Everybody leads with the latest in Madeleine Albright's attempts to shepherd a Palestinian-Israeli agreement to end the West Bank/Gaza Strip fighting. Your edition may vary slightly, but the latest is that the talks in Paris broke up inconclusively on the premise of further discussions in Egypt between the two sides but that this next step was apparently eviscerated when Israel's PM Ehud Barak announced he would not attend.
The papers report that the Paris meetings were at various times attended by, in addition to the principals, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, French President Jacques Chirac, and the director of the CIA. The Los Angeles Times and New York Times say that at one point there was a three-way discussion between Albright, Barak, and Arafat. The coverage says the agreement on the table when everybody suddenly pushed away from it specified that Israeli troops would pull back to the positions they held before the violence started last Friday in return for Palestinian Authority head Yassir Arafat ordering his followers to avoid the sites of the most serious fighting. Everybody except USA Today identifies the sticking point: Arafat insisted on an international investigation into the fighting, which the Israelis feel would be biased against them. Albright's via media: the Palestinians and Israelis could conduct separate investigations, and the U.S. would help reconcile their findings. The LAT quotes an unnamed French official as saying that an agreement about all this was "90 percent completed" when the talks broke down.
The LAT says that at one point Arafat started to stalk out of the talks. USAT, the Washington Post, and the NYT elaborate, saying that after Arafat did so, Albright ran out after him and called to have the gates shut so he couldn't drive away.
The papers paint a discouraging back-on-the-ground picture. The WP reports that on the West Bank, Hamas distributed leaflets calling for new confrontations with Israel and that there were demonstrations at the U.S. embassy in Damascus and the Israeli embassy in Cairo, as well as unrest in southern Lebanon and even a violent Palestinian protest in Copenhagen. The LAT says the head of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement has called on Palestinians to wage a holy war against Israel and that in northern Israel there's a large forest fire burning, which the Israelis attribute to Arab arson. And, say the papers, yesterday Israel again used rocket-firing helicopter gunships against Palestinian gunmen, rioters, and buildings.
The NYT is alone in fronting what happened at a Serbian coal mine yesterday: Police came to break up the strike there called by the anti-Milosevic opposition and ordered the assembled miners to leave. Instead of complying, the miners called for help and were quickly joined by some 20,000 additional resisters. The police backed off. The Times nabs this quote from one of the cops: "After this, I'm throwing my hat away and going home. The police in Serbia are more democratic than you think." The NYT and the other papers go inside with word that Yugoslavia's highest court has annulled the presidential election results that apparently threw Slobodan Milosevic out of office.
The NYT and WP fronts feature big Debate No.1 postmortems, both of which basically say the event changed little. Inside the papers, there is considerable additional flyspecking, which also takes up most of the day's op-ed space. Although the WP's E.J. Dionne credits the two candidates with a triumph of substance over style, equal-opportunity disappointment is more the rule. An LAT opiner by Arianna Huffington is slugged "THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF AL AND GEORGE," and Maureen Dowd's ill-tempered weigh-in is "DEAD HEAT HUMANOIDS." The Wall Street Journal op-ed page features Peggy Noonan's "THE OFF-PUTTING VS. THE UNCONVINCING."
The overall trend: Al Gore's persistent sighs while George W. Bush was talking played very badly, as do the inaccuracies of Gore's statements about a Florida school so crowded that the students had to stand in class (it turns out the room was SRO because it was full of $100,000 worth of new lab equipment that hadn't been set up yet) and about his field work alongside the head of FEMA (it turns out that Gore didn't visit a wildfire with him). A WP "Style" section piece calls Gore "the dirtiest most nefarious campaigner of this or any century" for his debate tactic of talking about that school and of straitened seniors on expensive medication, even though these events took place while he was in office. The anti-Dem mood is on the NYT ed side, too, which runs an editorial castigating Joe Lieberman for running for Senate re-election under the headline, "MR. LIEBERMAN'S JOB PROGRAM."
The USAT front says that U.S. Customs is upset about a hot new shoe favored by, in the paper's words, "clubbers, skateboarders, ravers and hotrodders." No, it's not the shoe's garish designs or its iridescent colors. It's a hidden compartment under the insole, called by the manufacturer the "G-Spot" ("a secret spot that's hard to find," says one of the shoe co.'s honchos). Customs Commissioner Ray Kelly has put out a nationwide alert to his field inspectors and posted a warning on the agency's Web site. The story misses a rather obvious point, namely: Hey, Commish, you can't hide as much in these shoes as you can in (noniridescent) travelers' aids like money belts or sock wallets or jackets with interior "security" pockets. The Orvis catalog, for instance, is full of that stuff.
Thank God he's not in charge of getting the clubber, skateboarder, raver, and hotrodder vote. The NYT's front-page debate piece has this assessment from the Democratic National Committee chairman, Edward Rendell: "Had Al Gore gone up there and convinced people that he was Bob Newhart, maybe he would have scored a knockout."