sick of them--over 40 percent wish they had more candidates from which to choose.