Today's Papers

Clerical Error?

Everybody leads with yesterday’s stock market, reopened again for the first time since last Tuesday’s terror attacks and dramatically down. Everybody notes that although the Dow had its largest single-day point loss ever, in percentage terms, its 7 percent decline wasn’t nearly as precipitous as the October 1987 crash’s 22 percent. But, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal remind, the day’s action left the Dow firmly in bear territory relative to its January 2000 peak.

The coverage notes that the down day came despite: a somewhat surprise Fed rate cut shortly before the opening bell; an announced plan by many major corporations to support their stock prices with buy-backs made possible by the SEC’s loosening of constraints on such programs; President Bush’s midday message of his confidence in the economy and his readiness to support a new tax cut as well as a bailout for the airline industry, one of the industry sectors, along with retail, financial, oil, and technology, that got hammered yesterday; and an e-mail-fueled grass-roots patriotic pitch to buy stocks. The Washington Post emphasizes that the stock boost machinery included Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill’s televised prediction of new heights for the market within 12 or 18 months, the sort of forecast, says the paper, his predecessors have avoided to protect their credibility. The few sectors that did well: defense, drugs, security, and communications.

Some of the papers seem to be doing a bit of boosting themselves. The WSJ market story begins with the always-true observation that it could have been worse, and the NYT is likewise uninstructive when it says that although stock prices plummeted after the opening bell (even, notices the paper, going down in a free fall on the Nasdaq during the New York Stock Exchange’s opening two minutes of silence in honor of the terror-attack victims), and on record volume to boot, the market never succumbed to “frenzied” selling. It’s also not clear from the coverage who was in the market. The NYT says many institutional investors stayed on the sidelines while the WSJ says that the selling appeared to come from big institutional investors.

All the fronts report that yesterday, President Bush described his goal regarding Osama Bin Laden by referring to Old West posters that said, “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” The fronts also report that after being told directly by Pakistan’s intelligence chief that failure to give Bin Laden to the U.S. will mean suffering attacks by U.S. forces, the head of Afghanistan’s Taliban has asked a panel of Muslim clerics to rule on the propriety of the hand-over. The NYT and WP fronts pass along a Reuters report that meanwhile, the Taliban has moved military units armed with missiles up to the Pakistan border.

The WSJ story atop the paper’s front-page worldwide news box says an unidentified U.S. senior official “signaled” that among the military plans currently under discussion are “small commando-style raids” to capture terrorists hiding in countries other than Afghanistan.

The WP goes inside to report that while most of the hijackers are now thought to have entered the U.S. with proper business or tourist visas, some of them had sneaked in to the country, and many had stayed beyond the time frame their visas allowed. The Post story and an Los Angeles Times insider both say that therefore last week’s terror attacks will lead to a slowdown in President Bush’s drive for some sort of liberalization of immigration strictures.

You know those emergency broadcast announcements you always hear on the radio, the ones that say, “In the event of an actual emergency you would have been instructed …”? Well, municipal and federal officials in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia must not have thought last week was an actual emergency–because, according to the WP, none of them activated the radio announcement system.

USA Today reefers word that among the material witnesses arrested by the FBI in the hijack terror investigation is a San Antonio radiologist thought to have possibly provided technical or financial support to at least one of the teams of hijackers. The paper says that officials at the University of Texas, where the doctor is a fifth-year medical resident, were “stunned” by the development. The story doesn’t explain what sort of technical assistance the doctor is thought to have provided to the plotters. Is it possible that he was able to give good advice about how to defeat an airport X-ray machine?