US Airwaylaid

US Airwaylaid

US Airwaylaid

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 12 2002 5:26 AM

US Airwaylaid

The Los Angeles Times, the  Washington Post, and USA Today all lead with word that US Airways sought bankruptcy-court protection yesterday. The airline said it will continue flying while it reorganizes, but warned that it may cut back or change some of its routes. Everybody points out that the airline, which has most of its routes along the East Coast, was particularly hard hit by the post-9/11 downturn in air traffic. The Wall Street Journal, which puts the bankruptcy atop its business box, says United Airlines could be next. The New York Times leads with word that the secretary of defense is "considering" expanding the role of American special forces in the war against al-Qaida, including using the troops to kill or capture al-Qaida leaders around the globe. The Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the Energy Department's decision to move weapons-grade nuclear material from the Los Alamos labs to a more secure location. Authorities decided to make the change after repeated mock-invasion exercises showed that security at Los Alamos was lax. In one case, troops posing as terrorists used a garden cart to make off with weapons-grade plutonium.

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A few weeks ago, the WP reported  that the Pentagon was pondering expanding the role of special ops troops, and today's NYT says that Rumsfeld still hasn't made a decision, though it does suggest he's into the idea. The NYT also emphasizes up high criticism from "some officials outside the Pentagon" who said they were concerned that the proposal could result in special ops troops getting tangled up in the kind of covert operations that have traditionally been the domain of the CIA.

The NYT off-leads and the LAT fronts news that Stephen Hatfill, the bio-warfare scientist who has been getting tons of attention lately as a possible anthrax-attack suspect, held a news conference yesterday and denied that he was "in way, shape or form" involved in the attacks. Hatfill, who read a statement  and didn't take questions, accused the FBI of leaking to the media and making him the "fall guy." The media and FBI have, Hatfill said, made a "wasteland of my life."

The FBI has repeatedly searched Hatfill's apartment, but says he's not a suspect, just a "person of interest." The FBI says that puts him into a group of about two dozen scientists it's checking out. As the NYT suggests, one of the reasons Hatfill has received so much attention is that he's the only one in that group who's actually been named. Another reason is that Hatfill has been busted for fibbing on his résumé. Yesterday he acknowledged that he has not "led a perfect life."

One quibble with the NYT's Hatfill coverage: The Times, trying to vet Hatfill's claim that he has "never, ever" worked with anthrax, simply quotes a spokesman from the lab where Hatfill once worked as saying, "He could have worked in proximity to someone who was working on anthrax." The Times leaves it at that, which seems a bit unfair: Doesn't the quote suggest, but not really make clear, that Hatfill indeed may have never worked with anthrax?

The WP off-leads a piece saying that the feds are investigating "more than 500 Muslim and Arab small businesses" that the government suspects may be involved in small scams to funnel money to terror organizations. In one case that's already gone to court, investigators have charged that a few businessmen sold black-market cigarettes and sent some of the profits to Hezbollah.

The WSJ fronts an analysis it conducted that found that telecom execs cashed out on $14 billion worth of their company stock during the bubble years. Though the Journal says there's no evidence that most of the execs actually engaged in illegal insider trading, it plays up the swindle angle: The execs hyped "telecom's endless growth possibilities," says the Journal. "Then, by the hundreds, they folded their hands." That process, says the paper, resulted in "one the largest transfers of wealth from investors in American history." The article would have been more convincing if had also acknowledged the other side of the coin: While some execs made oodles of dough, how many lost their pants, just like average investors?

The NYT briefly mentions the latest tensions in the Mideast: Israel lodged a protest with Egypt after the Israeli press reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the following about Israel's (slightly wide-bodied) prime minister, Ariel Sharon: "This fatso Sharon. I hear he eats an entire lamb for dinner. How can anyone fall asleep after that?" Mubarak was apparently upset after one of his generals visited Sharon's house and was only served two sausages and a tomato.

Those ain't tears of joy ... The NYT's business section notes that in response to flagging interest in Barney, the puffy purple dinosaur, his creators have decided to launch a new TV ad campaign promoting the beast. Apparently, the problem with Barney isn't so much that kids don't like him; it's that parents can't stand him. So the big campaign will be aimed at subtly convincing adults that Barney can be their friend too. "We're hoping people will say 'Oh my God, I can't believe this is a spot for Barney,' " explained one marketer. "We're hoping a tear wells up in the eye."

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