Today's Papers

West Side Sortie

The New York Timesleads with and Los Angeles Timestop-non local spot goes to the offensive in western Iraq, involving about 1,000 Marines, armor, and airstrikes. At least according to military officials in Baghdad, about 100 insurgents were killed. The LAT says three Marines were killed and about 20 wounded. The Wall Street Journal’sworld-wide newsbox and the Washington Postlead with the big-time Moscow parade celebrating of the 60th anniversary of the Nazis’ defeat.  With the crowd sporting posters of Uncle Joe, President Putin said V-Day was “the day the world was saved.”* President Bush did not make a public comment all day. But he did make a kind of statement, meeting “privately” with 18 independent media and pro-democracy organizations. USA Todayleads with the military moving to toughen gun-safety training; 16 soldiers have been killed and about 121 wounded in unintended gun discharges over the past four years. (The paper doesn’t say how that compares to recent years.)

The main thing to keep an eye out for in dispatches about military offensives isn’t anything in the stories themselves. It’s the datelines. The LAT and Chicago Tribune are only papers filing from the Marines’ battle. And it shows.

With their reporters presumably stuck in Baghdad, the other papers basically channel military spokesmen accounts. Skepticism does not abound, nor does careful sourcing. “MARINES KILL 100 FIGHTERS IN SANCTUARY NEAR SYRIA,” announces the Post. That figure has issues. As you might notice, most of the papers’ stories actually cite “as many as” 100 insurgents killed. (Kind of like TP is “as much as” 6 feet tall.) Then turn to the Trib, where the commander in the field puzzles over the hundred figure and suggests a few dozen insurgents were killed.

That’s only the beginning of the differences. In contrast to the other papers’ progress-centered picture, the LAT says the Marines were getting ready to attack one town when they were hit from another by dug-in insurgents, some of whom were wearing body armor. “Machine-gun fire lighted dozens of windows and doorways like strobes,” says the LAT. In one house, hiding insurgents shot and killed a Marine through holes in floorboards. “This is a dedicated enemy that needs to be rooted out,” said the Marines’ local commander. “That could take days, or weeks, or months.”

Finally, the LA Times points out that with essentially no Iraqi forces in Western Iraq, the Marines there are undermanned. One of the four battalions there has recently been removed and each of the remaining ones is missing a company. “We require more manpower to cover this area the way we need to,” said one “military official.”

The only thing dissapointing in the LAT’s coverage is that it’s all on the DL, suffering beneath a blah headline: “REBELS IN WESTERN IRAQ UNDER SIEGE.”

As the Post details, a prominent Sunni group had their office ransacked and, they said, a dozen staffers seized by Iraqi military forces and GIs. (U.S. military officials denied it.) The NYT mentions that the new defense minister said he won’t seek to dismantle militias controlled by political parties.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a Japanese security contractor was kidnapped, and a security official was assassinated Tikrit. According to wire reports, two car bombings this morning in Baghdad killed at least seven.

The papers mention two Marines killed during fighting in eastern Afghanistan. The military said two insurgents were killed and 21 are “suspected dead” (?).

The NYT’s and WP have the latest leaks of interviews from the John Bolton Senate vetting: Former Secretary of State Powell’s chief of staff told the committee staffers that Bolton’s habit of speaking off-the-cuff and off-the-wall caused such “problems” that Bolton was told to clear everything he said. “No one else was subjected to these tight restrictions,” said the official. Meanwhile, a former top intel man testified that Bolton took “isolated facts and made much more of them to build a case than I thought the intelligence warranted. It was a sort of cherry-picking.”

Newish NYT op-ed columnist John Tierney bemoans the overwhelming coverage of suicide bombings in Iraq and elsewhere:

If a man-bites-dog story is news and dog-bites-man isn’t, why are journalists still so interested in man-blows-up-self stories? I’m not advocating official censorship, but there’s no reason the news media can’t reconsider their own fondness for covering suicide bombings. A little restraint would give the public a more realistic view of the world’s dangers.

There were three car bombs in Baghdad yesterday, killing at least six people. The NYT gives the attacks the most attention. That is, it mentions all three—devoting a single sentence to them.

Correction: This article originally stated that Russian President Putin said yesterday, at a parade celebrating the Nazis’ defeat, that the fall of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” In fact, Putin said that last month. Return to the corrected sentence. This article also originally stated that a local Marine commander was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying only few dozen insurgents have been killed in the Marines’ offensive in western Iraq. In fact, the commander was quoted in the Chicago Tribune.