Today's Papers

Semi-Private Jets

The Washington Post leads with Northwest Airlines admitting that it secretly turned over three months’ worth of passenger records to NASA’s Ames Research Center shortly after 9/11. The airline says it violated its own privacy policy in an attempt to help the government improve aviation security. The Los Angeles Times leads with the burgeoning Shiite influence in Iraq and the damper it’s putting on Bush’s postwar ambitions. The “unexpectedly strident opposition” comes from Shiite clerics who are urging their followers to take to the streets. The New York Times leads with a new level of savvy and sophistication on the part of Iraqi insurgents attacking U.S. helicopters. A classified Army study shows that guerrillas have stepped up their tactics and improved their weaponry.

According to the WP’s lead, Northwest Airlines coughed up data (credit card and phone numbers, addresses) on millions of its passengers and then swore up and down that it had done no such thing. The info was given to NASA in the name of national security, to somehow help the government better assess threats posed by passengers. The project, yielding essentially nothing, was abandoned by NASA in late 2002. But why was the space agency mixed up in this sort of thing in the first place? “There doesn’t seem to be a classic space exploration endeavor here,” says an ACLU wiseacre. JetBlue admitted in September that it had turned over passenger records to a defense contractor. 

At the urging of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Shiites—the long-oppressed majority in Iraq—are staging mass demonstrations, according to the LAT’s lead. “Once the real political process starts, people grab for power,” says a director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They aren’t going to stop—they are just going to keep pushing to see how much they can get. They know the door is open to a renegotiation of the process.” The problem for Bush is that appeasing the Shiites will likely mean alienating Sunnis and Kurds. “Beneath the new interest of the United States in bringing democracy to the Middle East is the central dilemma that the most powerful, popular movements are ones that we are deeply uncomfortable with,” says the Carnegie representative. 

The NYT’s lead reports that Iraqi rebels are using more sophisticated weapons to fire upon U.S. copters. There’s special concern about the SA-16 shoulder-fired missile that may have been used to bring down a Black Hawk on Jan. 8. The missile has a guidance system that’s tough to defeat, plus it’s relatively small and lightweight and therefore easily concealed and transported. The breadth of the insurgents’ expertise with the weapons is difficult to gauge. “It’s hard to say whether it’s been a bad couple of weeks or it’s something larger,” says a U.S. official. 

Breaking news takes over the lead spots * on the papers’ Web sites. According to the NYT, a bomb exploded at the main gate of the American occupation headquarters in Baghdad this morning, killing at least 16 Iraqi civilians and two U.S. Defense Department employees. The bomb went off shortly after 8 a.m. when a “crowd” of Iraqi civilians was reporting for work at the “heavily fortified compound.” 

Wal-Mart’s repellent labor practices are again featured on the NYT’s front page. This time they were locking workers in the stores at night, allegedly for their own protection in some of the rougher hoods. (Wal-Mart says the practice has been discontinued.) The problem—and why couldn’t someone have anticipated this?—was that sick or injured “associates” couldn’t get out of the building to seek medical treatment. They had to wait around (with their crushed ankles or slashed fingers or heart attacks) for a manager to show up with a key. There are fire exits, Wal-Mart points out, but workers say they’d been warned not to use them unless the store was ablaze.

Everybody fronts the tightening race in Iowa as the caucus approaches. The LAT calls it a “contest unlike any the state has seen: a fight closer, nastier, more costly and more pervasive than previous caucuses.” But it all may be for naught, of course. An NYT op-ed says Bush’s numbers are looking mighty solid. A graphic indicates that W.’s indicators are comparable to (or better than) those of the last three presidents who won reelection.

Finally, the NYT’s SundayStyles takes us to Fairfield, Iowa, where Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich will likely be the victor on Monday. Polling in the low single digits elsewhere, the vegan ex-mayor of Cleveland has reached out to Fairfield’s meditating masses and preached peace. Lots of it. “Everyone here knows what it is like to have peace,” says a 16-year-old student from the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, where the kids meditate twice daily. “They want the rest of the country to feel it too. Dennis is the one who can take us there.”

Correction, Jan. 19, 2004: This piece originally stated that reports of a bombing in Baghdad on Sunday morning came too late for the papers’ print editions. In fact, the Los Angeles Times did include coverage in its Sunday editions. ( Return to corrected sentence.)