Today's Papers

Guerrilla Theater

On a busy news day, the New York Times leads with the end of the hostage crisis at the Moscow theater that was taken by Chechen rebels on Wednesday night. At least 10 hostages were killed. The Los Angeles Times off-leads the crisis, going instead with Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died with his wife and daughter in a plane crash Friday morning. Democrats are considering Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone on the November ballot. The Washington Post fronts the hostages and Wellstone, but leads with the first criminal charges against the sniper suspects.  

A musical called Nor-Ost was playing Wednesday night when Chechen guerrillas, demanding that Russian troops pull out of Chechnya,  took over the theater in Moscow, according to the NYT. About 700 hostages were taken. Although some—about 60—were released over the next two days, executions of the rest were to begin early Saturday morning if the rebels’ demands were not met. Russian special forces moved in at 6:20 a.m. Saturday and retook the theater in a matter of minutes, but not without bloodshed. In addition to the at least 10 hostages who died, about three dozen of the rebels (including their leader) were killed, though a few did manage to escape. “I would like to warn bandits and society that we have all information about them and that if they give up, we will guarantee their lives,” a Russian Interior Minster says in the LAT.

Some sort of sleeping gas was pumped into the church before the raid, making it difficult  to determine who among the hostages was actually hurt or killed, the NYT reports. The rebels had planted explosives, the Post reports, but sappers “worked frantically to clear the booby-trapped theater.” The paper also reports that conditions inside had deteriorated before the raid, with hostages rationing candy and cakes from the snack bar and using the orchestra pit as a toilet.

In response to the plane crash news, Tom Harken said in the LAT,“Paul Wellstone was my closest friend in the Senate.” One of the Senate’s most liberal members, Wellstone had recently opposed the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. He was in a tight race in Minnesota with Republican Norm Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul, the LAT reports. Now, with 11 days until the election, the Dems must come up with a strong replacement—Walter Mondale will be the leading candidate if he is interested. “As long as the state Democratic party nominates a respectable candidate, that nominee will now be favored to take the seat,” says a UVA professor in the LAT. “An intense wave of sympathy may well help all Democrats in Minnesota on Nov. 5.”

The NYT editorial on Wellstone calls him “a principled fighter for liberal causes, a maverick in a Senate known more for collegiality than fierce independence, a sworn enemy of big-money politics—he championed a ban on gifts to lawmakers by special interests, much to the annoyance of many of his colleagues—and a reliable friend of the dispossessed and the environment.”

The LAT reminds us that Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a place crash during the home stretch of his Senate campaign in 2000. He won anyway, defeating John Ashcroft, and Jean Carnahan, Mel’s widow, who is now embroiled in a tight race of her own, took his place.

In sniper-related news, Montgomery County, M.D., where six of the 10 murders took place, became the first jurisdiction to bring charges against the two suspects, according to the WP lead. The NYT says, however, that the feds will ultimately decide who gets to take first shot at the shooters. “Our overriding concern in evaluating this is the consideration of the death penalty,” a Justice Deptartment official says in the Times. John Lee Malvo, 17, is not eligible for the death penalty under Maryland or federal law, but he could be sentenced to death in Virginia, the WP reports.

A new California law on battered women’s syndrome led to the release, after 17 years in prison, of an abused woman who killed her husband in 1985, according to an LAT fronter. The law allows inmates to file habeas corpus petitions in cases in which evidence of battered women’s syndrome was not permitted at trial. The woman was recently denied parole by Gov. Gray Davis. California did not allow expert testimony on battered women’s syndrome until 1992.

Finally, A.O. Scott reviews Jackass: the Movie in the NYT and seems a bit more pleased with it than he probably would’ve liked. “What would happen if you attached a bungee cord to your underpants and jumped out of a tree? … And what if you snorted a line of wasabi? … Or ate a snowball soaked in urine?” And so on. Scott admits to feeling “a spasm of revulsion that mutates into shocked, involuntary laughter.” He finally sobers up—remembering for whom he’s writing—by the end. ” ‘Jackass the Movie’ is rated R,” he writes. “It is crude, brutal and obscene.”