Today's Papers

Playing Telephone

Everybody leads with the latest on the sniper: A bus driver was shot dead by a single bullet early yesterday in suburban Maryland. If, as expected, the killing is linked to the sniper, he would be the 10th person the attacker has murdered. Also, responding to various vague press reports that the sniper had threatened schools, the police acknowledged that the shooter’s note from three days ago warned, “your children are not safe anywhere at any time.”

The police also continued their attempts to communicate with the shooter. “We have researched the option you stated and found that it is not possible electronically to comply in the manner you requested,” said Police Chief Charles Moose. “However, we remain open and ready to talk to you about the options you have mentioned.” Chief Moose didn’t explain what he was referring to, but the papers say that the note left Saturday night included a demand for $10 million.

The Washington Post has stunning details on the sniper’s letter. According to anonymous sources, the shooter wrote that he had called the tip hotline six times, but was “ignored” by “incompetent” investigators. One unnamed official told to the Post that when one of the phone-bankers took the call from the sniper, she didn’t realize who it was and “pretty much blew him off.” Since they haven’t done so themselves, the police presumably didn’t want those and other details of the letter publicized. The Post probably did the right thing by publishing them, but it would have gotten a gold star if it had explained the police’s position.

USA Today adds that according to police sources, the handwriting on Saturday’s letter isn’t the same as on the tarot card; the sources guess that means that the attacker has an accomplice.

The New York Times and WP both front stories on the apparent lack of coordination between the various police departments and federal agencies involved in the investigation. The Times gives the sense that some police are too worried about leaks (see above) and thus aren’t sharing info with others. The WP makes that point too, but says that the more basic problem is that the investigation involves so many municipalities and agencies that it’s become unwieldy.

The Wall Street Journal  tops its world-wide newsbox with word that Russia and France have both raised objections to the U.S.’s proposed U.N. resolution on Iraq. Their beefs with the resolution center on whether it will have language authorizing—even in a veiled, “consequences” sorta way—military strikes against Iraq. The NYT plays down the snag, noting up high that France said it won’t propose a competing resolution. A Post editorial says the administration should deal with the “Franco-Russian obstructionism” by calling their bluff and bringing the resolution to a vote.

The WP and NYT both front news of something unprecedented in Iraq: a protest. Relatives of prisoners who remain unaccounted for after Saddam opened the jails marched in front of the government’s Ministry of Information (where, as the Post mentions, foreign journalists are HQ’d). The NYT’s piece is gripping (if a touch sappy): “The women’s accounts of their wrenching doorstep partings, and the dates—1980, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1997, 1999—rang out like the tolling of a sexton’s bell.” The Times adds that the protest may be the start of a “seismic trend” in which Iraqis begin to challenge Saddam. Meanwhile, the Post’s piece, which is written in a boring, just-the-news-ma’am style, wins points for saying straight out that while the protests were unprecedented, they were small, and nobody knows whether they’re a sign of anything to come.

Everybody goes inside with an important bit of non-news: Israel, responding to pressure from the U.S., hasn’t retaliated for Monday’s bus bombing that killed 14.

The Los Angeles Times and WP both reefer the Pentagon’s announcement that, in a first, it’s preparing to repatriate a few Guantanamo Bay detainees who officials don’t think pose a threat. “There are some people likely to come out of the other end of the chute,” explained Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Post, which has the most detail on the move, says that seven Pakistanis are getting out. (In a classy move, the WP also credits USAT for having suggested last month that the release would happen.)

A Page One piece in the Journal,looking at “Bush’s regular arguments” that al-Qaida and Saddam are in cahoots, concludes that U.S. intel officials “say they haven’t found hard evidence of an active link.” The article, though, does conclude that Saddam has supported various terrorist endeavors in the past. Right before the Gulf War, he planned a series of attacks against U.S. targets in Southeast Asia. But they never happened, mainly because Saddam’s forces were, as the WSJ says, “remarkably unskilled” and unprofessional. In one case, operatives traveling together carried forged passports, all sequentially numbered. The men were quickly arrested.