Today's Papers

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

Everybody leads with Iraq updates. The New York Times goes with White House officials’ admissions that they haven’t yet corraled enough votes to pass their Security Council resolution—”We don’t have it in the bank,” said one unnamed official. The White House suggested that it’s not going to call for a vote on Tuesday as it had previously suggested. The Washington Post and USA Today’s leads both mention that the U.S. is in trouble, but you’d have to dive into the articles to figure that out. The Post says, after the jump, that there was “no sign” that any hedging Security Council country was persuaded over the weekend to support the U.S. Both papers, instead, highlight the White House’s preferred spin. USAT: “POWELL: VOTE AT U.N. STILL WITHIN REACH.” The Post: “POWELL OPTIMISTIC ABOUT U.N. SUPPORT. ‘Strong Chance’ Seen for Majority Backing.” The Los Angeles Times emphasizes that Iraq invited chief inspector Hans Blix to visit Baghdad on, you guessed it, March 17—deadline day. No word yet if Blix is game.

“I think we’re making some progress,” Powell told CNN, in the quote that everybody flags. The NYT, which doesn’t dwell on Powell’s assertion, mentions that U.S. officials acknowledged that they would consider pushing back the deadline by a few days if it would get them more votes. The Times says some swing votes on the Council suggested that they’ll want a few weeks tagged on to the deadline. The NYT, if you haven’t already noticed, has the deepest coverage of the diplomatic machinations. Meanwhile the Post’s piece is puff central and consists largely of recaps of Powell and Condoleezza Rice’s visits to the Sunday news shows.

The NYT fronts U.S. officials’ charges that inspectors have discovered a number of rockets in Iraq apparently designed to deliver cluster bombs loaded with chemical and biological weapons. The Times suggests, but doesn’t clearly say, that Blix’s latest written report—which the paper got ahold of—backs up that claim. The Times could have also lent more credence to the allegations if it had asked Blix or other inspectors their opinion of them. Instead, the paper only quotes unnamed American officials.

The LAT, which also got a copy of the inspectors’ report, says it “includes several dramatic new charges suggesting that Hussein’s potential weapons arsenal may be larger than previously believed.” For example, the U.N. report says inspectors have a “strong presumption” that Iraq may still have 10,000 liters of anthrax. The inspectors report cited 110 instances in which Iraq has provided “insufficient information” about chemical or biological weapons.

This is big stuff, and obviously backs up Powell’s assertion that Blix’s presentation Friday essentially skipped the most damning data. But the LAT all but buries the revelations. Instead it headlines the report’s assertion that in the first gulf war Saddam gave the OK to use chemical weapons if Baghdad was hit with nukes. Uh, is that supposed to be surprising?

Question: The LAT and NYT both preen about the fact that they “obtained” copies of the inspectors’ report. How about an article explaining why the report hasn’t been made public?

As the LAT’s lead mentions, the head of Turkey’s ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been supportive of allowing U.S. troops in, won a parliament seat yesterday, clearing the way for him to be named prime minister. Erdogan had been banned from holding office because he was once convicted of reading a poem that allegedly incited violence. The ban since has since been lifted. The LAT notes that U.S. transport ships are still hanging around off Turkey’s coast; the paper also points out that some equipment has been off-loaded to a “temporary staging area.”

A front-page NYT piece says that the U.S. has asked 60 countries to expel some Iraqi diplomats who the administration thinks are spies and might try to attack U.S. facilities. The Times says that the White House has released very little info about the effort: It hasn’t named the affected countries nor cited any evidence against the supposed agents. The paper also suggests the U.S. might be using the expulsions to try to flip the agents and get them to defect. (Bonus context: Last fall the Journal reported that before the Gulf War I, Iraq sent a bunch of agents to stir up terror plots. The men were “remarkably unskilled” and were quickly arrested.)

The WP and LAT front Secretary of State Powell’s comments that Iran—that’s with an “n” not a “q”—is “much further” along in its nuke program that previously thought. As the LAT mentions, but the Post, oddly, doesn’t: Powell’s comments came in response to a Time magazine piece. Iran has apparently been secretly developing a uranium-enrichment program and should have its nuke factory online in a year or two. Powell used the revelation to pooh-pooh the idea of inspections—”It shows you how a determined nation that has the intent to develop a nuclear weapon can keep that development process secret from inspectors”—but as a number of analysts quoted in the pieces point out, it’s inspectors that have provided much of the information about the program.

As a number of the papers flag on their front pages, yesterday North Korea made its latest hey-look-over-here! move, test-firing an anti-ship cruise missile. Though this wasn’t exactly a peace-branch, it wasn’t the most provocative kind of missile test they could have done: It wasn’t a ballistic missile. And it wasn’t a surprise. In the past few days, North Korea had been warning ships to get out of the way.

The NYT off-leads and USAT fronts word that the shuttle was on its way to breaking up during re-entry much earlier that previously thought. According to a new NASA analysis, the craft was literally spinning out of control right after communications ended, a few minutes before it broke up.

The WP’s Style Invitational—a good ha ha feature—celebrated its 10th anniversary yesterday. So, it’s doing the column-equivalent of a sequel and asking readers to try to top some of its best entries. For example, there was the contest back in 1994 to come up with a “bad idea for a Christmas toy.” The winning response: “The Learn-About-Puberty Chia Pet.”