Mystery Messages

Mystery Messages

Mystery Messages

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 22 2002 4:36 AM

Mystery Messages

The New York Times leads with President Bush's somewhat conciliatory statements on Iraq, in which he said that he's willing to "try diplomacy one more time. I believe the free world, if we make up our mind to, can disarm this man peacefully."The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the police's continued dialogue with the sniper. At a press conference yesterday, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose made another cryptic announcement, saying, "The person you called could not hear everything you said. Call us back so that we can clearly understand." The Los Angeles Times leads with the Supreme Court's rejection of some homeowners' claims that public walkways to beaches violate private property rights. The decision will make it easier for municipalities to build walkways to beaches.

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The NYTimes says that Bush's vague soft-talk is probably meant to reassure U.N. diplomats that the U.S. isn't hell-bent on heading to war. The president also said while "regime change" was still the U.S.'s policy, if Saddam were to disarm, "that in itself will signal the regime has changed." That circumlocution first popped up in a little noticed interviewUSAT had with Secretary of State Colin Powell a few weeks ago. Still, Bush also said that he thinks it's all moot anyway, since he doesn't think Saddam will disarm. The NYT, doing its best to come up with a one-line summary of Bush's mixed message, ends up with essentially a meaningless headline: "BUSH DECLARES U.S. IS USING DIPLOMACY TO DISARM HUSSEIN."Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the following, "BUSH DOUBTS THERE IS A PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO THE IRAQ CONFRONTATION."

The Post has the best reporting on the sniper investigation (one reason that's not a surprise: The paper's top story lists 19 contributing reporters). The paper says that police believe they've already spoken to the shooter twice. The WP explains that the note that was left on Saturday night telling police to get in contact included info that only the sniper would know, namely something that was on the tarot card left at an earlier shooting. Thepapers all say that the note, which was at least three-pages long, also included demands for money.

Most of the papers go high with word that an SUV packed with explosives and two suicide bombers slammed into a bus in northern Israel, killing at least 14, and injuring another 50. The blast was so huge that it destroyed a half-dozen other vehicles and left debris scattered over a 100-yard area. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. As the papers point out, the attack is the first in about two weeks and comes as Israel has started to ease curfews in the West Bank. The NYT says that Israeli officials said Syria is ultimately responsible for the attack, since that's where Islamic Jihad has its HQ. This isn't the first time that Israel has blamed Syria. It made the same charge back in June after another Islamic Jihad attack.

A front-page piece in the NYT outlines the Pentagon's latest thinking on how to fight urban battles, including, say, in Baghdad. The article is based on a new Pentagon think-tank-type report (here, in PDF format). So, it's more big-picture oriented and not focused on any specific war plan. The gist of it is that instead of pummeling a city, a la Berlin, GIs would lay siege and then launch pin-prick attacks meant to topple a city's pillars of power. Meanwhile, the story's 27th paragraph suggests something that could be a big deal: Marines and Army units aren't being adequately trained for urban fighting. "We still don't have enough training facilities," said one recently retired officer who helped develop the new fighting strategy. The typical U.S. soldier is apparently given half the training-time needed to make him proficient in city fighting. 

The NYT goes inside with a  series of photographs detailing the scene Sunday at one of Iraq's largest jails after Saddam issued his amnesty. Some of the prisoners suffocated as they tried to crowd through one exit.

A front-page piece in the Post slams President Bush for fibbing, mostly when he's argued the need go after Saddam. The article—headlined, "PRESIDENT ENHANCES HIS FACTS"—has about five examples. Here's one: During a speech a few weeks ago, Bush warned that Iraq is experimenting with unmanned drones that could be used "for missions targeting the United States." As the Post says (and as TP noted at the time), Saddam's drones can't do that; they don't have the range. The White House defended the president's (mis)statements. In the case of the drones, it explained that they can be launched from ships. The WP, which paraphrases the explanation, doesn't challenge it. But the thing is, the explanation, doesn't really, um, fly. The drones are full-sized planes, meaning they need a runway to take off. (Unless, of course, the White House has info about an Iraqi aircraft carrier.)

Everybody(!) fronts word that the SEC plans to bring civil charges against Martha Stewart for alleged insider trading. USAT even finds room to put Martha's troubles (centered on a stock trade worth about $220k) above the fold; the bombing in Israel made it to Page 7.

The WP's Howard Kurtz notices some of the smarter questions TV anchors have been asking on-air "experts" about the sniper: "Will this person strike again?" queried Fox's Alan Colmes. "Is this the type of person that would be taken alive?" probed NBC's Matt Lauer. The best question came, of course, from CNN's Larry King: "Would he be inclined to watch this program?"

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