The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with the conviction yesterday of political fund-raiser Maria Hsia, a longtime associate of Al Gore, on charges that she engineered deceptive fund solicitations for the Democratic Party, the Clinton-Gore ticket and one congressman, all during the 1996 campaign. USA Today's front is silent on Hsia, leading with last night's Bush-McCain-Keyes debate, which the paper sees as highlighted by the persistence of the topic of the religious right and its attitude toward Catholicism. The story also reports that during the debate McCain said he wouldn't leave the Republican Party and would, if his own campaign fell short, support Bush. The New York Times puts Hsia's conviction at the top of the page, but goes instead with Augusto Pinochet's arrival back in Chile. The Wall Street Journal puts Pinochet at the top of its front-page news box, and the LAT and WP both front it, but the NYT lead emphasizes the possibility that back in his own country, Pinochet might lose his current domestic legal immunity and then be indicted on charges stemming from his alleged involvement with a death squad in the immediate aftermath of Chile's 1973 coup.
The coverage explains that Hsia was convicted of using straw donors to circumvent rules prohibiting donations from non-citizens and from tax-exempt religious organizations. One of the charges centered on Gore's appearance at a Buddhist temple, which was followed the next day by Hsia's delivery of $65,000 in illegal contributions, no dim sum. Gore claims to not know the true source of these and other similarly collected funds, but the papers point out that while nothing in the trial was introduced to show otherwise, Hsia's conviction will certainly make Gore's '96 fund-raising role a live campaign topic. Indeed, the NYT reports that Republican political operatives have already requested a copy of the videotape of Gore's temple visit that was shown to the trial jury, presumably to use in ads.
The headlines of the Hsia stories vary interestingly. The WP's bold type reads "HSIA IS CONVICTED OF ILLEGAL DONATIONS." The LAT goes with "DEMOCRATIC FUND-RAISER CONVICTED OF FIVE FELONIES." The NYT header is "LONGTIME FUND-RAISER FOR GORE CONVICTED IN DONATION SCHEME."
"You are going to take a long trip. And be sure to buy soap on a rope." The NYT has the detail that as jurors filed back into the courtroom, Hsia "consulted a Chinese fortune-telling book to try to divine her fate."
The WP and LAT fronts both feature yet two more admiring profiles of John McCain. The Post effort opens with a Senate debate a few years back concerning whether or not the Navy needed a new aircraft carrier. To a Senate colleague opposing the ship, McCain posed "a very pointed question," namely, "Has he ever been on board an aircraft carrier?" The paper explains that the message to the other senator was unmistakable: "Who are you to question me and others who have experienced war firsthand?" In telling this story, the Post gets out on the table McCain's war record and his penchant for plain speaking, but fails to ask why in the world should combat experience trump other types of information when it comes to the advisability of buying a new weapon? If this made sense, then aircraft carriers would be conceived, designed, and built exclusively by carrier pilots. (P.S.: They're not.) And if "Have you ever been on an aircraft carrier?" was truly relevant to the question at hand then many military experts, including Army generals, would have to bow out of the deliberations. If the debate had been about funding a NASA mission, would the Post have been impressed if McCain had asked his colleague the "pointed" question, "Have you ever been on Mars?"
The pictures accompanying the stories of that first-grade shooting case in Michigan make it clear that the victim was white and the shooter was black. And yet the papers have been virtually silent on this point. Today's NYT effort is a case in point. But the reporting does say that the boy had previous run-ins with the girl, which means the papers have to investigate whether this was racial friction. Have they done this? If they have and race indeed had nothing to do with what happened, then the current thrust of the coverage is right. Or is the situation more complicated but the papers would just rather not get into it? Today's Papers doesn't know, but thinks the papers should think that one over.
The USAT front reports that a study has for the first time linked pot smoking to an increased risk of a sudden heart attack. How much of a risk? Not as much, says the paper, as a snort of coke but twice as much as couch potato sex. Today's Papers says plan your weekend accordingly.
The NYT reports inside that the governor of Maine has announced a plan to give every seventh-grader in the state a laptop computer to use at home as well as at school. The story quickly refers to opposition to the plan among legislators who feel the state school system has more pressing concerns. But it doesn't address another problem: Is it right for the state to pay for computers for students whose families can afford to pay for them?
Within the past year, the NYT's Tom Friedman has as part of his ongoing paean to the Internet, written enthusiastically about a lone Iowa entrepreneur who was competing against Amazon.com from his spare bedroom. What happens when the powers of the Web are combined with the endorsement of a distinguished NYT columnist? Well, according to Friedman's effort today, you go broke.