The New York Timesand Washington Post both lead (and the Los Angeles Times off-leads) with Iraq: The WP and LAT report that Iraq will indeed start destroying its Al-Samoud 2 missiles today, as U.N. weapons inspectors had demanded, while the NYT's lead and an accompanying news analysis piece call attention to an apparent shift in U.S. policy: Saddam still must go, even if he does completely disarm. The Los Angeles Times leads, the WP fronts, and the NYT stuffs word that the U.S. and the Philippines have been unable to reach an agreement in an increasingly embarrassing argument about how to describe U.S. troops' role in battling Islamic militants there, and the whole plan is now on hold.
Everyone except the NYT notes up high that Iraq's decision to destroy its missiles will only exacerbate the existing divide between the pro-inspection and pro-war camps in the Security Council. The LAT also devotes an entire piece to Russia's threat to veto the U.S.-British-Spanish war resolution; it looks like some serious horse-trading is going on. Not only did the U.S. finally label three Chechen groups as terrorist organizations, but an unnamed administration official said the U.S. has linked the $8 billion Iraq owes Russia to the discussion.
The NYT's lead emphasizes a change in the meaning of the ever-malleable term "regime change." Since Bush's speech before the U.N. last year, the White House has said that Iraq's complete disarmament would constitute a regime change; now, Saddam must go, too, for it to count. According to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, both are necessary conditions because disarmament is the U.N.'s goal, while changing the Iraqi government is Bush's goal. Question: Isn't this policy shift moot since Iraq will never satisfy Bush's definition of disarmament?
As everyone reports, even though the Pentagon made the plan to send U.S. special forces and marines to the Philippines sound like a done deal last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Philippine counterpart emerged from a meeting yesterday unable to agree on language to characterize the operation. The Philippine government, facing stiff domestic opposition because of a constitutional ban on foreign troops carrying out combat missions, wanted to call the operation against Abu Sayyaf militants an "exercise," but U.S. officials wanted to call it a "military operation" to cover themselves in case Americans died. The LAT piece gets the juiciest quote: If Americans were to die, a senior Filipino military official had suggested before Friday's meeting, "We could always cover it up."
Everyone fronts a federal appeals court's refusal—over the strong objection of nine judges—to review its controversial decision this summer to ban teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, which means students in nine Western states may stop pledging allegiance by March 10. Though it declined to review the original decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit—widely called the most liberal—did narrow it: The Pledge itself is no longer unconstitutional, only reciting it in class is. Everyone highlights vitriolic responses to the decision from politicians of both parties, but the NYT found a professor who has the best read on why the court didn't bother reviewing the entire case: "You know this has Supreme Court written all over it. ... So let them figure it out."
The NYT, alone among papers, fronts news that North Korea is close to restarting a reprocessing plant capable of producing enough weapons-grade plutonium to create a bomb a month. As recently as Thursday, the NYT and WP reported that the U.S. had no evidence that North Korea was restarting the plant, but now the "Bush administration's experts on North Korea and intelligence officials" say that spy satellites show a whole lot of activity, and the plant could be restarted within weeks. The piece hints that the differing reports may be the result of a "behind-the-scenes struggle" within the administration but doesn't make clear who's leaking what. TP would like some clarification, please.
As of today, 20 federal agencies officially merge into the Department of Homeland Security. To mark the occasion, the NYT fronts the department's resolve to screen the estimated 500,000 people who enter the country each day for radiological materials—starting today. The WP has a much more skeptical piece that doesn't even mention the new screening: "Some Homeland Security employees say they still know little about basic matters, such as to whom they will report and whether they will don new uniforms."
The WP off-leads and everyone fronts the FDA's moves to curtail the use of the dietary supplement ephedra. According to the WP, ephedra has been "known in China for thousands of years as ma huang," but it only recently came under scrutiny because of its potential role in the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. Right now, the FDA is proposing a warning label, but some say there should be an outright ban on the dietary supplement.
Scoop of the day: Although the names of prospective jurors in a criminal case in federal court in Manhattan yesterday were supposed to be confidential, the NYT figured out who one of them is. The tip-off? On the part of the juror questionnaire that asked about previous employment, Prospective Juror No. 142 filled in, "President of the United States."