Ship Happens

Ship Happens

Ship Happens

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 12 2002 4:46 AM

Ship Happens

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the Bush administration's decision to inoculate 500,000 troops against smallpox. The White House, which will formally announce the plans Friday, has said it will also offer the vaccine to 500,000 medical workers and in 2004 to the public. The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the White House's decision to allow the North Korean ship intercepted carrying Scud missiles to continue on to its destination in Yemen. The Journal calls the move "an embarrassing about-face" for the administration. As the LAT suggested yesterday, if the administration was going to abide by international law, it had to let the ship go.

The  Wall Street Journal has the skinny on the interception: The Bush administration, tipped off to the ship, phoned Yemeni authorities last week to ask them if they were buying any missiles from North Korea. The Yemenis said no, so the White House figured the missiles were for somebody else and moved to snatch 'em. But yesterday Yemen acknowledged that the missiles were theirs and said they'd like them back, please.

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The LAT says in a front-pager that the CIA has taken a first glance at Iraq's 12,000-page report and concluded that it consists mostly of what the LAT calls, "previously discredited Iraqi reports."   

Sen. Trent Lott's troubles burst onto the front pages today. Everybody gives them prominent play, with the NYT going highest, putting Lott's loose lips well above the fold. The senator gave another round of apologies yesterday, explaining that his comments endorsing Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential bid were "terrible." The Times also weighs in with an editorial. The entry is a bit late, but it makes its point: "FIRE TRENT LOTT."

(FYI: The leading coverage on Lott has come from a journalist named Joshua Micah Marshall writing on his own Web site.)

According to the WP's off-lead, the Bush administration has received "a credible report" that Islamic extremists in northern Iraq have gotten hold of some sort of poison gas, possibly VX nerve agent. The Post says government analysts "suspect" that it was smuggled overland via Turkey. If true, says the Post, the report would be "the most concrete evidence" to support the White House's contention "that al-Qaida terrorists receive material assistance in Iraq." That's sneaky language. The al-Qaida-affiliated radicals are in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, so while they might be receiving assistance in the country that doesn't mean they're getting help from it. And by the way, why would Saddam route chemical weapons through a second country?  

Meanwhile, take the whole WP report with a jarful of fleur de sel. It gives the feel of being on the receiving end of a game of telephone: The administration officials passing on the report aren't named. And as the Post acknowledges, the officials admitted "that the principal source on the chemical transfer was uncorroborated." The paper, to its credit, even notes that one official "said the report resulted only from an analyst's hypothetical concern." (WP's words.) So, why is this story on Page One? (The likely answer, of course, is that papers sometimes over-hype stories in order to play up a "scoop.")

The Post says in another front-page piece that though the U.S. has been trying to stop Iraq's purchase of atropine, a drug used to treat heart attacks and as an antidote for nerve gas, it actually approved such Iraqi purchases for years. The Post gives itself a pat on the back and says that "until now it was not known" that Iraq had actually been buying the stuff. Except the WSJ reported last month: "U.S. CLEARED IRAQ'S PURCHASES OF ANTIDOTE FOR NERVE AGENTS." On another note, Iraq's desire for atropine was first reported by the NYT, which strongly suggested that the dosages Iraq ordered were only appropriate for military uses. Today's WP says otherwise.

The Post, alone among the papers, fronts word that President Bush introduced plans yesterday to speed up logging in national forests. The new rules will cut down on environmental reviews, and are meant, said the White House, to help prevent forest fires by encouraging thinning. Bush first outlined the plan in August. (Here's a Slate piece assessing the proposal.)   

The NYT says that Democrats are pushing Henry Kissinger, recently picked to head the independent investigation into 9/11, to disclose his list of clients and any potential other conflicts of interest. Congressional rules require such disclosure, but the administration says that since it appointed Kissinger, he doesn't have to abide by those regs.  

The NYT says inside that former Veep Al Gore's friends are increasingly convinced that he won't run for president in 2004.

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The NYT's Jeffrey Gettleman has just completed one of this year's sweetest assignments. For the past week, Gettleman has been aboard the cruise ship Amsterdam, waiting expectantly for the epidemic of tummy troubles that had sullied its previous outings. The cruise finished yesterday with "plenty of sunburns and unopened bottles of Kaopectate." The virus didn't hit.

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