Today's Papers

1,001 Arabian Nights?

Everybody leads with the president’s press conference last night, with the New York Times and Washington Post also giving equal prominence to an FBI warning of coming terrorist attacks. The headlines show the complexity of Bush’s choices and statements: USA Today headlines his desire for Americans to not give into fear while also warning of an “imminent attack.” The Los Angeles Times emphasizes Bush’s threat to the Taliban that they face years of attacks–a threat that may seem just as scary to Americans, particularly those who see the Wall Street Journal headline “Bush Vows to Avoid Mistakes of Vietnam In Afghanistan.” The NYT and WP front Bush’s optimistic appraisals of the anti-terror campaign thus far, but also acknowledge the monumental tasks facing the U.S. should it succeed, such as helping rebuild Afghanistan.

The WP, in an article by Bob Woodward and Dan Eggen (and 15 staff writers), has the scariest gloss on the FBI warning: According to unnamed intelligence sources, the country soon will face al-Qaida attacks intended to be bigger than those of Sept. 11. Everyone else merely describes the threats as very serious. The WSJ makes the point that the U.S.S. Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea is “much better protected from a terror attack than, say, downtown Manhattan.”

All reviews of Bush’s press conference give him reasonably high marks, with the most gushing praise coming from the NYT. No one makes a big deal of Bush’s closing announcement that he wants every child in America to give $1 to a fund established to help children in Afghanistan. No one mentions that Bush repeated some form of the phrase “bring them to justice” 16 times.

Everyone fronts stories describing the results of day five of the bombing campaign, with frequent mention of powerful bunker-busting bombs that can apparently penetrate caves. The WP reports that we may have hit “Taliban leader Mohammad Omar’s Chevrolet Suburban with several as yet unidentified individuals inside.” The Taliban unsurprisingly continues to claim substantial civilian deaths (including the death of 15 outside a blown-up mosque) while Donald Rumsfeld just as unsurprisingly says the opposite. USAT reports that U.S. military planes are now taking off from bases inside of Pakistan. The continued airdrops of U.S. humanitarian relief are barely mentioned.

Everyone predicts that the attacks will go on for quite some time. The NYT and WP quote a top British admiral saying he expects the time frame to be at least several months. According to the coverage, Bush reinforced this in his press conference when he said that “bringing al-Qaida to justice … may happen tomorrow. It may happen a month from now. It may take a year or two.”

The papers report that the third anthrax-exposed Florida tabloid employee reported for work yesterday feeling fine. The WSJ, WP, and NYT all run long background stories on the threat. The Post explains in detail the many hurdles that someone wishing to obtain anthrax must go through in this country but then points out that “The World Federation for Culture Collections has a registry of 473 collections of microbes in 62 countries. As of yesterday, 46 of them listed B. anthracis as being available to scientists for sale, exchange or for free.”

The NYT reports that the anthrax might have arrived at the tabloid building in a letter containing a “a bluish powdery substance, a Star of David and a letter from a fan to [Jennifer] Lopez.” The WSJ fronts a piece on the illnesses that have hit soldiers taking the anthrax vaccine and reports that 102 U.S. service members have been court-martialed for refusing to take it.

Everybody also mentions that U.S. relations with the Northern Alliance are fraying and deeply confusing. A NYT analysis explains the conflict in the Bush administration’s policy: The U.S. wants the Northern Alliance to overrun Afghanistan, but the Pakistanis are deathly afraid of just that possibility because of long-running ethnic and political tensions. As a result, the U.S. has not bombed the Taliban outposts near Kabul that would allow the Northern Alliance to advance. USAT fronts a long story on some of the Northern Alliance’s past indiscretions, including multiple accusations of rape and pillage.

The LAT fronts a story above the fold saying that the FBI once had in custody one of the men recently declared among the 22 most wanted terrorists, but let him go after questioning. The LAT reports the story as a scoop, although WP columnist Jim Hoagland also mentions it.

The LAT reports that the Pentagon has quietly sent Clinton CIA Director James Woolsey out to gather information on possible connections between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks. The NYT runs a similar story reporting that a group of Defense Department and nongovernment advisers, including Woolsey, and led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, are trying to figure out ways to oust Saddam Hussein.

The LAT fronts and the WP reefers news that author V.S. Naipaul (also profiled in the Post “Style” section) won the Nobel Prize in literature, with both noting that he has long criticized religious extremism.

Although President Bush has warned that we may have to get used to seeing soldiers on TV for a while, USAT reports that top fashion editors agree that, post-attack, camouflage is now absolutely out of style.