Today's Papers

Edison Conned

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead (and fill the front page), and the Wall Street Journal tops its newsbox, with a massive power failure that shut down much of the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

The initial cause of the blackout, which cut off electricity, paralyzed airports, and closed nuclear reactors from Toronto to New York City to Cleveland, was unclear. However, President Bush did assert that it “was not the work of terrorists.” The WP reports that the military suspected the worst at first and deployed military aircraft between Washington, D.C. (which was not affected), and New York. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien originally attributed it to a lightning strike in upstate New York (although now they think it came from Pennsylvania), while New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the problem emanated from Canada (although now New York officials believe it came from Ohio).

Although the origin of the original disruption is unknown, a WP piece deftly chronicles how the power outage rapidly spread over a 600-mile area within seconds. At 4:11 p.m. (quibblers will note that the LAT says it was at 4:15), there was a power loss somewhere in the Great Lakes region. Then, the article explains, “Other generators accelerated output of electricity in an effort to make up for the loss, sending power at lightning speed through the grid and quickly overloading power lines, transformers and switches. In response, safety equipment began to trip, shutting down systems to prevent major damage to power plants, just as home circuit breakers open when there is a dangerous power surge through household lines.”

The NYT’s lead notes up high that power had returned to parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens by 11 p.m., while a front-pager in the WP posits that power in the Midwest may be days away.

All the papers somewhat bemusingly note the large, middling crowds that crammed New York City’s streets (along with the requisite pictures of 10,000 pedestrians crossing the Brooklyn Bridge). However, NYT’s main man-on-the-street piece does eschew the sly tone for a couple of paragraphs when it describes paramedics vainly attempting to save a dying woman while waiting for an ambulance that would never arrive. None of the papers reported any looting.

Wall Street was not affected because the outage happened late in the afternoon while the markets were closing for the day. However, the NYT points out that “traders were initially unnerved by fears that the power failure was a result of terrorism,” and commerce was stymied nationwide. The New York Stock Exchange expects to be up and running Friday morning.

Everyone quotes former Energy Secretary and current New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who castigated America as a “major superpower with a third-world electrical grid.” Both the NYT and the WP finger deregulation of the power industry as one of the culprits in the blackout, implying that it forced an overwhelming volume of electricity through the nation’s power lines and a dearth of power plants. The WP’s take focuses more on the companies and government agencies unwilling to heed now-vindicated Cassandras’ yearsold warnings of a looming power grid problem.

The WPand NYTboth front the CIA capture in Thailand of Hambali, an alleged al-Qaida lieutenant and liaison to the Indonesian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah. He was the most wanted terror suspect in Southeast Asia for his role in planning the Bali nightclub attack and last week’s Jakarta Marriott bombing. Both papers mention that he is now under CIA interrogation in an undisclosed country, but neither provide any report on what the U.S. plans to do with him.

In Israel, the tenuous cease-fire came under more strain yesterday when Israeli soldiers tried to arrest a member of Islamic Jihad, but ended up killing him when he resisted. Islamic Jihad has vowed to retaliate. Israel also destroyed the home of the Hamas suicide bomber who committed the first suicide attack since July 8 when he blew himself up last Friday, killing an Israeli. Despite the deaths, all sides officially insisted they would stick with the cease-fire.

All the papers note the arrival of 200 U.S. Marines in Liberia. The NYT, LAT, and WP all conjure up the same image of cheering Monrovians joyously celebrating and crying at the site of American helicopter gunships flying above. The only conflict, reported by the LAT, involved a U.S. lieutenant jabbing her finger into a rebel leader’s chest after he at first refused to disarm his mostly teenaged force. No one knows how long the U.S. troops are going stay, although the NYT says they could leave as early as next week.

The WPwrites up developments in California that will surely disappoint Kausfiles: There will be no American Idol­-style “free-for-all” debate involving all 135 gubernatorial aspirants. Instead, the Sept. 17 roundtable will only feature candidates who get at least 10 percent of the vote in statewide polls. The LATlooks at the dwindling support for Gray Davis among union members and environmentalists. Previously, these groups had urged Californians to ignore the second part of the ballot, which would select Davis’ successor (see this “Explainerfor full details). Now—worried that Davis will lose and the governorship would fall in “unfriendly” hands—they might push to endorse Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante on the second section of the ballot while still denouncing the recall. All papers note that President Bush, while in California on a fund-raising trip, completely avoided the entire recall issue.

In Iraq news, the NYT reports that the U.S. apologized to Shiites in Baghdad for a Wednesday incident where American soldiers in a helicopter knocked down a flag near a mosque in the slum of Sadr City. The apology came after one Iraqi was killed, and four were wounded, while protesting the American action. All the papers mention that the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed, with only Syria abstaining, a resolution welcoming the interim Iraqi Governing Council.

TP is somewhat upset that no papers went for a cheap comparison and pointed out that yesterday, as usual, there were big blackouts throughout … Iraq.

How did the first major blackout in the Big Apple since 1977 hurt the media? For one thing, the cadre of regular TP writers in New York were unable to go online and view, well, Today’s Papers. The WP “Style” section takes a wider perspective and notes that the New York Times printing plant in Queens lost power, Fox News only had enough generator fuel to last until 6 a.m., and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer had to temporarily move staff 30 miles to a rival newspaper in order to print today’s issue. However, one hard-working New York Newsday reporter was unfazed: After the lights went out, he “kept interviewing, ‘in semi-darkness,’ for 20 more minutes, even shooing away another reporter who tried to interrupt to talk about, um, the blackout!”