What's the logic behind the Dr. Wen Ho Lee settlement split?

What's the logic behind the Dr. Wen Ho Lee settlement split?

What's the logic behind the Dr. Wen Ho Lee settlement split?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 3 2006 6:32 AM

Ho Lee Settlement, Batman!

The Washington Post leads with (and the New York Timesand the Los Angeles Times front) five media companies, including the WP, LAT, and the NYT, pitching in a combined $750,000 toward the $1.65 million settlement awarded to Dr. Wen Ho Lee in his privacy suit against the government. The NYT leads with military investigators' growing concern over the Marines' first response to the killings in Haditha last November. The LAT leads with the uncertainty surrounding President Bush's nuclear deal with India. The pact faces derailment as legislators worry about increased nuclear proliferation and giving incentives to countries with nuclear ambitions, like Iran. The Wall Street Journal leads  its worldwide newsbox, at least online, with the Peruvian polls favoring Alan Garcia over Ollanta Humala heading into the runoff election.

An unnamed Marine official tells the NYT that within two days of the Haditha killings, Marine commanders knew that all the victims were shot and not killed by an explosion, as initially reported, yet the commanders didn't feel those realizations warranted further investigations. The paper reports heads may roll before the final investigation is even finished, with investigators currently trying to decide which damages troop morale more: seeming hasty in assigning blame or having commanders in the field whom the Pentagon can't have confidence in. Meanwhile, the LAT off-leads with the Defense Department denying reports that U.S. troops intentionally killed up to 13 civilians in a different raid last March. The department flatly dismissed reports that some civilians were tied up and shot in the head by U.S. soldiers, as some Iraqi police had claimed, but did concede that the body count for the raid was up to nine persons higher than previously acknowledged, referring to the extra casualties as "collateral deaths."

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In what may be an unprecedented move, the WP, the NYT, the LAT, the Associated Press, and ABC News chipped in with the U.S. government on the bill for Lee's $1.65 million settlement, just to avoid jail time for reporters being charged with contempt of court for not revealing their sources. Lee, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory employee, was reported to be under investigation for spying for China. He spent nine months in prison before being released without being charged. As the papers are quick to point out, Lee's suit doesn't dispute the reporting, rather it charges that the government should not have leaked employment information about him to reporters, and the reporters were subpoenaed in the suit to reveal their sources. Rather than break their words to their confidential sources, the reporters fought the subpoenas for four years and in the end their companies agreed to help pay Lee off to make the case go away.

All the stories acknowledge that there's something odd and unsettling, if not strictly unethical, about the way this panned out. The NYT is particularly defensive of its course of action, saying the payoff doesn't violate the paper's policy of not settling libel cases, since the veracity of the reporting wasn't the issue. The WP acknowledges deep in the story that it somehow got to pay $10,000 less than the other news orgs because it hadn't exhausted all its appeals—though its unclear how or if the WP will continue to fight this. ABC's employee was working at CNN at the time these stories were written, but it's ABC and decidedly not CNN that's picking up the tab. What's not clear from any of the stories is exactly how this deal was brokered. The companies were never named as defendants in the suit and owe Lee no damages, but unlike the $895,000 paid by the government, which must go directly to covering legal fees and the like, the media's money can go straight to Lee. Does that mean the media organizations essentially paid to make the contempt of court charges go away? Does this establish a going rate for doing so? All the papers use the story to make the case for a federal shield law, but how does paying to hush up the suit serve that cause?

President Bush's plan to turn India from nuclear renegade to atomic ally is meeting both foreign and domestic resistance, and the LAT thinks there's enough push-back to kill the deal outright. The deal would give India an exception to a law barring the United States from giving nuclear aid to countries that, like India, haven't signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran is an NPT signatory, but officials worry that if the United States appears to be soft on India, Iran will be less likely to take the consequences of withdrawing from the NPT seriously. Meanwhile, the measure is meeting opposition in India from those who fear it makes India look dependent on foreign aid.

Three million Americans have their DNA on file with law enforcement officials—but the WP says the concerns go above and beyond the obvious privacy issues. Buried halfway down the story, the paper explains how the more DNA the government keeps on file, the more problematic it can be for law enforcement officials, as backlogs, inefficient DNA dragnets, and mistaken-identity cases burgeon. Yet as time goes by, the circumstances under which samples can be legally taken grow ever broader, and a new bill in Congress could cast the net wider still. 

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Much has been made over the reduction in anti-terror funds for New York and Washington, D.C., but who is to blame for the cuts? The NYT says it's a mystery, as this year DHS appointed a secret peer-review board to determine, at least in part, where the money was most needed. But as the board's membership and its criteria for estimating threats aren't disclosed, the process is a little difficult to appeal. The story says the board only accounts for a third of the total calculations determining the allotments, however, and the cuts may have their root in an old debate over how best to spend the money. DHS wants permanent infrastructural improvements, while NYC says it needs the money for services like increased police coverage.

The White House is now more open to opposing opinions, trumpets the WP under the fold. The paper points to recent appointments like Tony Snow and Henry M. Paulson Jr. as springs of fresh perspective in the executive branch, and to decisions like last week's announcement of conditions for diplomacy with Iran as proof that dissenting views are being considered. The piece comes off as artless spin at first—Tony Snow isn't exactly Bush's polar opposite—but then it mentions former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently being invited to the White House to give the president advice on Iran—advice that he eventually took. Granted, the WP says the Iran position may be a diplomatic feint to appease China and Russia, so perhaps it's a little early to declare the marketplace of ideas open for business.

The WSJ reports on how California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to recapture some momentum after getting shot down at the polls last November: He's spending a ton on education and making nice with the Democrats. Perhaps most surprising of all, it appears to be working for him.

The Chevy Impala embodies everything that's wrong with the American automotive industry, says the NYT in a provocative off-lead.

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The LAT goes under the fold with lessons from the 1986 immigration bill and takes a look at how the bill recently passed by the Senate would address the old legislation's problems … or not.

The NYT fronts a profile on Letitia Hoadley White, a prominent Washington lobbyist and former congressional staffer who led a rags-to-riches life but now may get caught up in a bribery probe. The paper reports that White's old boss, Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., is currently under investigation as part of a larger probe into earmarks impropriety, and now the scope of the investigation may encompass her as well. The NYT's explanation of why White would be under investigation is a little vague (boiling down to her knowing all the right people and prospering for it), but the story of how a former receptionist became the "queen of earmarks" is worth a gander.

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes on a whirlwind tour of his country, making promises and hearing grievances, the WP examines how he managed to become so popular at home and why that still matters, even in a country where the top leaders aren't elected.

Under the fold of the NYT, thrill to the tale of "Bronze Mustache," a Chinese student who seduced a married woman, only to have her cuckold rally an Internet posse of thousands to exact vengeance. 

The WSJ tries to explain why the Journey/Def Leppard summer tour is getting away with charging $100 a head. The short answer: a serious dearth of competition.