Today's Papers

Bombs in Baghdad IIII

According to late night news that most of the papers catch, a car bomb, possibly an ambulance, exploded outside the Red Cross’ HQ in Baghdad, killing at least 13 people. There were also at least three other big explosions in Baghdad, all at police stations. An American MP said eight people had been killed at one of them. Also, three U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in overnight attacks in Iraq. Since news of the bombings broke right as the papers were closing, they were only able to include initial reports, with the New York Times having the most detail

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the attack early Sunday on Baghdad’s al-Rashid Hotel, which Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in at the time. An American colonel was killed and 16 people were injured in that strike, which used a homemade rocket launcher that had been disguised as a portable power generator. The Journal also notes that among the seriously injured was the top coalition finance administrator in Iraq, a British official. The Washington Post, which off-leads the attack, says that U.S. officials have “abandoned” the hotel. USA Today’s lead reminds that soldiers wounded in Iraq are surviving at a higher rate than have Americans soldiers in other recent wars, primarily because they have better body armor and get quicker medical attention. The flip side, says the paper, is that the wounds tend to be more serious, since many of the surviving soldiers would have died if they hadn’t received such quick care or hadn’t had armor covering their vitals. According to USAT’s count, 1,609 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq—1,058 of them since May 1. The Los Angeles Times banners and Washington Post simply leads with the wildfires racing across Southern California. At least 12 people have been killed, 700 homes destroyed, and 270,000 acres burned. In a separate front-page piece, the LAT adds that California’s massive firefighting system is “tapped out” and officials have asked for 6,000 out-of-state firefighters to be sent in. The NYT’s lead (at least early editions) says that wages in the U.S. have continued to grow above the rate of inflation. But the Times also says that income is still down “excluding tax cuts and home refinancing,” mainly because people are having to pay for more of their own health-care coverage and are being given fewer hours to work. “What seems to be happening is that companies that are staying in business want to hold onto the people they have,” said one analyst.

The Journal sees the hotel attack as part of a trend in which the guerrillas are aiming increasingly sophisticated attacks increasingly at hardened targets: “In the past few days, the guerrillas managed to inflict dozens of casualties, several of them fatal, by shelling U.S. bases in the cities of Samarra, Baquba and Balad, and by hitting a power station in Baghdad.” Everybody notes officials’ speculation that the hotel attack required lots of preparation, including surveillance and perhaps a rehearsal.

One general knocked the guerrillas’ use of a homemade rocket launcher, calling it a “Rube Goldberg device.” According to the WP, he “said that its crudeness indicated the weakness of the forces opposing the U.S. occupation.” One MP talking to the LAT about the guerrillas said, “They are getting better.”

According to the LAT, over the past two months, the number of daily attacks on U.S. forces has doubled from about 12 to 25 a day. The WSJ says there are 35 attacks per day. Why the discrepancy? Does the coalition put out numbers on such attacks as standard operating procedure or are journalists left to catch as catch can?

A front-page Post piece suggests that an Air Force plan to lease refueling planes, which was criticized by the White House’s own budget office and others as unnecessary and too expensive, would have died had not President Bush intervened and pushed the idea along. Apparently, Bush was trying to placate House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other congressmen whose districts stand to get plane business. The Post notes that after the planes’ maker, Boeing, lobbied hard, the Air Force  circumvented normal procurement procedures, including signing a contract before testing the things. The Air Force also agreed to drop a demand that the new tankers match or exceed the capabilities of the old ones. And then there was the price. In one e-mail that the WP nabbed, a Boeing exec crowed that a lobbyist for the company “spent most of the time bringing the USAF price up to our number. … It was a good day!”

The WP also profiles the lobbyist in question. She’s a former Air Force official and is known as “the Dragon Lady.”

The NYT announces that it’s chosen an ombudsman, or in its preferred parlance a “public editor.” Daniel Okrent, a former editor at Time Inc., will start writing a near weekly column in December.  

Sausage Watch or “Senior Administration Officials” Revealed! … No doubt many reporters still meet their unnamed sources in a garage. OK, maybe a bar. All right, they get them to blab on the phone. But as the WP’s Howard Kurtz mentions, there’s another locale for such deep undercover truth-telling sessions: the briefing room. The officially sanctioned skinny is given in front of a large group of reporters who then can’t name the briefer. Of course, you’ll never see a transcript of such a session—geez, unless of course, the Pentagon decided to publish its “Backgrounders.” An example from last week, “Media Availability with Senior Defense Official in Iraq.” (TP also pondered this habit in March 2002.)

As the LAT’s Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus helpfully explains to Kurtz, “Leaks are things people say that [the president] doesn’t want to see in print, and ‘background’ is stuff that people say anonymously that he does want to appear in print?” So, when papers are using unnamed administration sources, how often are they helping to make the above distinction clear to readers?