Credible Threat or Pure Bull?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 30 2002 9:26 AM

Credible Threat or Pure Bull?

The New York Times leads with a warning from the FBI to state and local law enforcement—but not the public—of the possibility of a terrorist attack in the U.S. around July 4. Given that there was no information of a "specific and credible threat" to justify a public warning, there are no specifics about the attack beyond the approximate date. The Washington Post leads (online, at least) with the "new" chumminess between al-Qaida and the militant arm of Lebanon's Hezbollah, who are said to be coordinating on training, weapons smuggling, and money laundering, among other things. The Los Angeles Times leads with the "hangover" from California's 2001 energy crisis: Despite a drop in wholesale prices, the state's Public Utilities Commission has not reduced consumer rates, and that could lead to an almost $3 billion windfall for state utilities.

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The NYT calls the FBI's decision to forgo a public alert "a significant shift in the thinking of senior government officials," who have grown reluctant to issue public warnings in the face of growing "threat fatigue." Eighteen other advisories have been issued to law-enforcement officials this year, and "about six" of these were made public. So far this year, only one public alert has been issued: the April 19 warning that terrorists might attack banks in the northeastern United States. The "July 4" warning was issued last Wednesday.

Despite sectarian rivalry between the Sunni al-Qaida and the Shiite Hezbollah, the WP says that the organizations may have been pooling resources for years. Cooperation has stepped up since the U.S. attacked al-Qaida in Afghanistan, the paper says, and Osama Bin Laden recently urged his followers via the Internet to ally with "helpful Islamic-based groups."

The LAT gets its hands on documents suggesting that Warner-Lambert execs hid the dangers of its diabetes drug Rezulin, which was recalled in 2000 after being linked to "scores of liver-linked" deaths. The docs show that Warner-Lambert's vice president of research used "an unorthodox method" to count the liver injuries among test subjects taking Rezulin, without notifying the FDA. The documents also offer advice for doctors looking to prescribe the drug, and note that Latino patients should be "easy to intimidate."

The NYT investigates the poor track record of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which this week declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. In 1996, at least 24 of the court's cases were overturned by the Supreme Court, 16 of them by a 9-0 vote. But although the court is "famously liberal," the article's experts say the remarkable number of reversals is more likely due to its size than its politics—with 28 judges, it's almost twice as large as the next biggest circuit.

Tobacco is becoming the hot solution to state budget problems, according to the WP. Eleven states have raised cigarette taxes this year, and a dozen more are contemplating hikes. States have also begun "securitizing" settlement money from tobacco lawsuits by selling bonds that let investors claim future tobacco-company payments.

Both the NYT and the LAT front follow-ups to last week's forest fires. The LAT focuses on the homecoming for residents of Show Low, Ariz., and the NYT concentrates on the growing support for controlled burning, which got a boost last week when a Colorado wildfire was stopped when it reached the limits of a fire set deliberately last year by the Forest Service.

An exhaustive WP fronter traces the history of Worldcom from small-town Mississippi upstart to telecom giant to potential spectacular flameout. An old secret-of-my-success quote from CEO Bernie Ebbers—"The thing that has helped me personally is that I don't understand a lot of what goes on in this industry"— may prove eerily prescient: His increasing distance from the company's operations could shield him from the furor over Worldcom's sketchy accounting practices. However, he has had to sell his 60-foot yacht Aquasition to help pay the company's debts.

The WP devotes some 40 grafs to a local bull made good: Virginia-born "Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation," who dairy farmers call "The Bull of the Century." A superb genetic specimen, Elevation sired some 80,000 daughters before his death in 1979. It is estimated that around 15 percent of the DNA in the U.S.'s dairy cows can be traced back to Elevation.

Now Who's Waffling? All the papers reefer news that the Cheney presidency ended uneventfully yesterday after just over two hours, and that President Bush's colon showed no sign of polyps or other abnormalities. The NYT claims that Bush signed himself back into power after playing ball with his dogs and having some waffles. The WP says he only ate "a waffle." Given that the president had just undergone a colonoscopy, it's odd that no one asks the urgent question: Were the waffles whole grain?

Andrew Nieland is a writer in New York.