Today's Papers

Boob Tubes

The papers once again lead with the widening chasm at the U.N. as the U.S. and Britain set a new deadline for Iraqi disarmament, which the French and Russians summarily dismissed. “We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as inspectors are reporting cooperation,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the security council, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. The day’s intrigue revolved around claims by Mohamed ElBaradei that some of the evidence presented by the U.S. and Britain against Iraq had been faked. “There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities,” ElBaradei says in the Washington Post.

The new resolution submitted by the British gives Iraq until March 17 to disarm, the New York Times reports. A vote on the resolution could come as early as Tuesday, though even if it fails—and it may well—John Negreponte argues in the NYT that the U.S. has legal authority to go to war under previous resolutions.

Hans Blix says Iraq has made real efforts—”initiatives,” he calls them in the NYT—to reduce its arsenal, including the destruction of 34 Al-Samoud 2 missiles. “We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks,” he says. Colin Powell counters: “I know these are not toothpicks, but real missiles, but the problem is, we don’t know how many missiles there are, how many toothpicks there are.” Then there was the quarrel over semantics. “I don’t know if we should call these things ‘initiatives.’ ” Powell told the council, as quoted in the NYT. “Whatever they are, Iraq’s small steps are certainly not initiatives.”

The WP gets the most mileage out of ElBaradei’s claims that evidence of Iraq’s nuclear ambitions was faked. In a separate fronter, the paper describes a series of forged letters intended to prove that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger two years ago. The letters were “reviewed extensively” by U.S. intelligence, which failed to catch “relatively crude errors” and accepted the letters as authentic. (“We fell for it,” says a U.S. official in the Post.) The identity of the forger remains unclear. Then there’s the matter of the tubes that Iraq has been importing. In his State of the Union address, Bush called them “high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.” Yesterday, ElBaradei said the tubes were clearly ill-suited for this purpose. What’s more, Powell was informed of this fact before he echoed Bush’s claims in front of the security council last month. “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes,” says the president of the Institute for Science and International Security in the Post. As a State Department official says, “It is not time to close the book on these tubes.”

The NYT and the LAT front the disappearance of 308,000 U.S. jobs in February with steep losses reported in virtually every sector. “This is really bad,” says an analyst in the LAT. “Job losses were so widespread that I’m hard-pressed to find any silver lining in this report.” Unsatisfying explanations abound—some blame the weather, some the war. The administration says the disappointing numbers underscore the need for immediate action on Bush’s tax-cut proposals, while Tom Daschle says in the NYT that George W. has turned the economy into a “job-destroying machine.” Only government payrolls managed a broad-based increase.

Everybody fronts the Broadway musicians’ strike that silenced most of the musicals on the Great White Way last night. “Our dinner was ruined,” a dejected ticket-holder said in the NYT after her waitress informed her that Aida was canceled. At issue is the minimum number of musicians that constitute an orchestra: Under the current contract, it’s 24 in the biggest Broadway theaters, according to the Times; producers would like to trim the number to 15. “No one goes to Arthur Miller and says, ‘You need five people onstage, not two,’ ” a spokeswoman for the League of American Theaters and Producers says in the Post. Producers had planned to use digital recordings to keep the shows up and running but were forced to cancel when actors and stagehands voted to honor the strike.

Lastly, the WP fronts new efforts by companies trying to curb their employees’ Internet usage. Using new software, firms are blocking (as opposed to monitoring) their workers’ access to a host of sites—not just porn and gambling, but also classic time-waisters like eBay. Ironically, eBay employees were once prohibited from bidding on auctions during business hours, but they complained, arguing that the restriction gave workers at other companies an unfair advantage. “Now we leave it up to managers to be sure people are performing their duties satisfactorily,” says an eBay exec.