Everybody leads with the second presidential debate. The coverage emphasizes the event's comparative civility and emphasis on foreign policy.
The Los Angeles Times perhaps gives away its ulterior interest in dramatic conflict by complaining that the calm, foreign-policy portion of the evening was "achingly polite," but it nonetheless gives the clearest coverage of the degree to which George W. Bush joined Al Gore in supporting various foreign policy moves of the Clinton administration, noting high up that Bush credited Clinton for his handling of the Mexico bailout and his positions on Yugoslavia, Colombia, and Rwanda. None of the leads check to see what statements Bush made contemporaneously with these events. The Washington Post says that Bush came out of this phase of the debate as more cautious than Gore in committing U.S. troops to nation-building, but actually, this difference was made manifest in the first debate, too. USA Today opens its lead by explaining that when Bush criticized Clinton administration policy regarding Iraq and Somalia, Gore responded by saying it was the administration of Bush's father that deserved the blame for leaving Clinton with problems in these spots. Bush's response, the paper continues, was that Clinton administration changes made these countries problematic. The leads let this sweeping and unspecific charge pass unexamined.
USAT gives the biggest play to each candidate's expression of distaste for police use of racial profiling, putting this in a special quote box. But unlike the LAT and the New York Times, the paper doesn't communicate Bush's reservations about actually outlawing the practice. USAT also gives the highest play to the night's discussion of gay marriage, noting that Gore suggested Bush was out of step on the issue with Dick Cheney.
In discussing the debate about hate-crime legislation, which Gore favors and Bush opposes, the LAT and WP note that Bush was mistaken when he said that all three men convicted in Texas of dragging a black man behind a car were sentenced to death. The LAT even adds a subheading, "BUSH MISSTATES FATE OF 1 KILLER." The paper goes on to note what it calls a "minor flub" by Gore--his reference to the new president of "Serbia" when he meant Yugoslavia. But this misstatement doesn't get a subheading.
The coverage generally accords Bush's deliberately mispronounced response to a question about Gore's credibility the feel-good response it was calculated to engender. The NYT lead ignores the remark, preferring to wield its own brand of psycholinguistics, noting that Gore's opening comments included the word "exaggerating" and that Bush's remarks all night were "laced" with the word "credibility."
Last week in its story about the FDA's approval of RU-486, the WP observed that the agency was not identifying the manufacturer for the U.S. marketing of the drug, presumably out of security concerns about possible reactions from abortion opponents. Today the paper off-leads its report that the manufacturer is a Chinese pharmaceutical firm. The FDA doesn't confirm this to the Post.
The WP fronts a disturbing focus on the injuries suffered by children in the latest Mideast violence over the byline of the paper's excellent foreign correspondent Keith Richburg. The story gives this tally: In the past 13 days, 22 children under 18 have been killed and at least 1,000 have been wounded by Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and standard ammunition.
Earlier in the week, the NYT fronted concerns among federal law-enforcement types that major U.S. corporations are, whether they know it or not, playing too useful a role in the business of laundering drug money. Today's Wall Street Journal fronts similar concerns the feds have about the use by drug smugglers of the big express-delivery companies. Druggies have apparently been favoring the major air freight firms since the mid-90s. Although the companies bristle at the suggestion that they want this business and aren't cooperative enough with drug cops, the story reports that UPS refuses to lend uniforms or trucks to undercover officers and ditto for FedEx most of the time. On the other hand, Airborne often does provide this help. DHL will lend uniforms but not vehicles. But what the feds really wanted, says the Journal, was access to the companies' domestic shipping databases, a goal they've more or less given up on.
In his second column in a row, the NYT's Bob Herbert refers to a NPR documentary airing today to advance his newest argument against the death penalty. The documentary focuses on the stress, emotional conflict, and even health problems of the people who help carry out executions. Herbert should go back to writing DNA-based arguments against the DP. After all, cops and doctors and firefighters have similar reactions to their jobs. Should they therefore be put out of work, too?
The WP's "Reliable Source" reports that it recently showed Slate's Al Gore doodles to a drawing-analysis psychologist--without revealing their creator. Among her responses: "This is someone who is definitely intellectual, with a passionate nature that is very contained, and who is not emotionally overly expressive."