Today's Papers

Who’s the Underdog?

The Los Angeles Times leads with a summary of what U.N. inspectors have uncovered in Iraq in two months of inspections: hundreds of missile engines and illicit raw materials that would be in violation of U.N. resolutions, but nothing that would corroborate Bush administration claims that Iraq is secretly building chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The New York Times and the Washington Post lead with an Iraqi government official’s comments to foreign reporters that war is almost inevitable, as Iraq, the official says, can’t do anything more to prevent it. 

Gen. Amir Saadi, President Hussein’s chief adviser on weapons inspections, said that only a worsening of the U.S. economic situation or international demonstrations against the U.S. could stave off war, but preparations to mobilize for war would have “a momentum of its own.” As for what efforts his country could take to impede war’s onset, Saadi says, “The onus is on us to prove we don’t have any. Is that credible? Is that just? How can you prove a negative?”

The papers, after delivering Saadi’s words, quickly turn their attention to the three Iraqi weapons scientists who yesterday refused to be interviewed by U.N. inspectors in private. Iraq says they can’t force their scientists to comply with the U.N. request, but the papers quote Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz as saying that Iraq has ordered the killing of any scientist who complied, as well as their families.

The papers also report “unusual” activity around the U.N. compound. Two separate men—one carrying a metal rod and three knives and another carrying a notebook that was apparently empty—approached the compound within a half-hour of each other. The first shouted: “Foreigners and strangers are hurting Iraq. Leave Iraq alone.” The second yelled in Arabic: “Save me! I have been treated unjustly!” Both men were turned over to Iraqi authorities.

On Monday, the two top United Nations inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, will report to the Security Council in New York on the inspections so far.  The WP writes that the report will likely be “painted more in shades of gray than in black and white.”  Blix will offer a mixed assessment of Iraq’s compliance, the paper says, but will also argue for more time.  The chief inspector, the paper reports, wants to deliver a second major report to the U.N. on March 27.

On Tuesday, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address. All papers cover Bush’s preparations for his important speech, albeit with slightly different spins: The NYT says that Bush’s remarks will be an attempt to re-establish his leadership and agenda amid recent difficulties. The WP talks about Bush’s falling poll numbers and does a quasi-focus group with pollsters and political advisers as to what Bush should say. The LAT examines Bush’s workday schedule, and wonders whether the White House is “biting off more than it can chew,” with so many issues—Iraq, North Korea, tax cuts, Medicare, etc.—in the air.

The NYT has an interesting front-page story on one way that oncologists make a lot of money. Unlike most doctors, who write prescriptions for patients to fill out at pharmacies, cancer specialists buy discounted chemotherapy drugs directly from drug manufacturers and then administer them intravenously to patients in their offices. According to the paper, this creates a conflict of interest for these doctors when deciding upon courses of cancer treatment. Health plan insurers are taking harder looks at these practices.

The papers stuff news that two days before Israel’s election, fierce fighting erupted in Gaza City. Israeli forces, striking deeper into the heart of the city than ever before, had anti-tank missiles fired upon them. They responded with gunfire and missiles of their own. Twelve Palestinians were killed and dozens others were injured, witnesses report.

The papers downplay an Internet virus that infected as many as 200,000 computers, slowed Net traffic, and disabled the Bank of America’s 13,000 ATM machines. The virus took advantage of a flaw in the Microsoft database program, SQL Server 2000. IT experts say there isn’t much lasting damage to worry about.

Inside the LAT, the paper reports that 46 people have been convicted of trying to assassinate Turkmenistan’s president, Saparmurad A. Niyazov. Human rights observers have compared the close-door trials to that of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s.

This year’s Super Bowl between the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off at approximately 6:18 ET. But according to the WP, this year’s extravaganza is liable to be rated a disappointment in at least one respect: Fifteen percent of San Diego’s 52,000 hotel rooms are unoccupied. Why? The paper gives three reasons: First, both teams’ fan bases have no cold weather to escape. Second, Oakland is only an 80-minute plane ride or 10-hour drive away. And finally, it’s the economy, stupid.