Everybody leads, in one form or another, with Iraq—all covering essentially the same ground but with different emphases. Saddam’s speech—in which he likened Bush to the grandson of Genghis Khan—gets top billing in the Washington Post, while the New York Times goes with the weapons inspectors and their plea for more time. The Los Angeles Times, in its top non-local story, focuses on Colin Powell’s promise that the U.S. will soon bolster its case against Iraq with the release of new, damning information.
Saddam’s speech drew little attention from the Bush administration or the weapons inspectors, and the Post overplays it. “Baghdad, its people and leadership, is determined to force the Mongols of our age to commit suicide at its gates,” he said. “Anyone who tries to climb over its walls … will fail in his attempt.” And so on, for 40 minutes. There was no mention of the inspectors or the warheads they found on Thursday. The speech marked the anniversary of the start of the 1991 Gulf War.
The NYT buries Saddam’s screed, focusing instead on the conflict between arms inspectors and the Bush administration. Blix and his people want more time. The empty warheads are evidence, they say, that their searches are beginning to bear fruit. Nonsense, says the administration, which argues that war is fast becoming justified. Ari Fleischer called the shells “troubling and serious,” while the inspectors, speaking in Paris where their brand of sobriety is embraced, downplayed the significance of the discovery.
Jacques Chirac hit some familiar notes forcefully. “It’s the responsibility of the Security Council and the Security Council alone to make a decision regarding the report and also the requests of the inspectors,” he said, as reported in the NYT. “If one country or another were to take a step that did not conform to what I just said, it would put itself purely and simply in contravention of international law.”
In a news analysis that reads more like an editorial, the NYT states flatly that “the warheads are not a provocation so serious that it would justify going to war.” The Times buys the Iraqi explanation: that the shells were merely an oversight rather than an attempt to conceal. They were found in an area that had been searched by inspectors before and was likely to be searched again. “If they were going to hide them, why would they leave them at a site they knew the inspectors were probably going to visit?” asks the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. For the administration, however, the shells constitute another piece of hard evidence (in addition to the incomplete arms declaration) that Iraq’s intent is to deceive.
The LAT fronts the oldest generation—people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s—who are, according to polls, the most skeptical of Bush’s war plans. “Now don’t paint me as un-American,” says a 90-year-old who commanded an artillery battery in WW II. “I’m a solid, hard-rock American. I’ve been a Republican since 1934. I just don’t like fighting the kind of war that I can’t put my fingers on. With the Germans, you could depend on what they were going to do, but these people fight different.”
Condoleezza Rice makes the fronts of the Post and the LAT for her disagreement—sort of—with George W. over affirmative action. With Bush’s blessing, Rice released a statement saying that race could be used as “one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body,” according to the LAT. This might look like dissent, but then she somehow also agrees with Bush’s position on the U, of Michigan; so, who knows?
A NYT editorial nicely distinguishes quotas from affirmative action. Here’s an excerpt: ” … ‘quota’ has a specific meaning, and the University of Michigan’s admissions policies do not meet it. In University of California Regents v. Bakke, the landmark 1978 case that upheld affirmative action while striking down quotas, the Supreme Court invalidated a medical school admissions system that set aside 16 ‘special admissions’ places in the class, which invariably went to minorities. At Michigan, in both undergraduate and law school admissions, all applicants apply for all positions in the class. The university gives applicants extra points for belonging to an underrepresented racial or ethnic minority. But it also gives diversity points to applicants who come from an underrepresented part of the state, like Michigan’s largely white Upper Peninsula, scholarship athletes, and men in the nursing program.”
Finally, the NYT trolls the depths of second-chance celebrity—and we all go along maliciously for the ride. “There has never been a better time to be a has-been,” the paper writes, and indeed, the winter TV schedule is a blizzard of “loser chic,” starring the likes of Melissa Rivers, Bruce Jenner, and Corbin Bernsen. It’s the latest in reality television, inspired by The Osbournes, presumably. “We grew up with these people in our living rooms,” says an E! VP. “It doesn’t matter whether the stars are shining at their brightest or have dimmed over the past 20 years, they are still celebrities.”