USA Today leads with the Immigration and Naturalization Service's decision to return 6-year-old Elián González to his father in Cuba by Jan. 14. All other papers front the story. The Washington Post goes with Labor Secretary Alexis Herman's backpedaling on an Occupational Safety and Health Administration directive making employers responsible for safety and health violations in employees' home offices. The Wall Street Journal tops its "World-Wide" box with yesterday's Democratic presidential debate at the University of New Hampshire. The New York Times goes local and off-leads the uncertain status of fighting between Russians and Chechens in Grozny. The Los Angeles Times, which leads with the governor's State of the State address, off-leads González and reefers the Labor Department story.
Officially, the INS judged the case based on law and research, but anonymous officials told the NYT that the administration did not want to damage relations with Cuba when it is trying to forge new contacts there. Justice Department officials indicated they would oppose threatened legal moves by González's angry relatives, who are hosting the boy in Miami. No decision has been made on how Elián will be reunited with his father: The INS offered to bring Juan González to the States to pick the boy up, but González has said it's the Americans' responsibility to bring him home. González senior may be under pressure from the Cuban government, the LAT and Post report.
Each story carries President Clinton's boast that his administration has kept the boy's plight "out of politics," but the two Times dispute that statement. Castro, whose name isn't even mentioned in the Post, is treated with kid gloves in the NYT. Only the LAT reports that Castro has called the situation an abduction. Elián has been roped into someone else's game: He is the center of an "international tug of war" in the WP lede and a front-page LAT caption, and the "center of a political tug-of-war" in the USAT. The NYT turns him into "the central object in a tug-of-war." How can the situation almost unanimously be a political "tug of war" if so little is mentioned of who's tugging on the other end?
A flurry of calls between Labor and the White House resulted in Herman recanting the home office directive, the Post reports. The confusion shows that telecommuting has changed the workplace so that traditional rules and regulations may no longer apply--or perhaps no one's sure how to apply them. Withdrawing the directive, which first made news Tuesday, may not affect the policy behind it. Almost 20 million people in the U.S. work at home.
The NYT and WP front the Securities and Exchange Commission's filing of a civil suit against stock guru Yun Soo Oh Park--"Tokyo Joe" of Internet fame. Park, accused of committing four counts of fraud, is said to have advised followers to buy certain stocks, which he then sold on the sly as their orders lifted the stocks' prices. In 1998, he allegedly accepted 100,000 shares in a cigar maker and Boca Raton deli-owner; in return, he is said to have recommended the stock to his customers, without revealing his relationship to the company. The SEC's complaint is its most aggressive move yet against an Internet stock whiz.
The NYT, Post (in their business sections), and WSJ report that Amazon.com Inc.'s fourth-quarter revenue, $650 million, failed to match analysts' "whisper number," which in some circles doubled earlier, published estimates of $500 million. Stockholders were not impressed: Investors beat the stock down 15 percent, lowering its market capitalization by $4 billion, to $24 billion.
Coverage of the fourth Bradley-Gore debate is pot luck. The NYT and WSJ address both candidates' strengthening of earlier statements defending gays in the military. The Post summarizes the debate topics as "guns, health, ability" in its headline and mentions Sen. Edward Kennedy's endorsement of Gore in its subhead. The WSJ highlights in its "World-Wide" column (as opposed to its story) Bradley's accusation that Gore contorted his health care plan by claiming it would hurt minorities. According to the LAT, the debate centered on who might be a stronger president. A NYT front-pager reports that McCain, in the midst of a fight against the power of money in politics, twice in the past couple months urged the Federal Communications Commission to act on an issue that would benefit a major contributor to his campaign.
Chechens claim to have seized a village southwest of Grozny; Russians said the fighters fled the capital in desperation. NYT Moscow bureau chief Michael Gordon reports from North Ossetia, a Russian republic west of Chechnya: "It is impossible to verify either side's claims since the Russian military has not taken reporters to Chechnya for three days."
Department of Misplaced Rhetorical Imagery: In light of last year's school shootings, the LAT lead headline is somewhat startling: "[Gov.] Davis Issues a Call to Arms for Better Teachers, Schools." Coincidentally, New York Gov. George Pataki, in the NYT lead, outlined changes in practices for recruiting teachers, saying that "right now, Colin Powell can't teach in the New York schools that he grew up in." The LAT story explains that Davis used images of warfare in his State of the State speech to drum up enthusiasm for hiring and training new teachers. The "war for the future," he said, "will be fought school to school, classroom to classroom, desk to desk." Today's Papers knows what he means, but had hoped classroom warfare might be left in the past.