Lay Don't Say

Lay Don't Say

Lay Don't Say

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 13 2002 4:22 AM

Lay Don't Say

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the hunt for the men named in Monday's terrorism alert. According to the paper, officials believe the apparent ringleader of the group, Fawaz Yahya al Rabeei, is connected to al-Qaida. USA Todayleads with an interview with the incoming Undersecretary of Transportation John Magaw, who will be in charge of the newly created Transportation Security Administration. Magaw said that he expects to eventually have a few thousand federal police, often undercover, patrolling the country's airports. The Los Angeles Times'lead, and Washington Post's top non-local story, is the start of the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is charged with crimes against humanity. As the chief prosecutor stated, "An excellent tactician, a mediocre strategist, Milosevic did nothing but pursue his ambition at the cost of unspeakable suffering." The New York Timesleads with comments by Secretary of State Powell singling out Iraq as the evilest of the evil axis. "With respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea, there is no plan to start a war with these nations," said Powell. "With respect to Iraq, it has long been the policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people. And we are looking at a variety of options that would bring that about."

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The rest of the Times' lead emphasizes a point that USAT brought up yesterday: The White House is getting increasingly serious about taking Saddam down. As today's Times put it, "Senior officials said there was an emerging consensus within the administration that Mr. Hussein must be overthrown, but there is no agreement on how precisely this should be done. Still, there are indications that the planning is becoming increasingly serious." 

A stuffed news analysis in the NYT has some fighting words of its own: "Between now and May, Mr. Bush's team plans to create what amounts to an inspection crisis— demanding that Iraq admit into the country the nuclear inspectors it ousted in 1998." (USAT, by the way, also mentioned this yesterday, although it didn't say that Bush would be creating the crisis.)

The NYT stuffs a story that headlines the terror list suspect's connections to al-Qaida. But the piece has another, potentially big bit of news:  The article says the terrorism alert mentions that the warning is based on a statement from a Guantanamo Bay detainee who, "provided sketchy details about a possible plot whose focus was American installations and personnel in Yemen or elsewhere in the Middle East." In other words, the U.S. mainland wasn't named as a possible target?

Meanwhile, the WP's inside story on the alert doesn't exactly mention that angle. But it does say that officials were tipped off to the detainee—and the suspects named in the alert—by a document recovered in Afghanistan that listed their names and something about an operation against the U.S. embassy in Yemen. The Post does say, though, that a detainee told officials that one of the men might have gone to the United States.

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The NYT off-leads, and the WP fronts, word that Enron founder Ken Lay took the Fifth yesterday in front of a Senate committee. The hearing, though, still featured some fine quotes. "You  [Ken Lay] are perhaps the most accomplished confidence man since Charles Ponzi," said Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill. "I'd say you're like a carnival barker, except that might not be fair to carnival barkers. A carny will at least tell you upfront that he's running a shell game."

The WP, NYT, and the LAT all have interviews with survivors of what appear to have been two botched U.S. missile attacks in Afghanistan last fall. The Post says,"The missiles killed 21 members of two families—17 of them infants and other children, according to survivors." The LAT coaxes the clearest denial out of the Pentagon. "Our indicators, through imagery post- and pre-strike, does not support the claim that families and children were killed," said a spokesperson. "We don't have any indications that this happened."

The WP's version of the story uses its last paragraph to smack the Pentagon. It points out that a few days after the attacks described above, a Pentagon spokesperson was questioned about the strikes and responded, "I don't know exactly what you're talking about. But ... when we make a mistake, we tell you when we make a mistake." 

As happened on Monday in another report on an errant missile strikes, all three papers carry similar quotes from many of the same sources. Today each is datelined: THORAI, Afghanistan. It doesn't seem like all three papers just stumbled upon this place. As the LAT notes, "Both homes [attacked] are in the middle of fields, inaccessible even by car." So unless the NYT, WP, and LAT spontaneously decided to go on a hiking trip together, somebody seems to be organizing a Collateral Damage Tour. If that's the case, the papers should simply say so.

Everybody notes that Pakistani police say they've arrested the prime suspect in the kidnapping of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl. According to the police, the man said Pearl was still alive.

The NYT reports that countries' pledges to a word-wide AIDS fund are falling well below the $7 billion per year U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan asked for nine months ago. So far, about $2 billion has been pledged, only half of which will be available this year. The Times says that "some" (including, it seems clear, the Times) blame the United States for the shortfall since the White House has only pledged about $200 million this year. "Two hundred million per year is really not setting the example that is required," said one U.N. official.

The WSJ notes that besides a background security check, all Olympic staffers were screened for another issue: niceness. Applicants for Olympic committee staff positions underwent a 20-minute interview specifically meant to gauge his or her congeniality. Those who passed the test faced another challenge: a nine-hour training, complete with kazoo and pep talk by Marie Osmond.