Today's Papers

Scoping the Sniper

The Washington Post and USA Today lead with word that the D.C.-area sniper left plenty of clues when he shot and killed a woman yesterday in a parking garage in Virginia. According to the papers, at least one witness actually saw the sniper aim and fire. The New York Times gives the sniper story its biggest frontpage headline. But the Times’ traditional lead spot (the top right-hand corner) has White House officials saying that they warned Indonesia that terrorist attacks were imminent. The Los Angeles Times leads with a poll concluding that the majority of Angelinos and a plurality of those in the San Fernando Valley oppose the Valley’s bit to secede.

USAT describes the suspect as having olive-colored skin and wearing a blue shirt. Witnesses also recalled a partial license plate number. Investigators said that the physical descriptions were really very vague and while they are putting together a sketch, they aren’t going to release details yet. Everybody notes that police requested and the Pentagon approved use of military surveillance planes to watch the D.C. area. The military is barred from doing domestic police duty, but the Pentagon said this wouldn’t run into that problem because cops will be on the surveillance flights and, theoretically, doing the work.

A good piece inside USAT dings various media outlets for trying to do branding work for the sniper and give him a catchy name such as “The Tarot Card Killer.” That’s Newsweek’s cover. “To give him a handle is counterproductive,” says a former FBI profiler. “He’s desperate for that.”

Everybodynotes inside that White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suggested yesterday that the administration doesn’t support creating a nationwide database to track guns through the unique marks they leave on bullets. The WP hits Ari the hardest, emphasizing that his dismissive comments jibe quite nicely with the NRA’s stance. A few hours after Fleischer (mis)spoke, another White House spokesman clarified that the administration plans “to explore the issue.”

The U.S. ambassador to Indonesia gave his most recent warning to President Megawati Sukarnoputri just one day before the Bali bombings. (Yesterday’s WP mentioned that the U.S. had intel that an attack was coming.) The Wall Street Journal says that Megawati is planning to impose a tough new anti-terror law. “Legal problems do not mean we are not going to act,” said one minister. An op-ed in the NYT says that’s a dumb idea. Meanwhile, everybody notes that Laskar Jihad, Indonesia’s largest extremist Muslim group, announced yesterday that it’s disbanding. Laskar Jihad doesn’t seem to be a suspect in the bombings; the group has  focused more on killing Indonesian Christians than on murdering foreigners.

The Journal notes that Australia’s prime minister said yesterday that there’s “mounting evidence” that the attack was carried out by al-Qaida and its local kindred spirit, Jemaah Islamiyah. U.S. authorities say that JI is now definitely going to be officially labeled a terrorist organization. “It’s not even a question anymore,” said one U.S. diplomat. (Given that the U.S. has long known that the group was involved in terror attacks, why was it ever a question?) Everybody says, as the Journal mentioned yesterday, that advanced C-4 explosives were used in the Bali bombings.

The NYT, alone among the papers fronts news that 11 people were found dead inside an empty rail car in Okalahoma. They were probably illegal immigrants and had become trapped because the car’s door only opens from the outside.

The WP off-leads what amounts to a hit piece on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Here’s the defining sentence at the top of the article: “Many senior officers describe Rumsfeld as frequently abusive and indecisive, trusting only a tiny circle of close advisers, seemingly eager to slap down officers with decades of distinguished service.” The article says that besides Rummy’s style, officers in the Pentagon are also peeved by his attempts to transform the military into a kind of futuristic fighting corps. The article waits until the 28th paragraphto say that, because of the success in Afghanistan, relations between Rumsfeld and top officers “have improved.” [Emphasis mine.]

USAT says Israeli officials suggested that they won’t strike back against Iraq unless Saddam launches unconventional weapons or a regular Scud causes a bunch of casualties. The article’s display type leaves out that second part: “ISRAEL PLANS TO AVOID IRAQ WAR:BUT WARNS IT WILL RESPOND TO BIOWEAPON STRIKE.”

Everybody goes high with the stock market’s continuing rally. The Dow jumped 378 points yesterday, giving a four-day increase of nearly 1,000 points, or 13 percent. The last time the Dow had an equivalent spike? April 1933, smack in the middle of the Depression.

The WP’s Lloyd Grove notices that muckraker Geraldo Rivera is back in fine form. Shortly after the D.C. sniper killed Kenneth Bridges at a gas station on Friday, Geraldo broadcast from the scene, calling the sniper a “creep” who had committed “murder and mayhem” from “a cowardly distance.” His work done for the day, Geraldo retired to the local Hooters. There he autographed the orange shorts of several waitresses, signing each twice: once for each cheek.