An Act of Northern Aggression

An Act of Northern Aggression

An Act of Northern Aggression

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 23 2002 4:10 AM

An Act of Northern Aggression

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox (online), and Los Angeles Times all lead with North Korea's latest provocative move: It disabled U.N. security cameras that had been monitoring the country's mothballed nuke plants and removed the seals on a storage area holding spent fuel rods that can be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium. USA Today, which goes inside with North Korea, leads with word that property taxes are inching up across the country as municipalities try to deal with the recession and declining tax revenues. The Washington Post's lead crystal-balls coming battles in the Senate now that Sen. Bill Frist is set to become majority leader. (His GOP co-workers will vote him in tomorrow during a conference call.) The Post says Democrats are hoping to ride the wave of Trent Lott's downfall and push a number of bills meant to appeal to minorities, such as hate-crimes legislation and an anti-profiling bill.

The papers say North Korea could use the freed radioactive rods to make five or six nukes within months. (The papers also mention that the CIA thinks North Korea already has one or two nukes.) The NYT quotes one unnamed White House official as saying that while the U.S. still isn't interested in invading North Korea, it might now consider "non-diplomatic" moves.

The LAT mentions that there are actually two U.N. inspectors living at the nuke site. North Korea hasn't kicked them out yet.

A front-page piece in the Post says Republicans are intent on reaching out to minorities and leaving behind the remnants of its winking at racist Southern strategy. The article—written by Thomas Edsall, the first newspaper reporter to call attention to Lott's verbal trip-up—looks at the issue from a purely strategic, vote-getting point-of-view: "We have just about maxed out with white men," said one Republican strategist. "When you look into the future, all you see is smaller numbers and more and more Hispanics." The article never explains what the new effort might mean in terms of actual policies the GOP might push.

Meanwhile, an NYT op-ed by Linwood Holton, a former Republican governor of Virginia, urges the GOP to abandon the racially tinged strategy: "It is now as ineffective as it is immoral."

Also on the NYT's op-ed page, which has three pieces on race and the GOP, Bob Herbert outs some of the GOP politicians who still have an affinity for the ways of the 19th century. Herbert cites Sen. George Allen of Virginia, who has been chosen to replace Bill Frist as the GOP's chief senatorial fund-raiser. When Allen was governor of Virginia, he designated April "Confederate History and Heritage Month." The proclamation, which referred to the "struggle for independence and sovereign rights," forgot to mention one part of that heritage: slavery.

The Post's Howard Kurtz wonders where the big media stood on racism back in the days of Strom Thurmond's now re-famous presidential run as a segregationist. Turns out Strom was a moderate and a smart pick, at least according to the NYT'shorse-race über alles coverage. Here's an editorial the paper ran during the 1948 Dixiecrat convention: "Whoever ran this gathering showed political astuteness in naming to head the ticket Governor J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who opposes Federal intervention against lynching and against the poll tax but has fought for state action to suppress the one and put an end to the other."

The WP, alone among the papers, fronts the latest bit of PR from Iraq. Gen. Amir Saadi, Saddam's point-man for the inspections, announced yesterday that Iraq is "ready to deal" with any remaining questions about its weapons programs. That doesn't seem to mean much in practice: When asked about the gaps that the U.N. and U.S. say exists in Iraq's current declaration, Saadi said, "We don't have any more documentation." Since Saadi's rhetoric doesn't seem to represent any shift in policy, why is the Post putting it on the front page—complete with the sucker's headline: "IRAQ 'READY TO DEAL' WITH QUESTIONS"?

The WP's ombudsman Michael Getler serves as a resident critic, assessing readers' complaints and nailing the paper when it's wrong. Yesterday's installment looked at the Post's Dec. 12 story  that Saddam may have handed poison gas to al-Qaida. Getler seems to agree with Today's Papers' assessmentthat the story was ridiculously flimsy. But it's hard to tell, because Getler gets wimpy. He hands the last third of the column over to a lengthy quote from the Post's managing editor defending the story. Nothing so wrong with that, except Getler should put it in context: Are the editor's points valid, bunk, or what? Getler presumably has an informed opinion. He should let readers know what it is. After all, isn't that the point of the column?

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