Today's Papers


The Washington Post leads with, and the others front, the gory aftermath of Friday’s earthquake in Iran. The death toll is now above 20,000 and may rise to 40,000. The Los Angeles Times leads with an end to the relative calm in Iraq as insurgents kill as many as 13 in Karbala. The New York Times led with the quake in its early edition and then switched to mad cow for the final. The news is that the offending heifer may have come to the U.S. from Canada in 2001.

Iran says it will accept assistance from everywhere except Israel, according to the NYT. Teams from about 20 countries, including the U.S., are in Bam or will arrive shortly. The papers graphically depict the carnage they will find when they get there. Most of the city has been destroyed and the streets are lined with the wounded and the dead. Mass graves are being dug with earthmoving equipment, and the Times reports that some bodies are being stowed in the trunks of cars. There’s no electricity or running water and temperatures are near freezing.

Nevertheless, 150 survivors were dug out of the rubble on Saturday, according to the LAT. Many were sent via helicopter to hospitals throughout Iran. The NYT reports that 600 prisoners were also among the more fortunate, after successfully escaping from a demolished jail.

The LAT reports in its lead that six coalition soldiers were killed in Karbala along with seven Iraqis—six police officers and one civilian. (As is often the case with breaking news from Iraq, the papers have different numbers. The NYT says it was four coalition soldiers and nine Iraqis.)  More than 170 were wounded, according to the LAT, including five U.S. soldiers. The insurgents, armed with mortars and car bombs, were targeting two military bases near a university. In the LAT’s words: ” … witnesses said a truck packed with dynamite barreled across a soccer field toward the university, where Polish and Bulgarian troops are based. Soldiers sprayed it with gunfire, setting off the explosives a short distance from the base.”

In an interesting bit of interpretation, an American general painted a generally rosy picture of Iraq, yesterday’s attacks notwithstanding. According to the LAT, he said attacks had decreased significantly from about 50 a day in mid-September to about 15 a day now. The WP fronts a broader view, citing Pentagon statistics that show 145 U.S. soldiers killed between Sept. 1 and Friday, versus 65 from May 1 to Aug. 30. In a separate fronter, the Post reports that in light of the increased attacks, the U.S. has scaled back many of its ambitions for a secular, market-driven Iraq.

According to the NYT’s lead, it was expected to take weeks and maybe months to track the origins of the first mad cow in the U.S. But a little “hard leather, shoe leather type of work,” in the words of the chief vet at the Dept. of Agriculture, has shown the beast to be—and why didn’t this occur to us sooner?—Canadian. The announcement brought “measured relief,” as the Times puts it, from the U.S. beef industry, while dimming holiday spirits up north. If true, “it will no doubt have some pretty severe ramifications for our industry,” says the head of a farm group in Alberta, where the tainted herd originated. 

The companion piece inside the NYT carries the headline “Despite Warnings, Industry Resisted Safeguards” and lists “glaring loopholes” in current FDA cattle regulations. But back in the main story, the director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis says the crazed cow “doesn’t tell us that something is wrong with our system. And if the rules in place are followed, this disease shouldn’t spread.”

On the bottom of the same page (25 in the early edition) of the NYT, coincidentally, the AP reports that President Bush filled 12 government posts on Friday, while Congress was in recess, bypassing the Senate confirmation process.    

The LAT fronts the revelation that Bush is popular with white males. “Clearly, it is where the Democrats are going to have their biggest difficulty,” says a liberal think-tanker. Democrats never expect to “carry” white men, the paper concedes, but Bush’s advantage with them in 2004 may be so decisive that the usual left-leaners—minorities, say, and college-educated white women—won’t be able to close the gap. Bush’s liberal use of force and his folksy manner are said to be especially appealing to white guys.

Finally, the NYT’s “Arts & Leisure” section is bursting with those nettlesome year-end tabulations of the best and the worst in everything. Critic Elvis Mitchell calls Pirates of the Caribbean the best movie of the year. Need we continue? A few pages later, there’s a full-color of Madonna “locking lips” with Britney at the VMA’s. “What’s amazing to me is that something so totally rehearsed and scripted gets so much attention,” says critic Neil Strauss in the accompanying article. Indeed.