Death toll continues to rise in China; Clinton trounces Obama in West Virginia.

Death toll continues to rise in China; Clinton trounces Obama in West Virginia.

Death toll continues to rise in China; Clinton trounces Obama in West Virginia.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 14 2008 6:27 AM

Crisis = Opportunity

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox all lead with the continuing rescue efforts in China, where the rapidly mounting death toll from Monday's devastating earthquake now stands at more than 12,000. Thousands of people are still buried, and rescue workers struggled to reach some of the worst-hit areas that have been largely closed off to the outside world by landslides  that blocked roads. Around 50,000 soldiers have been mobilized to help with the effort, and the Chinese government said it has allocated $120 million for aid. Officials welcomed money and supplies from around the world but emphasized that foreign aid workers would not be admitted.

The Washington Postand USA Todaygo big with the rescue efforts in China but devote their lead spots to Sen. Hillary Clinton's overwhelming victory over Sen. Barack Obama in the West Virginia primary. Clinton trounced Obama by more than 40 percentage points in what everyone says was one of the most lopsided results of the primary season. But while Clinton's camp insists yesterday's results illustrate that she has a better chance of beating Sen. John McCain in November, it doesn't seem like many are paying attention. (Case in point: Today marks the first time this year that the LAT doesn't put the results of a Democratic primary on Page One.)

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As rescue workers continued to try to find people who might still be alive under the rubble, viewers of Chinese television are able to follow the operations through practically nonstop coverage. That may not be surprising considering the extent of the disaster, but the NYT points out in a separate Page One piece that it's "remarkable for a country that has a history of concealing the scope of natural calamities." Chinese authorities seem to realize that the world is watching and the decision to scale back celebrations along the Olympic torch route appears to be a sign that the government listens to criticism.

The Post notes that the Central Propaganda Bureau told editors in Beijing not to send journalists to the disaster areas, but the NYT says that "scores of Chinese reporters have been broadcasting live from places across the quake zone" and foreign journalists haven't faced any restrictions. The LAT, in its own front-page analysis piece says the order not to send journalists was issued soon after the earthquake but "what happened next … indicates how much China has changed." Top government officials rushed to the scene and most media simply ignored the order. The LAT says this tragedy has given the Chinese government "an opportunity for a dramatic image makeover" to change talk of Tibet and abuses into compassion for the victims. More than anything, Chinese authorities seem to want to display competency. The words Hurricane Katrina come up in both the LAT and NYT, as if the Communist government wants to prove that it can do rescue operations more efficiently than the United States. And, of course, officials want to show that China is not neighboring Burma, where the military government was still blocking large-scale aid efforts 10 days after Cyclone Nargis destroyed large areas of the country.

The devastation from the earthquake put on display the obvious uncomfortable truth that there's a widening gap between China's rich and poor, says the WSJ. Most of the damage took place in rural areas or small cities, where building regulations appear to be routinely ignored. Natural disasters often disproportionately affect the poor, but the issue is "especially thorny" in China, where the government has been emphasizing its plans to close the gap.  

Even though Clinton's resounding victory in West Virginia means she'll get most of the state's 28 pledged delegates, it'll do little to change the overall math that will almost certainly crown Obama as the Democratic nominee. Slate's John Dickerson puts it in perspective and writes that unless the rules for Michigan and Florida delegates change, Clinton "must reverse the math by convincing more than 70 percent of the remaining superdelegates to initiate Party Armageddon by denying Obama the nomination." Still, the results illustrated that Obama might have trouble getting West Virginia voters into his column in November, as more than half said they'd be dissatisfied if he wins the nomination. The NYT highlights that "racial considerations emerged as an unusually salient factor" yesterday as two in 10 white voters said race influenced their decision, and the overwhelming majority of them backed Clinton.

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USAT and LAT take a look at the question of how Clinton could go about erasing her campaign's $21 million debt, which includes more than $11 million that came from her own pockets. Experts note that Obama will probably have to step in to help, a move that has plenty of precedent. Obama wouldn't be able to directly transfer money from his campaign to Clinton's, but he could ask his supporters to donate money or headline a fundraiser. Clinton has about $22 million for the general election, and she could ask donors to send that money to Obama so his supporters would feel better about donating to her cause. Alternatively, she could transfer the debt to her Senate account and ask donors to send money in that direction. But she must act quickly if she hopes to get her personal loan back, because she can only recoup that money until the convention.

The Post fronts, and everyone mentions, news from a special congressional election in Mississippi, where a Democrat won a House seat that had been Republican since 1995. It was the third time this year that a Democrat won a special election for what had been a Republican-held seat, which everyone sees a sign of the troubles that the GOP will face in November. "There is no district that is safe for Republican candidates," Rep. Chris Van Hollen said.

The WP fronts the last in its often-unbelievable four-part series that shines a light on the poor medical care that foreign detainees receive at special immigration prisons. Reporters Amy Goldstein and Dana Priest go out with a bang today and reveal that the government has drugged detainees for deportation with powerful medications that are meant to treat "serious psychiatric disorders." These types of drugs aren't supposed to be used unless the detainee has a medical disorder or is extremely aggressive, but officials even used them on some detainees who "proved peaceful the day they were sent home."

In the NYT's op-ed page, Robert Kaplan writes that as frustration with the Burmese government continues to grow, "there is an increasing degree of chatter about the possibility of an American-led invasion of the Irrawaddy River Delta." Merely threatening such action could be helpful, and if it's part of an international effort, "this is military doable." But nothing is as easy as it seems, and such an intervention could lead to the collapse of the Burmese government. "Sending in marines and sailors is the easy part; but make no mistake, the very act of our invasion could land us with the responsibility for fixing Burma afterward."

The LAT, NYT, and WP front the death of Robert Rauschenberg, the influential and innovative American artist "who time and again reshaped art in the 20th century" ( NYT). He was 82 and died of heart failure. The WP quotes art critic Robert Hughes: "There has never been anything in American art to match the effusive, unconstrained energy of Rauschenberg's generous imagination."

The WSJ fronts a look at "some of the most provocative writing on broadcast television" that is put out by Chuck Lorre, a writer and executive producer of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. The writing the WSJ is referring to isn't in the sitcoms but rather in the so-called "vanity cards" that are flashed on the screen for a few seconds at the end of the shows. Lorre uses them to broadcast an essay of around 100 to 200 words, where he espouses his opinions on a variety of topics. On Monday, Lorre's vanity card described Warner Bros., the producer of his shows, as "monolithic, multi-tiered, entirely un-integrated, boy-did-we-make-a-colossal-boo-boo-with-AOL entity." He also mentioned how the cards would be the subject of an "article in The Wall Street Journal (or as I like to call it, The Depressingly Inevitable Next Step Toward the End of a Free Press in America, Thanks a Lot Rupert, Journal)."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.