Today's Papers

Burns Burns

The New York Times leads with the Senate’s vote, 55 to 40, to overturn the FCC’s decision to loosen media ownership rules. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, but as the NYT notes, it may not come to that since the bill is stuck in the House, where leaders haven’t let it reach the floor. The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the impending arrival of hurricane Isabel, which is projected to hit land tomorrow, somewhere along North Carolina’s coast. Isabel has weakened a bit, to 110 mph, but forecasters said it could pick up strength again. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that a federal appeals court said yesterday that it will review one of its panel’s decisions to delay California’s recall vote. An analysis by the NYT calls the court’s pro-active decision to review the case “highly unusual.” Meanwhile, California’s Secretary of State, a Democrat, said he will ask the court to hold the recall Oct. 7, as scheduled.

A front-page NYT piece says the U.S. is holding 4,400 “security detainees” in Iraq, six of whom claim they’re American and two of whom say they’re British. The Times notes up high that officials in Washington had “little certainty” about who the eight are, what their nationalities are, or what they were doing in Iraq.

Though the NYT’s headline focuses on the very unconfirmed citizens—”SIX HELD BY U.S. IN IRAQ CLAIM TO BE AMERICAN”—the bulk of the article examines the issue of the 4,000 “security detainees.” The Pentagon says the men are suspected of attacking or planning to attack U.S. or other friendly forces. As the Times suggests, “security detainee” seems to be the new, less baggage-laden label for “enemy combatant.” One general explained that by not designating the detainees POWs, the military has a bit more freedom during interrogations. “It’s not that they don’t have rights,” she said, “they have fewer rights.”

The LAT notes inside that in what could be a big development, South Korea is leaning toward sending 10,000 troops to Iraq, many of them special forces. In return, says the LAT, the White House has agreed to mellow its stance toward North Korea and be open to negotiations. “There won’t be a quid pro quo, but an understanding,” said one unnamed South Korean official.

The NYT (oddly) stuffs unnamed Pentagon officials saying that contrary to SecDef Rumsfeld’s and the White House’s contentions, the biggest threat facing U.S. forces in Iraq is from average Iraqis angry that the U.S. is occupying them, not from foreign fighters or Baathists. That assessment was backed up in recent classified polling by the State Department. “To a lot of Iraqis, we’re no longer the guys who threw out Saddam, but the ones who are busting down doors and barging in on their wives and daughters,” said one defense official. The story’s sources wouldn’t let their names be used because “they were concerned about retribution for straying from the official line.”

The Wall Street Journal says up high that allies are continuing to keep their wallets shut in response to U.S. pleas for Iraq reconstruction money. “They certainly weren’t jumping in with the kind of numbers we were hoping to see,” said one U.S. official. So far, the White House has asked Congress to cover $20 billion of the $50 billion to $75 billion that it estimates reconstruction will cost. In a point TP hasn’t seen before, the Journal mentions that this widely cited estimate doesn’t include normal government expenditures such as employee salaries.

The WP and LAT front retired four-star general Wesley Clark’s decision go for the White House and hop into the Democratic primaries. He’s going to make it official today. A front-page WP profile paints Clark as brilliant, ambitious, and (according to anonymous military snipers) a jerk.

The papers note inside that the U.S. vetoed a U.N. resolution that demanded that Israel lay off Yasser Arafat and neither kill nor deport him. The U.S. said it doesn’t support action against Arafat but said it vetoed the resolution because it didn’t also condemn Palestinian terrorism.

A piece stuffed inside the Post says former Liberian president and suspected war criminal Charles Taylor, currently exiled in Nigeria, is keeping busy. “Charles?” said one Liberian minister. “Oh, he’s still in charge. I’m going to see him next week. What’s wrong with that?”

The WSJ editorial page runs an excerpt from NYT correspondent John Burns’ contribution to a new oral history, Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq. Burns’ reporting from Baghdad was honest and brutal. He says *:

Terror, totalitarian states, and their ways are nothing new to me, but I felt from the start that this was in a category by itself, with the possible exception in the present world of North Korea. I felt that that was the central truth that has to be told about this place. It was also the essential truth that was untold by the vast majority of correspondents here. Why? Because they judged that the only way they could keep themselves in play here was to pretend that it was okay.In one case, a correspondent actually went to the Internet Center at the Al-Rashid Hotel and printed out copies of his and other people’s stories—mine included—specifically in order to be able to show the difference between himself and the others. He wanted to show what a good boy he was compared to this enemy of the state. He was with a major American newspaper.There is corruption in our business. We need to get back to basics. This war should be studied and talked about. In the run up to this war, to my mind, there was a gross abdication of responsibility. You have to be ready to listen to whispers.

Correction, Sept. 17, 2003: This article originally implied that New York Times correspondent Burns co-wrote the book Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq. In fact, the excerpt quoted was taken from an oral interview that Burns gave to the book’s co-authors. (Return to the corrected sentence.)