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EDITORIALS ELSEWHERE

Once and future catastrophes

October 11, 2005|Michael Newman

WHEN DISASTER strikes, words fail and opinions grate. So editorial writers struggle this morning to interpret with grace and tact the devastating earthquake that struck South Asia. (The Times' effort, which is beyond this column's mandate, is elsewhere on this page.)

Illustrating the failure of words are both USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor. USA Today ends its editorial with a nationalistic platitude that is as clumsily written as it is grammatically suspect: "Compassion is not only the right response, it's also how friends are made. And what the USA should consistently be about." As if in response, the Monitor lamely observes that it would be "difficult indeed not to respond with deep empathy ... after a tragedy of this scale."

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal to place the disaster in context, even at the risk of seeming heartless (which the Journal often is). Send Pakistan all the aid and relief supplies it asks for, its editorial says, but what that nation really needs "isn't another round of development financing. It needs economic growth, sustained by free markets, transparent institutions and the rule of law."

Elsewhere, both the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorialize about a disaster waiting to happen: the possible pandemic of avian flu. The Journal-Constitution calls for a federal flu czar (it calls the position "pandemic coordinator") to oversee public-health efforts. The Times is less excitable, sagely noting that "the best defense against a pandemic may lie far from our own shores." That's convenient -- until, of course, it isn't.

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Michael Newman

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