Today's Papers

Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Anthrax 


The Los Angeles Times  and the Wall Street Journal  lead with, and the other papers front, two new anthrax cases: one an assistant to Dan Rather, the other a postal worker near Trenton, N.J., who may have been carrying contaminated mail. USA Today  and the Washington Post  focus on Afghanistan, with the former saying U.S. ground troops are “poised” to enter the fray, while the latter maintains that they’re already involved. The New York Times  goes with the talks in Shanghai between Colin Powell and Russia’s foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, which resulted in new agreement on several strategic issues, including the Pentagon’s plans to build missile defenses. “Not only is the cold war over,” Powell says in the NYT, “the post-cold-war period is also over.”

All of the papers update their anthrax counts. In addition to the two new New York area cases, authorities in Kenya and Argentina have found spores in letters mailed from the United States, the NYT reports. But final tests on the Reno, Nev., letter were negative–no anthrax there. Calm prevailed at CBS, according to the NYT, where the infected worker “remained at her desk,” and her boss, Dan Rather, said he had no plans to be tested. “Our biggest problem is not anthrax today,” he said. “Our biggest problem is fear.”

But certainly the biggest biggest problem might the grade of anthrax involved–is it “run of the mill,” in the words of an assistant secretary of defense, or weapons-grade? An NYT editorial criticizes Tom Ridge for failing to specify in the Daschle case. Weapons-grade anthrax, according to the NYT, would indicate “the involvement of foreign military programs or a highly skilled domestic group capable of inflicting mass casualties.”

The WP fronts the New Jersey postal worker, speculating that she may provide the first solid lead in the case. The letter containing the anthrax spores that made her ill was probably mailed from somewhere along her route. “It certainly narrows it down,” says an FBI official. She got sick on Sept. 27, indicating to authorities that she may have handled the letter to Tom Brokaw, which was postmarked Sept. 18. The WSJ complicates matters, however, reporting that the worker in question was not on the job on Sept. 18. Meanwhile, a $1 million reward is now up for grabs, prompted, in the words of an LAT headline, “by inability to identify senders of bacteria.”

In what appears to be an exclusive–or at least a unique interpretation of the events–the Washington Post reports that a “handful” of U.S. special forces have entered Afghanistan on the ground, signaling a new phase in military operations there. Donald Rumsfeld indicated the need for ground troops yesterday, observing that aircraft “can’t crawl around on the ground and find people.” A Pentagon official also promised “some things that will surprise you–weapons that people don’t know we have.” The Post lead includes the instructions being piped out from U.S. “psychological operations aircraft” to the Afghan citizens below. These include: “Attention! People of Afghanistan, United States forces will be moving into your area.” And, “Please, for your own safety, stay off bridges and roadways, and do not interfere with our troops or military operations. If you do this, you will not be harmed.”

A new WSJ/NBC news poll shows that 87 percent of Americans “totally support” or “mainly support” the air strikes in Afghanistan. 78 percent say the risk of civilian casualties there is well worth it, while 91 percent feel it’s “very likely” or “fairly likely” that the terrorists will retaliate and hit the U.S. again.

The Post and the NYT front similar accounts of President Bush’s junket to Shanghai, where he is trying to enlist the support of Chinese President Jiang Zemin in the war on terrorism. In the words of the NYT, Zemin “glided past a question about whether or not he would specifically endorse American military acts in Afghanistan.” Predictably, Bush said he was confident of China’s support.

The Post, the LAT, and the NYT front the life sentences dealt to four Bin Laden supporters for their part in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. 224 people died in those attacks. The four were also ordered to pay $33 million in restitution, according to the LAT, perhaps taken out of terrorist assets frozen by the Bush administration after Sept. 11.

Finally, a British insurance company called Ultraviolet is seizing the moment by offering an accident policy for anthrax, according to the WSJ. The “fad policy” went on sale Thursday and 20 sold, at 100 pounds per year apiece. A spokeswoman for the Association of British Insurers said that people with life or critical care insurance are already covered in the case of anthrax exposure, rendering the new policy worthless. “My principle responsibility is to make an underwriting profit,” says an Ultraviolet rep in the WSJ. “The prudence of buying it is not my concern at all.”