Roaming in Ramallah

Roaming in Ramallah

Roaming in Ramallah

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 25 2002 5:13 AM

Roaming in Ramallah

The New York Times leads with Israel's decision to let Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat stroll around his hometown of Ramallah. But they still won't let him leave the city. Israel's decision to loosen the restrictions comes because last week Arafat ordered the arrest of the suspects in the murder of Israel's tourism minister—long demanded by Israel as a prerequisite to Arafat's freedom. Actually, the Ramallah Restriction isn't total. According to the Times, Arafat is allowed to call up his long-time nemesis, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and ask for permission to take an out-of-the-city field trip. USA Today leads with charges by a FAA whistleblower that the agency has long ignored evidence of lax security. "My entire office files are replete with incident after incident documenting major problems in aviation security," said the FAA special agent. "There is not one single instance that I am aware of in which action was taken to correct these security loopholes." The Los Angeles Times leads with word that many states, now strapped for cash, are cutting back on an ambitious joint federal-state program that pays for health insurance for the children of the working poor. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that a group of civil-rights lawyers are today expected to ask the Organization of American States to "intervene" (WSJ words) on behalf of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, who the lawyers contend are being treated inhumanely. The paper says that even if the OAS ends up ruling in favor of the lawyers, it doesn't have the power to do much, except perhaps embarrass the United States. The Washington Post's lead announces: BIN LADEN BELIEVED ALIVE. Halfway through the story, in the 12th paragraph, the Post notes that the NYT broke this story yesterday. 

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The Post's Bin Laden piece summarizes what the NYT reported yesterday: According to U.S. intelligence reports, Bin Laden may be somewhere near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, well, that's about it. According to Pentagon officials, the information isn't specific enough to launch any major operations.

The WP off-leads a nice investigative piece: According to the paper, the United States, unlike in the past, now relies largely on often-lax foreign regulatory agencies to ensure that the food coming into the U.S. market is safe. The Post says that when U.S. inspectors decided to do a rare swing-by of Mexican slaughterhouses a few years ago, 50 percent of those places failed inspections. The article also tosses in a Sept. 11 angle: As one former health inspector put it, "During this time of biological terrorism, it should not escape us that we receive large quantities of raw, frozen beef from underdeveloped countries."

USAT fronts—and the WP stuffs—suggestions from the U.S envoy to Afghanistan that the United States is now considering backing an expanded peacekeeper presence in that country.

According to a headline inside the NYT, RUMSFELD SAYS HE MAY DROP NEW OFFICE OF INFLUENCE. The only problem with that headline is that Rumsfeld never said he would eliminate the program. The Times quotes the Secretary of Defense saying, "The person who's in charge is debating whether [the Office Strategic Influence] should even exist in its current form, given all the misinformation and adverse publicity that it's received." Now, perhaps Rumsfeld has taken some advice from Shaq and begun referring to himself in the third-person as the "person who's in charge." Or perhaps more likely, and as the paper says, Rumsfeld was "distancing himself from the office" by saying the decision isn't his to make. Whatever the case is, the Times should tell readers that Rumsfeld never exactly said what's attributed to him in the headline—especially since, according to Meet the Press' transcript, Rumsfeld explicitly denied that he was the one making the decision:

Tim Russert, Meet the Press host: So you may, in fact, eliminate it.
       
Rumsfeld: It wouldn't be me.

The LAT fronts the strongest evidence yet that Bin Laden wasn't b.s.-ing when he claimed credit for the killing of 18 American soldiers in Somalia in the early 1990s. According to the paper, Indian officials have a signed confession from an al-Qaida operative who says he helped train Somali gunmen to fight U.S. troops. The article has a fascinating bit about how it's likely that without al-Qaida's help, the Somali gunmen never would have figured out how to shoot down U.S. helicopters. (Downed choppers were a key reason why so many American troops got killed.) And how did the al-Qaida guys know how to do that? According to the LAT, "Afghan fighters learned from U.S. and British military advisors in the 1980s that a helicopter's weak spot is the tail rotor."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.