A Numbers Game?

A Numbers Game?

A Numbers Game?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 21 2002 4:45 AM

A Numbers Game?

The Washington Post and USA Today lead with word that the sniper appears to have left some sort of message for investigators at the scene of Saturday night's shooting. The message prompted Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose to make a cryptic announcement at a press conference last night: "To the person who left us a message at the Ponderosa [Saturday] night, you gave us a telephone number. We do want to talk to you. Call us at the number you provided." Moose didn't take any questions, but he did ask the media to carry the announcement often. A police spokeswoman explained that "the message should make sense" to the person who left it. The New York Times' lead says that with a U.N. resolution on Iraq basically a done deal, the U.S. is now focusing on making sure that the inspections are tough and get started soon. The Los Angeles Times leads with a check-in on the battle for control of the Senate; it's not clear which party has the upper hand.

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Police haven't officially concluded that Saturday's shooting was the work of the sniper, partially because doctors haven't yet been able to recover the bullet from the victim, who is in critical condition. Meanwhile, the NYT looks at the symbiotic relationship between police and the TV news. The Times concludes that it all amounts to an "interactive reality TV show."

The NYT's lead says the U.S.'s primary concern in terms of inspectors is what the paper calls "the need for speed." (An homage to Top Gun, perhaps?) The paper explains that the U.S. wants to get the ball rolling since a potential invasion becomes harder after February, when the desert starts to heat up. One thing the paper doesn't mention: Last month, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said that "hasty" inspections are a bad idea

The Post and NYT front Saddam Hussein's announced amnesty of nearly ever prisoner in Iraq. (Alleged spies for the U.S. and Israel didn't make the cut.) The papers guess-timate that tens of thousands of Iraqis got the get-out-of-jail-free card. Everybody speculates that the move is an attempt by Saddam to build a bit of goodwill with Iraqis, particularly among the potentially rebellious Shiite population (a disproportionate number of prisoners were Shiites). The WP adds that it also may be meant as a peace overture to Shiite-dominated Iran. The NYT's John Burns, who has consistently  had the best on-the-ground coverage of events in Iraq, says that family members of those jailed were so excited by the announcement that they rushed the jail and even broke down the some of the prison walls. Unfortunately, the scene turned into a melee, and some prisoners were crushed.

In a front-page piece, the NYT says that "sometime earlier this year" Czech President Vaclav Havel quietly told the White House that the reports of a Prague meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy are bunk. News of the alleged meeting has long been discredited, but the Times adds details, mapping out the genesis and spread of the bogus report. (Out of curiosity: Is the NYT's Bill Safire, who called the meeting an "undisputed fact," gonna issue a correction?)

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The WP off-leads, and others stuff, word from the White House—via a briefing by unnamed staffers—that President Bush plans today to propose revised FDA rules making it easier for Americans to buy generic drugs. The Post points out that the proposal will be similar to Senate legislation passed a few months ago that Bush opposed. Among the new proposals, brand-name drug companies will no longer be able to get new patents simply by repackaging old drugs.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal  Page One story says that a U.S. health-claims processing company, in a first, has introduced a way for people on some health-care plans to get their prescription drugs from Canada, where prices are much lower. 

A piece stuffed inside the WP offers an interesting theory for why North Korea admitted it's developing nukes: The U.S. dissed it. The paper says that North Korea contends that the U.S. actually broke the nuke agreement first, because the U.S. didn't normalize relations and deliver aid as it had promised. The Post notes that some analysts say North Korea's gripes are legit.

The LAT's Ron Brownstein reminds readers of one of the "great unmentioned issues of Campaign 2002": The uninsured, all 41 million 'em.

The WP's "Style" section profiles much-profiled former weapons inspector Scott Ritter. The article goes over well-covered ground, namely that Ritter has flip-flopped on his assessment of the threat posed by Saddam's weapons programs: (Nowadays, Ritter says that they're not a threat.) The article, which quotes a bunch of Ritter's colleagues saying he's gone off the deep-end, mentions that Ritter charges that the U.S. planted spies amid the inspectors and thus "corrupted" the process: What the article doesn't say—and what is rarely mentioned in the other Ritter coverage—is that, in terms of the spy allegations, Ritter is right.