Great White Heat

Great White Heat

Great White Heat

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 22 2003 7:18 AM

Great White Heat

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with a grisly nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed at least 96 people and injured about 200 others. A pyrotechnic display on stage ignited foam soundproofing on the walls and the resulting fire engulfed the room. The Washington Post fronts the fire, but leads with the U.S. and Turkey closing in on an agreement that would allow American troops to operate from Turkish bases, thereby creating a second front in the anticipated war with Iraq.

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The heavy metal band Great White was performing their first song at the Station in West Warwick, R.I., when the fire started, the NYT reports. The central investigative question in all the papers is whether the band had permission from the club's management to use pyrotechnics onstage, but it's the harrowing accounts from survivors that stand out. "People were bleeding, their hair was being burned off, their skin was just melting off, skin was just dangling," a witness says in the NYT. A local news crew was filming the performance for a story about safety in nightclubs, in the wake of the stampede in Chicago five days ago that killed 21. (The NYT has the video clip on its Web site.)

After weeks of haggling, Turkey has finally come around (or just about), according to the Post lead. U.S. troops—about 40,000 of them, according to the LAT—will operate out of Turkey in exchange for about $6 billion in aid, along with other strategic assurances, such as a guarantee that Iraqi Kurds will not be allowed to cross the border into Turkey. The negotiations got bogged down in tedious detail, such as who would pay for the plastic ID tags U.S. soldiers will wear while in Turkey. The Post reports that 95 percent of the Turkish people are opposed to the war and some insiders predict that the agreement with the U.S. might still get snagged in the Turkish Parliament.

Everybody fronts the latest volley from Hans Blix: a demand that Iraq begin busting up its Al Samoud 2 missiles by March 1st, or else. Or else what? The deadline may lend currency to U.S. war plans should Iraq fail to comply, though, as the WP points out, it could also go the other way. If Iraq does begin dismantling these weapons—which are currently equipped to go beyond the 92-mile limit, according to Blix—it will only buffer the arguments of those Security Council members already opposed to military intervention. The U.S. and Britain are working on a "brief resolution," which, according to the LAT, will give the council three weeks to vote on what to do about Iraq. "This is, in fact, the 18th resolution, the president does not think there needs to be a 19th. So this is a very important moment for the United Nations Security Council to decide whether or not it will act," Ari Fleischer says in the LAT.

The NYT fronts a bit of malfeasance on the part of Bayer (the aspirin folks), which continued to peddle an anticholesterol drug long after becoming aware of its harmful side effects. The drug, Baycol, appears to cause something called rhabdomyolysis, which, the Times informs, causes "muscle cells to break down and their contents to flow into the blood." According to court documents, company execs knew there might be something wrong as early as 1997, though they didn't pull the drug until August 2001.

In a similar but different vein, documents released by NASA reveal that Columbia's managers failed to investigate how damage caused by debris at liftoff might effect the shuttle's re-entry, even though they suspected trouble, according to LAT and WP fronters. A NASA engineer expressed his concerns to his boss via e-mail. He also said that flight engineers predicted that Columbia's landing would be "survivable but marginal." The NYT also fronts the story but for some reason sidesteps the scandalous aspects, instead focusing on the number of pieces of debris that might have hit the wing during liftoff—three, perhaps, instead of the initially agreed upon one.

Finally, the LAT fronts the "9/11 vultures," the wily con artists who have tried to cash in on the terrorist attacks. Some of the loved ones reported missing after the fall of the Twin Towers are, according to the NYPD's Special Fraud Squad, very much alive, if they existed in the first place. Using a picture of himself as a young man, Cyril Kendall invented a son, reported the boy missing, and collected $190,867 from charities. He (Cyril, not the son) is free on bail, awaiting trial. Thirty-seven others have been arrested, and as a result of convictions, the tally of Trade Center dead has dropped from 2,801 to 2,792. The detectives keep a Hemingway quote on the wall of their office: "Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man."

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.