Today's Papers

Bush Whacked

The New York Times and USA Today lead with President Bush’s comments, from his first full-scale news conference in five months, smacking Israel’s aggressive military tactics of the past few weeks. “Frankly, it’s not helpful what the Israelis have recently done in order to create conditions for peace,” said Bush. The Los Angeles Times’ top non-local story also highlights Bush’s comments and mentions similar talk by Vice President Cheney. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and the Washington Post also lead with tough talk from Bush, although directed at a different target: Saddam Hussein. “He is a problem,” Bush said. “And we’re going to deal with him.”

The president also warned potential adversaries, “We’ve got all our options on the table.” (Translation for the subtlety-impaired: Attention enemies, we have nukes.)

Everybody notes that an Italian free-lance photographer in Ramallah was killed yesterday by machine-gun fire from an Israeli tank. A French photographer in the town was also injured when a bomb (of unknown origins) went off near him.

A wire story in the WSJ says, “In one exchange, the deputy commander of the Palestinian security service Force 17 was killed by Israeli tank fire.” The paper could have been clearer about this: Force 17, as the LAT and WP correctly note, is “Arafat’s presidential guard.”

The papers all mention that an Israeli soldier was also killed yesterday. (According to late wire reports picked up by USAT, at least three more Israelis and two Palestinians have been killed in fighting.)

Yesterday, a few of the papers reported that Arafat has urged Palestinians to fight against Israel’s operation. In other words, the conflict has become something close to an outright war between forces led by Sharon and those led by Arafat. The papers today generally skip over this point.

USAT is an exception. The paper stuffs a remarkable interview with Maslama Thabet, a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group that has taken the lead in attacks against Israel and that the papers for weeks had flaccidly noted was “linked to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction.”  In the interview, Thabet said, “The truth is, we are Fatah itself, but we don’t operate under the name of Fatah. We are the armed wing of the organization. We receive our instructions from Fatah. Our commander is Yasser Arafat himself.”

The paper adds that one of Arafat’s spokesmen denied the connection. But another Palestinian Authority spokesmen noted that the brigade is “loyal to President Arafat.”

USAT, which mentions that other Palestinian officials acknowledge ties, slams home the significance of this, albeit in the 12th paragraph of an inside story: “The link between the Brigade and Arafat signals a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It means the Palestinian leadership has openly allied itself with a terrorist group.”

An article inside the NYT reports, “Israel’s defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, angrily threatened in a meeting of the country’s top officials to resign today over the extent of the army’s continuing invasion of the unofficial Palestinian capital, Ramallah.” As the paper adds, Ben-Eliezer is also the leader of Israel’s liberal Labor party.

The WP headlines: U.S., AFGHAN FORCES DECLARE BIGGEST BATTLE WON. The paper says, “Operation Anaconda destroyed [al-Qaida and the Taliban’s] last known fortified stronghold in Afghanistan.” The NYT is a bit more skeptical. It headlines: DETAILS OF VICTORY ARE UNCLEAR BUT IT IS CELEBRATED NONETHELESS.

The NYT explains, “The death toll among the Taliban and al-Qaida, provided with consistent variety by both the Afghans and the Americans, seems to go up and down like the fluctuations of a troubled currency: 100, 500, 200, 800, 300.”

“Just say many of the enemy died in Shah-e-Kot,” one Afghan commander told the NYT.

A NYT reporter visited the area and writes, “There was nary a grave in sight and only the three corpses were displayed.”

The Times also mentions, “The Pentagon now acknowledges that it badly underestimated the size of al-Qaida forces entering the battle.”

The NYT fronts a reminder that nearly 3,000 alleged Taliban are still imprisoned in Afghanistan, often in horrendous conditions. “Every 15 days or so, one of them dies,” said a prison warden. “We don’t have enough food for them anymore. We don’t have medicine.”

The WP fronts, and the others stuff, Zimbabwe’s declaration that President Robert Mugabe is the winner of that country’s disputed election. Zimbabwe’s opposition candidate charged that the election was fixed, and President Bush seemed inclined to agree, saying, “The U.S. will not recognize the outcome of the election because we think it’s flawed.”

Everybody notes that Bush ordered an investigation into why the INS recently sent out visa approval notices for two of the Sept. 11 highjackers. “I was stunned, and not happy,” Bush said “Let me put it another way: I was plenty hot.”

The LAT off-leads the Senate’s defeat of a bill that called for higher fuel-efficiency standards. “We bowed down to the special interests on fuel efficiency and as a result of it, we are going to bow down to OPEC for decades to come,” said one senator who had supported the bill.

In the kind of story that headline writers dream about, the papers report that scientists have rigged a monkey so that it can move a cursor just by thinking. The LAT comes through in the clutch: IN A BREAKTHROUGH, MONKEY THINK, COMPUTER DO.

A piece in the NYT was headlined online: DISCHARGES OF GAY TROOPS RISE, AND SO DO BIAS INCIDENTS. The headline was later revised: MILITARY DISCHARGES OF GAYS RISE. (As it happens, about three years ago, Today’s Papers unleashed a similar, albeit uncorrected,  boo-boo.)

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