French Diss

French Diss

French Diss

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 5 2003 5:25 AM

French Diss

The Los Angeles Times leads with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's comments yesterday that "of course we're going to have direct talks with the North Koreans." The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox is topped with yesterday's summit between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac during which Chirac refused to budge from France's anti-war position and suggested that his country might still use its Security Council veto. (Of course, coming before Secretary of State Powell's presentation this doesn't mean much.) The New York Times leads with a shuttle wrap-up focused on the memorial ceremony for the Columbiaastronauts. The Washington Post and USA Today also lead with the shuttle, but emphasize hard news: The Post plays up NASA's acknowledgement that the foam that dislodged during liftoff "probably is the largest" that has ever has fallen off the shuttle. USAT says that two previous Columbia flights—one in 1989 and one in 1995—experienced higher-than-normal heat during re-entry, similar to what happened on Saturday before the shuttle disintegrated. According to a study that NASA commissioned, the overheating was caused by tile damage. The article waits until halfway through to note that the report's author says he never suggested that the problems represented "a threat to a safe flight." (By the way, the article mentions that the report was "obtained by USA TODAY from the Internet." How about providing a link, guys?)

The other papers play down Armitage's offer of direct talks, and for good reason: He didn't mention a time frame and said there needs to be a "strong international platform" (inspectors back in country?) before the U.S. will show up. In other words, as USAT puts it, "U.S. NOT READY FOR TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA."

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According to front-page NYT piece, a 1990 NASA study warned that tiles near the shuttle's wheel wells—where the Columbia may have been hit by debris—were particularly vulnerable to damage. But the piece waits until the 17th paragraph to mention that the authors of the study say that NASA actually did a good job of following up on their recommendations. Perhaps more important, the piece also points out that the Columbia sat on the launching pad for 39 days before taking off, two weeks longer than usual, and it rained much of that time. Experts told the paper that the foam insulation may have become waterlogged during the wait, and thus when some of it hit the left wing it might have been much heavier than previously calculated.

According to a front-page piece in the Post, the Saudi government helped the wife of a jailed terror suspect in the U.S. leave the country even though she was under subpoena. The subpoena was filed 11 months ago, and the Saudi embassy said it's no longer valid. The FBI disagrees.

The Post follows up on a point it mentioned last week, saying that despite Jordanian King Abdullah's talk of democratic reforms, he has  cracked down on political opposition, postponing parliamentary elections and expanding censorship. "We have tyranny dressed up in a suit, cleanly shaven," said one activist.

A front-page NYT piece says that the administration, in a bid to reduce fraud, is proposing to tighten eligibility requirements for school lunches. According to the government, the number of kids enrolled in the free-lunch program is 25 percent higher than the total number of kids who are eligible. So, now parents will be required to provide pay stubs and other proof that they're poor. According to the paper, a number of state officials and the GAO think that's a bad idea and will probably end up cutting off recipients who are eligible but will have trouble providing proof.

A front-page Post piece notices that Saddam has handed out AK-47s to a whole lot of Iraqi civilians (perhaps 7 million, probably fewer than 1 million, depending on who you believe). The Post rightly says it's anybody's guess whether these people will actually fight. Then the paper includes a bunch of quotes from armed Iraqis suggesting that they're raring for a rumble. "I wish the Americans would come here," said one businessman. "We will fight until we win or die." Except, as the Post forgets to mention, Iraqi minders are almost always present during interviews and probably were during these. In other words, despite the Post's Page One play, these quotes are worth about as much as the Iraqi dinar.

Come to think of it, that's part of an annoying tic that the Post has developed lately, giving uncritical Page One play to Iraqi rhetoric and propaganda. (Want a smoking gun? See here, here, here, and here.) Of course, the papers should try to give readers a sense of developments from Iraq, and they shouldn't black out coverage from "the enemy." But the Post's efforts are a lame attempt at even-handedness. Just as the papers shouldn't mindlessly repeat White House rhetoric, they shouldn't just regurgitate Iraqi spin. If they do, it's not sign of objectivity, but gullibility.

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