The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the Middle East summit meeting convening today in Egypt, to be attended by Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak and co-chaired by President Clinton and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. The Post lead also goes high with the Lebanese Islamic guerrilla organization Hezbollah's claim that in addition to the three Israeli soldiers it already holds, it has seized (apparently in Switzerland) an Israeli reserve army colonel, a story that the Los Angeles Times fronts and the NYT stuffs. The LAT says the abduction has deepened the sense of gloom in Israel. USA Today mentions this kidnapping at the bottom of its lead, which combines the summit with the return to the U.S. of 33 sailors hurt in the Cole bombing. Everybody fronts a picture of a Cole crewmember, her face cut and bruised, being hugged by family members. The LAT leads with the Sunday decision by Chevron and Texaco to merge, which the WP and NYT front and which also tops the Wall Street Journal's front-page business news box.
The NYT says the Clinton administration has set three goals for the Egypt meeting: establishing and maintaining a truce, setting up a mechanism acceptable to both sides for conducting an inquiry into the latest wave of violence, and specifying a path back to the peace process. The WP limns the obstacles to all this by quoting a Palestinian militia leader as saying that the uprising should continue until an independent Palestinian state is established with Jerusalem as its capital and a senior Israeli military official as saying the summit's chances for success are pretty slim.
The NYT emphasizes Arafat's reluctance to attend the meeting, reporting that he agreed only after two days of pleading by Clinton, Mubarak, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The paper quotes unnamed sources as saying that often Arafat did not return Mubarak's phone calls.
The USAT fronts a story about the Tanzim, the Palestinian militia that has been in the vanguard of the recent fighting with Israeli soldiers and police. The NYT runs one inside. Both stories refer to the militia's use of M-16 assault rifles. The USAT front features a picture of two young boys receiving training on M-16s. But neither story says boo about how the American-made weapons get in the Tanzim's hands. Explain, please.
The NYT front goes long with yet another pass at the life and works of George W. Bush, this one even taking seven paragraphs to re-tell the well-worn story about how Billy Graham changed Bush's mind about whether or not Jews could get into heaven. Underneath the NYT's trademark on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand veneer, the story favors the view that Bush has been a dilettante governor. It goes high with the claim, based on a review of his 1997 daily schedules, that the Texas governor takes two hours every day for a run but only spends 15 minutes on the average execution case reaching his desk.
On a reasonably slow news day, it's a bit surprising that no one could find front space for the latest FBI stats showing that the U.S. murder rate is at a 33-year low.
Question: What would the NYT headline be over a story in which Louis Farrakhan is quoted as defending his worry that Joseph Lieberman might, if elected vice president, be more faithful "to the ties that any Jewish person would have" to the state of Israel than to the Constitution and as saying, "When I talk to the Jews, I am talking to the segment of that quorum that holds my people in their grip"? Answer (in the online edition at least): "FAMILIES ARRIVE IN WASHINGTON FOR MARCH CALLED BY FARRAKHAN."
A NYT inside piece reports that a linguistics professor says the presidential debates thus far have proceeded on the seventh- to eighth-grade level of comprehension difficulty, compared to, say, 11th for Abraham Lincoln's speeches or 12th for FDR's declaration of war on Japan. The story says today's political complexity leader is Ralph Nader, who also communicates on the high-school senior plane, which the Times says is the level of its story.
The NYT reports that a recent Verizon Communications letter to customers about new calling rates mistakenly directed them to a phone sex line called "Intimate Encounters." And the WP says that the National Republican Senatorial Committee Web site accidentally sends people to one called "Night Talk."