On a day when no story cries out "lead me," the three papers each go their own way. The New York Times leads with news that the European financial community intends to double its debt relief efforts by forgiving outstanding loans from 10 additional poor nations. The announcement, timed to next week's economic conference in Prague, is aimed to mute protests over this increasingly volatile issue. The top non-local story at the Los Angeles Times is a piece attributing Russian atrocities in Chechnya to the military's ruthless mentality and ineffectual chain of command. The Washington Post's top non-local news story is an analysis of the presidential race that questions whether Bush the younger is now suffering the same reversal of fortune that propelled Bush the elder to victory in '88. All three papers front a photo of beaming Aussie Ian Thorpe, the 17-year-old who yesterday swam his way to two gold medals and shattered his own world record in the 400 meters freestyle.
The NYT lead reports that the debt relief initiative has two main parts: 1) it adds 10 additional nations to the list of 10 already slated to have their loans forgiven; 2) it relaxes an application process widely criticized for demanding too many costly specifics. Nine of the 10 added nations are in Africa. The move was met with immediate criticism from U.S. Treasury officials, who characterized the reforms as window dressing and explained that the costly specifics of the application process were needed to ensure the funds go to good use. The story explains that debt relief is a far more volatile political issue in Europe than in the U.S., where the Republican majority in Congress has yet to warm to the idea.
The fact that the analogy to the '88 presidential election is even raised is a reflection of the urgency and frustration currently swirling around the Bush camp. The WP points out that Gore's surge into the lead came at the same point in the election as Bush's in 1988. In that race, challenger Michael Dukakis failed to convince voters that a change in the Oval Office was needed. Attempting to avoid a similar fate, the WP reports that Bush has adopted an "issues first" campaign approach and is attempting to push key differences between his plan and Al Gore's. An NYT piece described Bush's speech yesterday in California as his most substantive and detailed criticism of the vice president's proposals. But the story goes on to doubt whether Bush can manage to be as effective a policy spokesman in spontaneous settings as he appeared in the scripted performance yesterday.
The LAT fronts the late-breaking story from Peru that Alberto Fujimori will step down as president and call for new elections to decide his replacement. Fujimori made the surprise announcement on television last night and added that he would dismantle the scandal-plagued National Intelligence Service, whose chief stands accused of bribery. The NYT reports that the Clinton administration, who had criticized as corrupt Peru's presidential elections last May, were relieved by the news of Fujimori's departure.
The WP reports that Bush and Gore have agreed on the formats for their three debates. In the first, set to take place Oct. 3, the candidates will speak from their respective lecterns. The second debate will feature Bush and Gore seated across a table. The third debate will be conducted town meeting style The NYT notes that this is the first time the across-the-table method has been used in a televised Presidential debate and that the format, designed to encourage a more conversational tone, was undoubtedly a concession made to the Bush camp. The WP reports that a relaxed tone has been promised for all three debates. The debates will be televised on all three major networks. Just as in '96, Jim Lehrer will serve as moderator throughout.
The NYT fronts its latest take on the breakdown of electoral votes. At present, Gore holds a slim 239-201 lead, leaving 98 votes (10 states) still to be decided. This tally lumps together the all-but-decided states with those which are simply leaning. The study reveals that Gore's electoral standing has improved much in toe with his popular standing. Florida and Michigan, previously thought leaning toward Bush, are now too close to call. And Gore now enjoys a significant lead in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Although its use of nifty graphics is most welcome, the article could do a better job clarifying when a state changes status from "toss-up" to "leaning." For example, in Michigan, a toss-up state, polls show Al Gore leading by eight points. Yet in Washington, listed as leaning toward Gore, the vice president's lead is only 4 percent.
The NYT reports that a confidant of Yasser Arafat who accompanied him to the Camp David talks has just published a first-hand account of the failed negotiations. The dispatch criticizes Clinton for siding with the Israelis on most issues and portrays Arafat as a man fearfully obedient to the hard-line position on Jerusalem. Pressed by President Clinton to compromise on the issue, Arafat responded by asking "Do you want to attend my funeral?" As the NYT notes, such revelations cast further doubt on the short-term prospects for an accord. Separately, the NYT gives word that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is attempting to draft Israel's first-ever constitution, a move sure to inflame tensions between religious and secular Jews.
Already the youngest world champion in swimming history, the 6' 5" Thorpe entered the Olympics a fan favorite with high expectations. Yesterday, he more than lived up to them, breaking the world record in the 400 meters freestyle by over half a second and, as anchor of Australia's 4 x 100 meter relay team, erased a 0.6 second deficit (in one lap!) to end American domination of the event. Completing his perfect day was the following quote in the WP from U.S. swimmer Dara Torres: "I was looking at his hands, and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, look at [the size of] his hands.' Then I was like, 'Okay, I have to see his feet.' And then when he stood up, I thought, 'He's not a boy, he's a man.' "