Today's Papers

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

USA Today leads with what appears to be a scoop: According to “senior officials at the State Department, the Pentagon, and other agencies,” the White House has decided that any full-scale invasion of Iraq would “require” a serious provocation by Saddam Hussein, such as fielding nukes, or invading another country. The New York Times and Washington Post lead with word that the House voted overwhelmingly to let airline pilots carry guns while flying. The White House has said that it opposes arming pilots. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with news that the Senate voted 97-0 to enact broad new penalties against corporate corruption. The bill, which everybody notes goes well beyond reforms that the president has called for, classifies as a crime any corporate “scheme or artifice” that defrauds investors. The Journal says that the House is considering its own version of the bill. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that Attorney General John Ashcroft has sent his top civil-rights attorney to L.A. to investigate the video-taped police beating of a 16-year-old black teen.

USAT’s lead says that the White House has concluded that barring some sort of escalation by Iraq, there’s simply not enough support among allies, or potentially at home, for a big-time invasion. The paper says that the focus is now on “smaller-scale options.” This appears to be a serious change in the administration’s plans, or at least in the papers’ coverage of them. Back in April, the NYT reported that the White House had “concluded” that small scale operations (such as a coup, or Afghanistan-style proxy war) wouldn’t work and that an invasion was the likely plan. That story was headlined “U.S. ENVISIONS BLUEPRINT ON IRAQ INCLUDING BIG INVASION NEXT YEAR.”USAT had a similar report around the same time, headlined “INVASION CALLED BEST ANTI-SADDAM OPTION.” Meanwhile, last Friday the NYT’s lead story said, “U.S. PLAN FOR IRAQ IS SAID TO INCLUDE ATTACK ON 3 SIDES.”

(The fact that there are now conflicting reports about the administration’s intentions should help to remind readers—and editors: It’s the Pentagon’s job to make plans for contingencies. So, just because a plan exists, doesn’t mean it’s likely to be carried out.)

The NYT’s lead says that the pilot-arming idea is also “gaining support” in the Senate, meaning that Congress could eventually overrule the administration. But the LAT, which stuffs the story, says that the “odds are slim” that the Senate will pass it.

The NYT and WP front word that the U.S. has “dropped” (WP) its demand that the U.N. give American peacekeepers blanket immunity from the world’s new war-crimes court. Instead, the U.S. is now looking to get its troops a yearlong exemption from prosecution. The Post argues, more than the NYT, that the U.S. essentially caved in the face of unexpected European resistance. Both papers say that some allies still oppose the U.S’s now-revised position.    

Both the NYT and WP point out on their respective front-pages that while President Bush proposed on Tuesday to ban companies from offering loans to corporate officers, in the 1980s he took two such loans.

The Post’s article alsopoints out that yesterday the White House “refused to release” records related to the president’s stint on the board of the company he took loans from, Harken Energy: In response to questions from reporters earlier this week about the shady sale of a Harken subsidiary and his role in it, Bush had said, “You need to look back on the director’s minutes.” Yesterday, the White House explained that it doesn’t have the minutes and that reporters need to get them from Harken, which, the WP notes, has long refused to release the docs. 

The papers all go high with word that the stock market took another big hit yesterday. The Nasdaq closed at its lowest point since May 1997. The NYT warns investors: “Most stocks are still not cheap by historical standards.”

Everybody notes that anthropologists working in Chad have uncovered a 7-million-year-old skull that appears to be remains of the oldest human ancestor every found. It dates back to the time when humans and apes diverged in evolution. The WSJ calls it “paleoanthropology’s most important discovery in 80 years.”

The WP fronts word that the congressional committee investigating 9/11 intel failures says it has concluded that intel agencies never intercepted (and thus never overlooked) one particular piece of information that could have in and of itself led authorities to thwart the hijackers. 

A report inside the NYT headlines “BY 2010, AIDS MAY LEAVE 20 MILLION AFRICAN ORPHANS.”This seems misleading. As the article itself explains (up high), the 20 million figure comes from a new report that “defines orphans as children who have lost one or both parents.” Reader question: Would you consider a child who has lost one parent to be an orphan? USAT runs a similar headline to the NYT, while the Post and Journal’s headlines(at least online) wisely stay away from specific figures and simply say that the number of orphans is going up.

The papers go high with a new study that concludes that a common knee operation—to flush out debris in order to treat arthritis—simply doesn’t work. Somewhere between 225,000 (NYT) and 650,000 (WSJ) people get the surgery every year.

NYT columnist Bill Safire talked to his“spooky sources” around the world and comes up with the “Golden Cloak & Dagger Awards.” He says the U.S. is best for gathering electronic intel, though not, of course, for actually analyzing it. The Brits, he hears, are tops at that. He also says that Gen. Saeb Khier of Jordan wins “Spook of the Year Award,” though Safire concedes, fittingly, “no panel member is willing to say why.”