Today's Papers

Deadline Man Talking

Everyone leads and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with U.S. President George Bush’s prime-time TV press conference, in which he reiterated his resolve to force a quick Security Council vote on war with Iraq—and then go to war regardless of the outcome. “No matter what the whip count is, we’re calling for the vote” within a few days, he said in the most widely quoted sound bite. The New York Times and USA Today use their Bush leads to run catch-alls on diplomatic developments in the Security Council, including word that the U.S. and Britain may be willing to compromise on their proposed war resolution. Apparently, as the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday, the idea of another deadline ain’t dead yet. The LAT’s and Washington Post’s leads focus mainly on the press conference itself, and the papers go inside with possible compromise news.

The papers seem to disagree on exactly how much time the U.S. and British officials said they are willing to give Iraq for its last last chance to disarm: The NYT’s lead and a story insideUSAT specify 72 hours; the WSJ reports “days, not weeks”; the WP’s piece says “an extra week”; and a story inside the LAT gives itself a comfortable window of “possibly days and not more than two weeks.” Regardless, the papers all agree today’s Security Council reports by the U.N.’s chief weapons inspectors will complicate negotiations between the pro-war folks and the veto-wielding pro-inspection camp that includes France, Russia, and now China. Mohammed ElBaradei actually published a pro-inspection opinion piece (subscription required) in today’s WSJ, and Hans Blix has been saying this week that he wants more time, too. “His entire career’s been in disarmament,” a British diplomat told the LAT for a story it fronts on Blix. “Of course he wants to see inspections succeed.”

The NYT and the WSJ point out that the main sticking point will be a 167-page document Blix released specifying all the questions Iraq has yet to resolve about its chemical and biological weapons programs. According to the WSJ, those in favor of inspections are likely to view it as a road-map for continued inspections that could be coupled with a longer deadline—an approach both the U.S. and Britain reject as playing into Iraq’s hands.

Only the WP and the WSJ have full stories on China’s vague statements that it is now in the pro-inspection fold, and both note that China declined to say it would use its veto, the threat of which it traditionally reserves for anything having to do with Taiwan. The WSJ explains that China wants to slow the march to war to protect its interests in Iraq and the Middle East—but also doesn’t want to upset the U.S. Or, as the WP story puts it, they’re hoping the Europeans can slow things down for them: ” ‘China is taking a traditional position of using the barbarians, in this case the Europeans, to fight the barbarians, in this case the Americans,’ quipped a Chinese scholar. ‘We are letting the French do the heavy lifting. We can benefit from this fight.’ “

The papers all note in their leads—and the NYT in an accompanying analysis—that this was only Bush’s second prime-time press conference as president and that it was carefully calibrated to make him seem calm and rational. But, although Bush went to great lengths to sound like a good, quiet American (the WP’s lead points out he used the word “hope” 16 times), the LAT thinks that all of this posturing and diplomatic maneuvering is moot, fronting a blunt analysis that war is almost inevitable no matter how the negotiations or voting go down: “CHANCES FOR PEACE RAPIDLY DIMINISH.”

The WP off-leads, the NYT fronts, the LAT reefers, and the WSJ world-wide newsbox goes high with the secretary of the Air Force’s Senate testimony that there have been 54 reports of sexual assault or rape at the Air Force academy in the last 10 years—twice the number previously reported in this growing scandal. Since local Denver TV reported a month ago that some female Air Force cadets were disciplined or “hounded out” after reporting rapes or sexual assaults, more and more women have been coming forward, leading to the hearing yesterday. The NYT goes the extra distance, contacting officials at other military academies who all said—surprise!—that they had relatively few cases of sexual assault and rigorous systems to address complaints.

The WP, alone among papers, fronts Democrats’ continuing criticisms of Bush’s march to war. Prominent Dems lambasted Bush yesterday for alienating U.S. allies, weakening NATO, and dividing the Security Council—and argued that North Korea’s moves to make nuclear bombs constitute a more urgent crisis.

The WP fronts, the NYT and LAT stuff, and the WSJ goes high in the world-wide newsbox with the Senate’s unanimous ratification of the U.S.-Russian nuclear pact that promises to cut nuclear arsenals in the two countries by two-thirds over the next decade. Everyone notes that the pact is window-dressing, since it has no verification and doesn’t require the destruction of warheads or delivery systems.

The WP fronts, while USAT, the NYT, and the WSJ stuff, the manic manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, based on new intelligence gleaned from computers and papers seized during the recent arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The WP story, befitting its front-page placement, plays up the probability of a capture, reporting that “special operations forces poured into Pakistan’s northwest border province” and devoting many paragraphs to a newly revived kill-or-capture debate within the Bush administration. The NYT quotes (apparently) different U.S. officials who cautioned that Bin Laden’s capture is not imminent. And the WSJ, whose Bin Laden story is the only one with an actual Pakistan byline, avoids the “how soon” question, offering instead letters Pakistani agents found during Mohammed’s arrest that show, pending verification, Bin Laden is still “actively guiding his terrorist group.”

From Camp Virginia in Kuwait, the NYT has a semi-scoop: Yet another war plan, this time for the Battle of Baghdad. According to the commander of the Army’s forces in Kuwait, units will repeatedly penetrate to the heart of the city over several days to take out “power centers,” avoiding what he calls a “house-to-house Berlin, World War II-type scenario.”

Ari Fleischer isn’t that boring, is he? In a recent meeting about press protocol, the White House raised a number of thorny issues with journalists, according to a small WP story that quotes an NBC staff memo. Henceforth, journalists are no longer to sleep anywhere in the briefing room. Apparently, one crew was caught napping behind the curtain on the briefing podium.