The Washington Post leads with John McCain's sudden pull to dead-even with George W. Bush in the South Carolina polls. The New York Times goes with the decision by Bush and New York Gov. George E. Pataki not to contest McCain's presence on the New York state primary ballot--out of fear, says the paper, that continued opposition would further energize McCain's campaign-reform based candidacy. The Los Angeles Times fronts the new GOP presidential campaign dynamic but leads with the Alaska Airlines crash, developing a possibility mentioned in yesterday's WP: that the plane's pilots unwittingly caused their plunge out of the sky while setting the craft up for an emergency landing. USA Today fronts the Bush and plane crashes but leads with two reports from the Health and Human Services inspector general indicating that, at a time when many Medicare HMOs are saying the government should pay them more, many of them are running up exorbitant administrative costs, which often include sports and theater tickets and alcohol.
The Post lead reports that last December, Bush led McCain in South Carolina by 45 points. The big swing, says the paper, has eroded Bush's aura of invincibility, to the point where Bush staffers have felt the need to reassure nervous party officials of their man's electability. The Bush campaign has also reacted by going on the offensive against McCain's record on defense and military issues, a move keyed to the state's nation-leading percentage of vets. Another sign of McCain-o-mania comes in the Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire," which passes along a Perot aide's idea that the Reform Party might consider nominating McCain, entitling him to the party's $12.6 million share of federal funds.
The WP off-leads and the NYT fronts Ford's announcement yesterday of a plan that, starting in April, would provide every employee of the automaker with a home computer, a color printer, and unlimited Internet access, all for only $5 per month. No other company of any size, says the Post, including computer companies like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, digitally equips every employee.
The papers report inside that yesterday, two U.S. warships enforcing U.N. sanctions against Saddam Hussein seized a Russian tanker in the Persian Gulf after boarding it and discovering evidence that it might be smuggling oil out of Iraq.
The NYT reports today (as did the WP yesterday) that the current head of the CIA, George J. Tenet, flatly dismisses comparing Wen Ho Lee's apparent computer security lapses with those of the previous CIA honcho, John Deutch. One aspect of government spin that becomes clear in these stories: While all of them mention that the files Lee is accused of mishandling have to do with nuclear weapons technology, none mentions at even the most superficial level of description beyond "classified documents" what Deutch's files were about. Shouldn't the papers press on this? Without comparable information about the two cases, all comparisons between them are vacuous.
The WSJ fronts the story of how the NYT fired 23 workers for forwarding bawdy material via office e-mail at its Norfolk, Va., office. The paper says the e-mail included jokes about men and women, about blondes, and about Ebonics, as well as images, some of them sexual. No employee or ex-employee reached by the Journal complained about the material. The NYT's policy on offending e-mail is quite broad--the story quotes a company spokesman decrying not just the forwarding of questionable material over the company's e-mail system, but also the mere viewing of it. Now suppose the situation were reversed and it was say, a Journal office that was at issue, and it was the Times doing a story about it. Would two Times reporters working on the story be allowed to e-mail samples of the Journal's offending e-mail to each other? The Times doesn't seem to be focusing on consistency here, anyway: The Journal says that employees remaining at the Norfolk office have been ordered by the paper not to speak to reporters.