Today's Papers

Icy France

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post all lead with France’s surprise statement that it won’t support any immediate military action against Iraq and might use its Security Council veto to reiterate that point. China, Russia, and Germany also said they weren’t into action. “We believe that nothing today justifies envisaging military action,” said France’s foreign minister, who also accused Washington of “impatience.” The Wall Street Journal, which tops its world-wide newsbox with Iraq, plays down France and instead emphasizes Secretary of State Colin Powell’s plea to Security Council members not to “shrink” from a confrontation. USA Today’s lead says that an increasing but still small number of hospitals are opting out of the White House’s plan to vaccinate medical workers against smallpox. The dissenters argue that large-scale preventative use of the vaccine—which has a relatively high rate of complications—isn’t needed to counter the hypothetical threat. A better idea, they say, would be to simply pre-position the vaccine, so that any major population center would be ready in the event of an outbreak.

(According to early-morning reports, unknown gunmen fired on a car in Kuwait, killing one American and wounding another. The two were civilian defense contractors.)

Only Britain expressed support yesterday for action. And as everybody mentions, the U.K. also announced it’s sending 26,000 troops—one quarter of its army—to the Persian Gulf.

Paraphrasing inspectors, the NYTimes says that while Iraq has made a big show of cooperating with the inspectors, “in practice, the only aspect of the inspections that has gone smoothly has been gaining access to Iraqi sites.”

The WP and NYT both give big front-page play to Iraqi officials’ promise to no longer block private interviews with Iraqi scientists. The interview pledge was the most significant demand among 10 that inspectors made and that Iraq has now agreed to.

Meanwhile, buried in the 21st paragraph of the Post’s piece is word that the U.N. “agreed to let Iraqi scientists record their interviews.” Doesn’t that sort of undercut the significance of the deal? Iraq may no longer be among the world’s most developed nations, but presumably Saddam’s regime still has tape players.

A piece inside the NYT says that the Turkish government is leaning toward allowing the U.S. to base about 20,000 ground troops in Turkey, about a quarter of what the Pentagon wants. A piece inside the Postmentions that too, but unlike the Times, it emphasizes that talks are just beginning.

USAT says despite recent talk about how minorities are over-represented in the military, blacks are actually under-represented among actual combat troops. According to stats compiled by the paper, African-Americans make up only 10 percent of enlisted infantry.

A front-page piece in the WP says it knows how Osama skipped out during the attack on Tora Bora: Apparently Bin Laden gave his satellite phone to a bodyguard who then went elsewhere and starting phoning furiously, hoping that U.S. spooks would pick up the signals and be led down the wrong trail. They did and were. At least that’s what Moroccan intelligence officials who interviewed the bodyguard told the Post.   

It’s official; the WP has launched a journalistic crusade, and it’s a worthy one: Alone among the papers, the Post has been highlighting the GOP’s decision to weaken House ethics rules. (See here and here.) Today’s front-page installment, which doesn’t report much that’s new, emphasizes that the most recent weakening is part of nearly decadelong trend.

Everybody fronts the death of master caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who drew entertainment big shots for more than 75 years—from Charlie Chaplin to Jerry Seinfeld. He was 99.