Today's Papers

Angels in Heaven

The Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal  world-wide newsbox all lead with the emerging toll of Russia’s use of a secret gas to incapacitate Chechen hostage-takers who had taken over a theater in Moscow: At least 115 of the hostages have now died as a result of the gas, while another 150 are still in intensive care. The New York Times leads with the Pentagon leak du jour: Citing unnamed defense officials, the Times says that should the U.S. go into Iraq, the Pentagon plans to call up roughly the same number of reservists that it did during Gulf War I, about 250,000. Any invasion of Iraq would probably be smaller than the 1991 force; the reservists would come in handy to provide sufficient “force protection,” essentially guard duty, a task that’s grown over the past decade. The Los Angeles Times leads with a check-in on the race for control of the House and says that the Democrats’ hope to win a majority is “fading.”

[According to last-minute reports in USAT and the LAT, gunmen shot and killed a U.S. diplomat outside his home in Jordan.]

Everybody details Russia’s various blunders that seem to have contributed to the deaths of many hostages: Few doctors were actually at the theater after the gas was deployed, meaning key minutes passed before the hostages got treatment. The NYT says that while hospitals were told what type of antibiotic to use against the gas, they were given this information shortly before the siege ended and didn’t have enough of the medicine in stock. As everybody notes, doctors were not told what type of gas had been used. Russia has kept an extremely tight lid on info about the rescue and the hostages. The WP says that Russia is now holding many of the hostages themselves “incommunicado.” The Post also isn’t afraid to all put this in its proper historical context: “A penchant for secrecy, along with a disregard for the human consequences, is a long-standing feature of Russian history.”

The NYT’s lead editorial equates the Chechen hostage-takers with the Russian security forces who tried to rescue the hostages: “Both reached a new low” and have “descended ever deeper into a hellhole of brutish behavior.” In making its moral equivalency argument, the Times focuses on Russia’s use of gas, saying “The method chosen seemed to be drawn from crude security manuals written under Soviet rule.” That’s not fair. Russia does seem to have screwed up plenty of aspects of the rescue, but how was the method in and of itself morally reprehensible? A fair judgment about whether or not it was right to use the gas can be made only within the context of what the other options were. (Would it necessarily be wrong, say, to shoot down an airliner hurtling toward Capitol Hill?) The NYT, on its way to facile criticism, never grapples with that.

Everybody goes high with news that former Vice President Walter Mondale is all but certain to replace the late Sen. Paul Wellstone on the ballot in Minnesota. The papers say Mondale is expected to enter the race sometime after Tuesday.

The Post’s off-lead says that many scientists now think that the anthrax from last year’s attacks was of such high quality and so hard to manufacture that it couldn’t have simply been sent by a lone attacker, as the FBI contends. The powder was 10 times finer than any anthrax known to have been developed by either the U.S. or Soviet Union. The scientists in the piece, many of whom are named, speculate that the powder either came via a “rogue” state—read: Iraq, which apparently has the tools to make such high-grade stuff—or was somehow stolen from a classified U.S. government program. The later explanation can’t be ruled out, because the Pentagon wouldn’t talk to the Post about the military’s bio-defense program and whether such fine anthrax is used in it.

The NYT and LAT front news that lefty presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won yesterday’s run-off elections in Brazil.

A piece stuffed inside the NYT says that Mexico, which holds a crucial swing vote on the Security Council, won’t support the U.S.’s proposed U.N. resolution on Iraq. The Times doesn’t quote any Mexican officials saying that, but it does quote some of them saying that Mexico’s top goal is to form a consensus on Iraq, something that’s really unlikely to happen with the U.S.’s current proposal. The other papers all emphasize that Mexico’s President Vicente Fox has been peeved lately because the White House hasn’t yet dealt with important bilateral issues, such as immigration reform. The Post, with the smarty-pants word of the day, says the relationship between Fox and Bush has become “tetchy.”

A worthwhile  editorial in the WP says that a fragile peace agreement in the Congo war, which has killed an estimated two million people since the mid-1990s, is coming close to unraveling. What’s needed, says the Post, is for the U.S. to pay a bit of attention and lean on Congo’s neighbors to keep their troops out. The papers should pay a bit of attention, too: When the peace agreement was signed back in July, only one major fronted the story, the LAT.

As everybody says, the Calif—, er, Anaheim Angels won Game 7 the World Series last night. The Angels beat the San Francisco Giants 4-1, giving the not-much-celebrated team its first ever world championship.

Can we vote Saddam off? The Post’s Howard Kurtz notes Fox’s latest idea for reality TV: Covering weapons inspectors in Iraq. “This is a serious proposal,” wrote one Fox News vice president in a letter to the U.N. “Viewers could decide for themselves if the inspectors are being allowed to do their jobs.”