Today's Papers

Is It War Yet?

The New York Times leads with a suddenly patient U.S. easing up on the U.N. and perhaps allowing several weeks for weapons inspectors to continue their work after they report their initial findings on Monday. But it will take several weeks—perhaps into March—for U.S. troops to get into position in the Gulf anyway, according to the Washington Post lead. The Los Angeles Times Iraq catchall includes a preview of Tuesday’s State of the Union address, in which Bush will tell us to prepare for—though he will stop short of declaring—war.

The NYT devotes much of its lead to the “fierce internal debate” within the Bush administration over how much information about Iraq it can release to the public. State and Defense officials don’t want to compromise their operatives and the “methods by which they obtained the information.” The Times has a field day with this sort of thing, arriving, by the 23rd paragraph, at “[t]he administration acknowledges that it has a major uphill effort to convince Americans—not to mention the Europeans—of the reasons for going to war, but says much of their case comes down to asking Americans to place blind faith in the administration.” An unnamed administration official says the evidence against Iraq is “akin to an impressionist painting,” based on hundreds or thousands of tiny clues.

The administration’s new diplomatic leanings may just be a way to pass the time while U.S. troops make their way to the Gulf. The WP reports the whereabouts of U.S. battleships—only the USS Constellation is already in the Gulf, and most of the others have a long sail ahead of them, meaning they won’t be in place for another month or so.

The LAT reports in its lead that Bush will not declare war on Iraq on Tuesday but will tell us to get ready. For Americans abroad—from Beirut to the Bahamas—this means being prepared to flee at any time, according to a State Department alert. (Four million Americans live abroad and “thousands more” are traveling outside the U.S. on any given day, according to State.) The LAT lead also gives a lot of ink to Saddam Hussein’s trash-talking son, who warned the U.S. to stay away “because if they come, Sept. 11—which they are crying over and see as a big thing—will be a real picnic for them, God willing.”

The NYT off-leads Tom Daschle’s new economic stimulus plan—one of several proposed by Democrats in response to the Bush proposal. Unlike Bush, Daschle would not cut the dividend tax, but he does have a $300-per-person rebate check (sound familiar?), $40 billion in aid to states and cities, and more help for low- and middle-income earners. The Dems don’t have the votes to pass the plan, but it may be their “most reliable political tool once the jockeying over tax cuts begins,” the Times reports.

The NYT fronts the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., the federal agency that insures pensions, and which had, as of a year ago, an $8 billion surplus. Now, thanks to a series of big corporate bankruptcies, there’s a deficit of $1 billion to $2 billion, and things are likely to worsen as companies continue to tumble. “Businesses support the agency’s operations by paying premiums for each person covered by the insurance, and they are sure to resist any increase,” the Times reports. “The decisions are difficult. Postpone the increase and the pension system could be imperiled, but increase it too sharply and companies might decide to stop offering pensions altogether.”

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, the “sturdy, commanding presence in the whirl of a storm” (the sniper attacks) has a book deal and maybe a movie, according to a WP fronter. “He’s got a great story to tell America, and he should be able to do that,” says the county exec who hired him. But the county Ethics Committee has rules, and one of them says an official can’t use “the prestige of his or her office for personal gain.” Moose is going forward anyway. His agent, the Post reports, also represents Pope John Paul II, Monica Lewinsky’s mother, and Bo Derek.

The NYT fronts the future of television: all reality (almost) all the time. “The world as we knew it is over,” says CBS Prez Leslie Moonves. American Idol, The Bachelorette, and the others are taking over—and inciting revolution. Scripts, actors, even commercials may be on the wane, as sponsors insert their brands into the shows themselves, as Ford and Coke have done on Idol. TV execs also predict the end of the September premieres, with reality (in all its guises) debuting year-round. “The audience is never wrong,” says a Fox higher-up, trying to sound noble. “They have a huge appetite for this, and we’ve got a responsibility to satisfy that appetite.”