Today's Papers

Appeals and Oranges

The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, Washington Post, and USA Today all lead with the White House’s decision to ratchet up the terrorist threat index to orange, or “high risk.” The New York Times, stuffs the alert (reasonably, see next paragraph), and leads with word that U.S. authorities in Iraq are set to announce that just about all AK-47s or larger weapons will be confiscated. The Times says officials don’t really expect most Iraqis to give up their guns. Instead authorities are hoping that the new rules will encourage people to keep their Kalashnikovs off the streets.

A top Homeland Security official announced that the threat-index increase “is based upon the recent terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, also in conjunction with intelligence reports concerning anti-U.S. terrorist group intentions.” Despite playing the alert inside, the NYT has the best analysis, explaining up high that the hike has less to do with specific intel on potential domestic attacks and is essentially based on educated guesses. “This is an analytical judgment that we’ve entered a dangerous period,” said one administration official.

As the LAT and Post emphasize, there does appear to be hard intel about potential attacks abroad. Citing information about “imminent” attacks, the U.S., Britain, and Germany all said they’re closing their embassies in Riyadh. “It’s not if, it’s when,” said one Saudi official. The Post says the intel was gleaned from interrogations of recently arrested militants. 

The papers report that administration officials say they have intel that an al-Qaida cell behind the attacks in Riyadh actually operated out of Iran. The NYT says that the White House, which has long urged Iran to go after AQ, is “livid” about the latest discovery. But about halfway through the Times’ piece, it says that while some administration officials call the information “rock-hard,” others think that there is “still no conclusive intelligence linking the Qaida members in Iran to the Saudi attack.” (It seems like that should have been played higher than the 11th paragraph.)

The NYT says above-the-fold on Page One says that President Bush is considering traveling to the Mideast. It would be Bush’s first trip to the region and, the paper says, an attempt “to salvage [the] administration’s battered Middle East peace plan.” But despite that and the prominent play, the details don’t seem all that Grand Gesture-y: Bush might swing by Kuwait or Qatar, but probably not Israel. The trip would be focused mostly on visiting GIs. The LAT devotes all of one sentence to the potential visit.

The papers all add that Bush called both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to urge them to follow the peace “road map.” The NYT says the White House is pressing Sharon to make some sort of “dramatic” non-security-related concessions, mainly dismantling some new settlements. The paper also suggests, way down low, that the administration is considering changing tacks and allowing Israel to make some changes to the road map—because, explains the Times, the only other option right now seems to be abandoning the road map all-together.

An Associated Press piece in the WP notices an unusual protest in the Gaza Strip yesterday: After Israeli troops raided their neighborhood, about 500 Palestinian residents came out to protest against local militantswho routinely attack a nearby settlement. “They brought us only destruction and made us homeless,” said one man.

Citing unnamed sources, the NYT says there’s now a consensus within various intel agencies that the mobile labs recently found in Iraq were indeed intended to produce bio-weapons, though, perhaps because the labs had been disinfected before they were discovered, there’s no evidence that they actually made the stuff. Iraqi scientists insist that the labs, some of which have equipment made within the past year, were used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons. “Iraq never told the United Nations that it had made such units,” retorted one official. “Why would you have a covert program for filling weather balloons?” The Times, in a less-than-fleshed-out passage, says that Iraq did declare the units—as “food testing laboratories.”

The NYT says inside that a wide-ranging group of Iraqi political figures, including Kurdish leaders and Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, are about to sign an open-letter protesting the U.S.’s decision to delay empowering an Iraqi interim government. “We do not want to make your presence here an issue,” warned Chalabi.

While we’re on Iraq and the Times: The paper has yet to correct its Page One report from last week that told readers of a new U.S. policy to shoot looters. Anybody heard of lots of looters being shot? As Slate’s Jack Shafer recently noted, the Times is great at fixing ticky-tack errors, but often doesn’t come clean on bigger stuff. In fairness, the NYT isn’t the only paper with that habit. But it would of course help things if the paper had an ombudsman column. How about it, Howell?

USAT, the NYT, and WP all front the single case of mad cow disease that was diagnosed in Canada and that prompted the U.S. to ban all Canadian cattle from crossing the border. It’s the first time in 10 years that a cow in North America has been diagnosed with the disease.

The NYT off-leads, and the WP stuffs, a Justice Department report that discloses, less-than comprehensively says the Times, how it has used post-Sept. 11 anti-terror laws. The Post emphasizes that the DOJ listed plenty of examples where it used its new terror-law powers for non-terror related investigations. Both papers note that the report confirmed that 50 people had been detained without charges as “material witnesses” in connection to 9/11.


The WP’s Howard Kurtz flags an extraordinary, somewhat rambling, interview that the disgraced Jayson Blair gave to the New York Observer. Blair says that race did play a factor—both for and against him—but that overall it hurt him, “Racismhad much more of an impact.” Then he compares himself to his compadre, plagiarist-in-arms Stephen Glass, who is white. “I know I shouldn’t be saying this,” says Blair. “I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism. He [Glass] is so brilliant, and yet somehow I’m an affirmative-action hire. They’re all so smart, but I was sitting right under their nose fooling them.”