In the Balance

In the Balance

In the Balance

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 5 2006 4:02 AM

In the Balance

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postall lead with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's stroke, with one of his doctors describing his condition as "very grave." USA Todayfronts Sharon but leads with the turn in West Virginia, where, of course, contrary to first reports 12 trapped miners were found dead and only one alive.

Outside doctors said that considering Sharon's age, weight, and the fact that he was on blood-thinners, his chances of survival let alone recovery are minimal. "The blood expands so rapidly there's little that can be done," one outside doctor told the NYT.

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Following Israeli law, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was given formal control of the government. But the stroke came just two months before scheduled parliamentary elections. Sharon's new centrist party, Kadima (meaning "forward"), had been running away in polls. Olmert, Sharon's right-hand, might step up to lead the party. But Kadima has had less a clear platform than a clear leader: Sharon. Olmert isn't nearly his equal in terms of popularity. "We are at the threshold of a new era," one political analyst told the WSJ. "What looked to be a landslide is now looking to be a very close election."

Meanwhile Gaza, as everybody notes inside, continued its drive toward failed-state status: Gunmen, apparently agitating for the release of one of their coworkers, took stolen bulldozers, smashed border walls with Egypt, then killed two Egyptian soldiers in a firefight. Militants also fired more rockets into Israel; nobody seems to have been hurt.

The West Virginia miners were found behind a makeshift barricade that they used to try to escape the carbon monoxide that filled the mine after the explosion. The company knew that the initial report from rescuers—at about 11:45 p.m. EST—was sketchy and said it told people in the command center the report shouldn't be shared until it was confirmed, but word leaked out anyway. At about 12:30 a.m., the command center heard from rescuers that most of the miners were dead, but initially they were in disbelief over that report and sent medical teams into the mine to double-check.

The correct info wasn't passed on for another two hours, when the president of the company went to deliver the news to those waiting at a nearby church; family members chased him out.
The Post'sfront-page piece on the miners is a kind of tick-tock, heavy on purple prose. "The storm kicked up sometime before dawn Monday, sweeping across the scabbed mountains," it begins. Eventually—eventually—the piece digs into the details of the miscommunications. What it doesn't mention—and what doesn't seem to be mentioned elsewhere in the WP—is the part played by the press. "The miners had apparently done what they had been taught to do: barricaded themselves in a pocket with breathable air and awaited rescue," said yesterday's Post.

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Speaking of which, a mea culpa: The papers' usual "final" editions carried the false reports. But contrary to what TP wrote, both the LAT and USAT caught word of the deaths. They had what amounted to over-time editions. The LAT actually threw out roughly 200,000 copies of the paper and restarted the printers. USAT, meanwhile, still apologizes to its readers. The Post's editor doesn't see it as correction-worthy, telling USAT, "I don't regard it as our error, but as an error by the people in charge of the rescue."

Everybody notes that the mine had a much higher than average number of safety violations, particularly in the past year, yet the owners had to pay only $24,000 in fines. Still, mining deaths in the U.S. have been at record lows; the total last year was just about a sixth of what it was 25 years ago.

The NYT fronts and others reefer yesterday's bombings in Iraq that killed about 50. About three dozen people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a funeral procession for the son of a Shiite politician. After the bomb exploded, insurgents opened up with small arms and mortars.  

The WP and NYT front the Supreme Court agreeing to let the Bush administration transfer "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla from the military to civilian custody. A lower court, one that's usually simpatico with the administration, had blocked the move, suggesting that the White House just wanted to render moot Padilla's Supreme Court challenge. The Supremes though, didn't address Padilla's appeal one way or the other. Rather, the court said laconically it will consider his petition "in due course."

The Post goes inside with President Bush bypassing the Senate and making a raft of recess appointments last night. Among the fine new hires: Julie Myers who will become head of the immigration bureau, despite complaints across the political spectrum that she's unqualified. Another hire will head a preparedness office at the Department of Homeland Security after making a name for herself, as the Post puts it, "demanding that information about racial disparities in police treatment of blacks in traffic cases be deleted from a news release." And a third will head the State Department's office to coordinate emergency relief. She has no experience in emergency management or relief, but, don't fret, she did serve as a state chair of Bush's 2000 campaign.