Today's Papers

Power Play

The Washington Post leads with chief inspector Hans Blix’s comments that the inspections are only now getting up to speed and that he considers the coming Jan. 27 report to be “the beginning of the inspection and monitoring process.” Last week, the White House touted the report as the start of “the final phase,” but yesterday Press Secretary Ari Fleischer backed down from that kind of talk and said President Bush “has not put a timetable” on action. The Los Angeles Times’ lead says the White House has decided to suspend aid to Colombia’s top air force unit because the unit has failed to investigate how one of its planes bombed civilians three years ago, killing 18 people. The paper says this is the first time that the U.S. has cut off funding to a Colombian military unit. USA Today leads with a new poll on President Bush: The president’s popularity numbers are at their lowest point since 9/11, but are still, historically speaking, high for a mid-term president: Fifty-eight percent of respondents approved of the job Bush is doing. That’s down from 63 percent last week (the poll’s stated margin of error is +/-3). In a kind of makeup piece, the New York Times’ lead highlights the latest signs from the White House that it’s willing to negotiate with North Korea: “We are of course willing to talk,” said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly. “Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area.” Kelly said essentially the same thing Sunday, but yesterday’s Times stuffed  it.

A piece inside the WP says that different camps within the White House had somewhat different reactions to Kelly’s statement. “He went off the reservation,” said one administration official. Another official, definitely unnamed, said Kelly’s comments were fine and added that those White House officials who don’t want to negotiate “increasingly don’t give a damn. They know [Korean leader Kim Jong-il] is evil. They want him dead.” So, how does the Post headline this remarkable rumble? “U.S. SAYS NO NEW TACK ON N. KOREA.”

USAT’s poll piece quotes a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution who has some deep insights. “If the economy improves, a diplomatic solution is found to the North Korea problem and a war in Iraq is successful, Bush will benefit,” he said. “If any one of them is a failure, it can hurt.”

The Post off-leads and others stuff a new study showing that the number of kids taking psychiatric drugs is going through the roof. The Post says the number has tripled in the past 15 years. In 1996, the latest year for which the paper mentions hard numbers, about six percent of kids were taking psychiatric drugs. The Post says the reasons for the spike aren’t clear but plays up the theory that insurance companies are pushing drugs in lieu of psychotherapy, which is more expensive. The NYT skips that and emphasizes that no one knows  what the increase means: It could be a sign that there’s too much prescribing going on, but it could also be evidence of growing awareness of mental illnesses. The NYT’s piece also raises an interesting point: One researcher told the paper that some animal studies have suggested that psychiatric drugs can have lasting effects on the brain if administered before puberty. Without further study, he said, “we’re doing these experiments more or less with our own children.”

Citing White House sources, the NYT says that inspectors are going to start outside-the-country interviews with Iraqi scientists next week. “The idea is to make sure that life starts getting a lot hotter for Saddam in the next few weeks,” said one unnamed official. It may not: The Post quotes Blix as saying there are still “imponderables” regarding such chats.

In a small scoop, USATsays it “has learned” that President Bush plans to unfreeze about $500 million in funds designated to help Russia secure and dismantle its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs. A few Republicans in Congress had been holding up the money because they wanted proof that Russia wasn’t misspending it. Bush overruled them. USAT, by the way, has been leading the pack  on this story.  

A piece inside the Post notes that the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigates crashes, is stepping down as of Saturday, and unless the White House appoints a temporary replacement the agency will be paralyzed. That’s because, according to the law, only the head of the NTSB can launch new investigations. The WP says the White House “did not respond” to a request for comment.

Everybody notes that yesterday conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman officially jumped into the race for president.

A Page One piece in yesterday’s NYT reported that the Pentagon had information that terrorists planned to bomb a plane ferrying troops to the Middle East. Citing military officials, the paper said the intel named “a specific civilian airline company, a specific airport in the United States and a specific date and time.” Big news, right? Well. … Here’s what a military spokesman—stationed at the same base from which the NYT’s piece was filed—told Agence France Presse: “I would say that statement is not true. We have not had a specific threat on a specific airline. … We get intelligence reports every day and the threats against a commercial airline carrying our troops have all been general.” TP couldn’t find a mention of the denial anywhere in today’s NYT.

The Post’s magazine critic, Peter Carlson, reviews Placebo Journal, a humor magazine for doctors and nurses. It also has some features for patients. For example, there are helpful Q&As, such as:

What does my doctor do “on-call”?He drinks heavily. Actually, that’s a joke. Your doctor tries to spend time with his family. Unfortunately he is taken away from them many times to answer questions about someone’s rash on their ass or toe that is sprained. This eventually leads to divorce, but don’t let that stop you from calling.

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