The Los Angeles Times leads with Secretary of State Colin Powell's expression of regret over the apparent death of a Chinese pilot in the collision with that Navy plane. The paper says this and similar statements yesterday by other senior U.S. officials were welcomed by Chinese officials, who were nonetheless still demanding a full apology. The LAT top front goes large with an official Chinese file photo of the missing pilot. USA Today and the Washington Post front Powell's remarks, but lead instead with the Senate's vote to reduce the size of President Bush's tax cut proposal by some $450 billion over the next 10 years, mentioning along the way that the House voted to repeal the estate tax by 2011. This is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal front-page world-wide news box. The New York Times also leads with these legislative developments but stuffs Powell and off-leads with a China temperature-taker headlined "BEIJING STEPS UP WAR OF WORDS OVER AIR COLLISION."
The LAT lead sees in the statements by Powell and other administration officials a "diplomatic dance" designed to satisfy China's demand for an apology without explicitly offering one. Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to China was summoned to Beijing's Foreign Ministry, where he was told that his country had "displayed an arrogant air, used lame arguments, confounded right and wrong and made groundless accusations against China." And on Wednesday, U.S. diplomats on Hainan island were denied a second visit with the Navy plane's crew members.
The NYT runs an op-ed by James Bamford, a justly respected expert on U.S. intelligence, especially of the electronic type, who reminds that electronic spy flights like the EP-3's have (especially during the Cold War) cost hundreds of American lives and have several times nearly occasioned the outbreak of war. Bamford concludes that there are good reasons, therefore, to consider ending such flights, asserting that satellites and land-based listening posts can pick up the slack. This leaves the reader with a question the papers haven't made much of a dent in thus far in their EP-3/China coverage: Nowadays, what can you learn with a plane that you still can't learn with anything else?
The coverage of the Senate vote emphasizes the key switch of three centrist Republicans away from Bush's tax plan and quotes the Senate's top Democrat as saying this means the original Bush plan is dead. The WSJ calls the vote a "sharp blow." The WP and LAT remind that despite the House vote, the Bush-proposed estate tax repeal is far from a sure thing given possible further compromises and a Senate that seems less supportive. The papers note that once Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott saw that the vote was going against him yesterday, he changed his vote from no to yes to permit him under a Senate rule to call for a revote later, but none explains how this works.
USAT goes top-front with an exclusive first look at an Interior Department draft document recommending that millions of acres of federal land now managed to protect wildlife and scenery be opened to oil and gas drilling. These would include not just Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge but also Montana's Lewis and Clark National Forest.
The WP fronts the belief of some unnamed experienced and well-informed Marine pilots that the crash of an Osprey last December that killed four Marines was caused by a hydraulic flaw "that had been known for months but went largely uncorrected" and aggravated by a software glitch "that could have been detected by more rigorous testing." The officers tell the paper they believed the problems slipped by because the Marine Corps wanted to win funding for full production of the aircraft. The story explains that all the sources were participants in the military board that investigated the December crash, speaking out anonymously because "they increasingly distrust the Corps' leadership and worry that some of their conclusions might be omitted or minimized in the public report."
The NYT reefers an Arabic document introduced in evidence at the African embassies bombing trial in New York called "Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants," which was apparently used for training by Osama Bin Laden's organization. The paper says the tome could be called "Terrorism 101." Themes stressed include: 1) lie low in Western culture by shaving your beard and not being chatty; 2) how-tos for assassination, car bombing, making poison stew; 3) religious justifications for torturing hostages; 4) when photographing a target, develop the pictures yourself because it's risky to use an outside processing service; 5) no drinking or fornicating, even while under the stress of an espionage mission; 6) be suspicious if someone should suddenly excuse himself to use the restroom; and 7) don't talk to your wife about your work.
Yesterday's WP front reported that Dan Rather, in violation of CBS News policy, was the featured speaker at a Democratic Party fund-raiser last month in Texas, where one of the hosts was his daughter. Today the papers report that Rather has apologized, calling the appearance "an embarrassing and regrettable error." The NYT reports a refreshing, if rare, bit of flexibility from the ethics-in-journalism cartel, quoting the head of the cartel's Harvard branch office as saying of Rather that "he was doing it for his daughter, for Pete's sake." The story was originally broken by the Post's media reporter, Howard Kurtz, whose ability to ethically opinionize regularly on such broadcast operations as CNN and its competitors is miraculously unimpeded by his also having a regular paid CNN gig.
The WP front reports that federal investigators are looking into allegations that accused spy Robert Hanssen may have bought a car or overseas plane tickets for a Washington, D.C., stripper. They are trying to find out what happened to the $600,000-some they believe he was paid for his alleged spying, and they think such spending could have provided a red flag to the FBI. The story says that the feds don't think there was ever a sexual relationship between Hanssen and the stripper. Nope--the religious Hanssen was just proselytizing, say the gov gumshoes, who even have evidence that Hanssen took her to church a few times. And the Post has Hanssen friend James Bamford taking a break from his NYT screed to confirm that Hanssen had tried to get him to go back to church. Of course there is one little detail that both the Post and apparently the government's crack investigators seem to be glossing over. Where did Hanssen meet the woman? At a strip club.