The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with situation reports on the U.S./China plane imbroglio. Their fronts also feature pictures taken on Hainan island of the U.S. plane, with nose cone and propeller damage clearly visible. USA Today puts its coverage of the situation deep inside, going instead with the results of a special project it conducted (along with a number of other news organizations): a hand recount of the Florida presidential ballots including those marked in some way short of a complete perforation (so-called "undervotes"). The paper's finding: Bush wins.
The big developments in the China situation are: 1) President Bush again called for the return of the U.S. plane and crew. 2) China's President Jiang Zemin blamed the U.S. for the craft's collision with a Chinese fighter and called to an end of all similar U.S. flights off his coast. The coverage also has a Chinese official spokesman calling for the U.S. to apologize for the incident. 3) U.S. diplomats, accompanied by Chinese officials, visited the 24 U.S. crew members, finding them healthy and in good spirits. But the LAT cautions that there was "no indication that the meeting would lead to their release or an end to [the] diplomatic standoff ..."
The LAT sees in President Bush's remarks yesterday (for the second day in a row, he took no questions afterwards) a "sharpened" tone. The NYT says he "seemed nervous." And although the WP lead finds Secretary of State's Colin Powell's remarks "more conciliatory" than his boss's, the NYT has Powell saying, "We have nothing to apologize for," and USAT quotes him as saying he finds it "unacceptable" that the U.S. aircrew is being held incommunicado. Both the Wall Street Journal and a NYT fronter say that President Bush is, in the Journal's phrase, in between two camps of advisers: "national security hard-liners" and "the pro-business camp."
The WP and NYT report that China refused to let U.S. representatives meet individually with crew members or without Chinese officials being present. Both USAT and the NYT report that during the meeting, because Chinese officials were in the room, crew members could say little about their efforts to destroy sensitive material and equipment before landing. The coverage's consensus is that the Chinese have gotten their hands on plenty. USAT even has unnamed administration officials saying that China will probably keep the plane.
The coverage says that the collision left the EP-3 more damaged than was first thought and that it took very skilled piloting to save the plane. The LAT is the only paper to pass along a story from the Taipei Times alleging that after the Chinese fighter collided with the U.S. plane, a second fighter shot at the EP-3.
For the second day in a row, the NYT finds several legal experts buying the U.S. government's theory that a downed military plane has embassylike "sovereign immunity." But today the Times tempers this a bit by mentioning (as the WP did yesterday) that in 1976, U.S. intelligence experts thoroughly disassembled and inspected a Soviet defector's Mig fighter, adding that "even now" the Pentagon maintains programs to obtain the military equipment of other countries, including China, "through practically any means possible."
The USAT lead finds that counting all Florida undervotes would have given George W. Bush a 1,665-vote margin of victory. To slice things a bit finer, under three of the four undervote-counting standards used somewhere, Bush still wins. Under the fourth, Gore wins, by a 3- (!) vote margin. The paper notes that the standard favoring Gore was the one Bush favored and vice versa. The paper says its study of what would have happened in Florida if "overvotes" (those with more than one punched-out chad) expressing a clear intent to vote (such as a clean Gore punch together with a clean write-in punch, where the voter then wrote in "Gore") were also counted will be published later this spring. The NYT--which is part of another journalism recount effort due out next month that will include overvotes--reefers the undervote study.
The LAT reefers and everybody else stuffs Israel's missile attack on Palestinian positions in the Gaza Strip--which injured dozens of people--launched after a Palestinian mortar attack seriously wounded an Israeli baby.
The WP and LAT front yesterday's dismal stock market performance, which saw some 1,000 or so companies hit 12-month lows. The Post headline blames it on warnings about corporate profits. The LAT headline adds China.
The WSJ runs an op-ed arguing that the McCain-Feingold bill, if it passes the House and survives the Supreme Court, has a hidden beneficiary: President Bush. After all, the piece argues, the legislation doubles the legal limit on individual hard money contributions, and even before having the benefit of incumbency, Bush proved himself a master of raising the hard stuff. Indeed, he raised so much during the primaries he was able to pass up public matching funds. Kinda explains why he hasn't promised to veto M-F.
"OK, but can I still wear the giant bunny outfit?" The NYT says that a U.S. general meeting with the EP-3 crew members yesterday was "not permitted to distribute candy" he had brought along for them.