Today's Papers

Eyeing the Axis

The Washington Post’s lead (headlined: BUSH HAS TOUGH TALK FOR N. KOREA) says that the president went right up to the border with North Korea and delivered a prickly speech. The paper notes that Bush did a word-for-word replay of one of his State of the Union lines, “America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” The New York Times’ lead gets a different feeling from Bush’s comments: BUSH SAYS THE U.S. PLANS NO ATTACKS ON NORTH KOREA. (The LAT’s off-lead has a similar headline.) The NYT writes, “In remarks meant to soothe the fears and angers of South Koreans about what the president has called an ‘axis of evil,’ Mr. Bush said he fully supported the so-called sunshine policy of reunification of the North embraced by the South Korean president.” The top blurb in the  Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox nicely fits in both concepts: “President Bush continued his war of words, but ruled out an invasion.” The Los Angeles Times leads with a federal appeal court’s order that the Federal Communication Commission reconsider its regulations limiting the number of TV stations that any one company can own. The paper says that if the rules are revoked—and that’s likely given that the current head of the FCC supports repealing them—it would be the biggest change in the regulations since they were created in the 1940s and would mean that media conglomerates would be able to buy as many stations as they like. USA Today leads with an interview with an unnamed Pentagon official who said that al-Qaida has been hurt but is still dangerous, “like a wounded animal.”

USAT’s lead says that the anonymous official “provided the Pentagon’s most detailed assessment of the damage to al-Qaida” to date. That may be, but the article only provides a few worthwhile tidbits, including mention that of the 1,000 suspected al-Qaida members who’ve been arrested around the world (a number the CIA’s chief touted, though the paper doesn’t mention that), half have already been released.

Everybody notes, as they did yesterday, that while in Korea, Bush won’t repeat his axis comments. The president, though, did have an “evil” thought. As he was touring the border, a U.S. soldier pointed out that an ax used to kill two American soldiers in the 1970s was now ensconced in a North Korean museum just across the way. Said Bush, “No wonder I think they’re evil.” 

The WP takes a few paragraphs to report on some of the Korean protests. According to the paper, “Riot police held back demonstrators outside the military base where Air Force One landed on Tuesday night, smashing many of the protesters’ signs.” The WP then notes White House communications czarina Karen Hughes’ reaction to the police’s actions: Well, she said, “There aren’t any protests in North Korea.”

Everybody reports on the enormous amount of violence yesterday in the Middle East. Among other attacks, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed six Israeli soldiers. Credit for the attack was claimed by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which USAT describes as “a military unit linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.” (Would one of the papers pleasespend more than 10 words reporting on those links?) The ambush was the deadliest attack on Israeli soldiers since violence erupted in the region 16 months ago. Israel responded with massive retaliatory strikes from the air, sea, and land that killed at least 13 Palestinians.

The NYT’s Middle East piece notes that an Israeli human-rights group claims that a few days ago Israeli tanks fired on Palestinian houses, killing three civilians.

The WP fronts a profile of U.S. special op bomb-targeters who operated in Afghanistan during the height of the war. The article notes, as has been mentioned before, that Northern Alliance soldiers often radioed their Taliban brethren. Only this time, they did something more useful than just taunting:

 “Your bomb missed us,” a Taliban soldier would radio. “Where did it land?” a Northern Alliance officer would respond with some coaching from the Americans. Five hundred meters to the north, would come the answer. The combat controller would immediately recalculate the coordinates and pass them to the nearest aircraft.

The WP stuffs comments made by Attorney General John Ashcroft that put a religious spin on the struggle against terrorism. “Civilized people—Muslims, Christians and Jews—all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator,” said Ashcroft, who was speaking in front of a group of Christian broadcasters. “Civilized people of all religious faiths are called to the defense of His creation. We are a nation called to defend freedom—a freedom that is not the grant of any government or document, but is our endowment from God.”

A Justice Department spokesperson clarified Ashcroft’s remarks: “The message is that we all need to get along in order to fight a common enemy.” 

The NYT has not one but two pieces on its op-ed pages today that oppose the Pentagon’s plan to plant false stories. One of the pieces is an editorial. (Boooring.) The other is a column by Maureen Dowd. “Holy Gulf of Tonkin!” she announces. “There’s enough real bad stuff about the bad guys—they’re Evildoers, after all. So why not just tell the truth?”