A Sary Situation

A Sary Situation

A Sary Situation

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 27 2003 4:36 AM

A Sary Situation

The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's positively peaceniky comments defending his (qualified) endorsement of the peace "road map" plan. "You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation," he told conservative legislators yesterday. "Holding 3.5 million Palestinians is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy." The New York Times' lead says that the EPA's database used to track water pollution is out-of-date and filled with faulty data and that as a result the agency has trouble tracking polluters. The Times' piece, which is based on an EPA's inspector-general's report, says that an effort to modernize the database is three years behind schedule, over-budget, and underfunded. Environmentalists accused the Bush administration of purposely not giving the EPA the extra $6 million or so it says it needs to finish the upgrade. The Washington Post leads with the resurgence of SARS in Toronto. Just two weeks after the city declared itself essentially free of the virus, authorities believe there are as many as 53 new cases. Authorities believe the infections were all caused by one man, a 96-year-old who doctors thoughthad pneumonia. 

Everybody gives a sense of just how remarkable it was that the anti-occupation comments were coming from Sharon, who the Wall Street Journal describes as "spiritual father of the settler movement." It was one of the first times he's even referred to Israel's "occupation."  Meanwhile the LAT notices that Sharon wasn't exactly ordering settlers to pack their bags. Asked by one settler-cum-legislator whether he'll have to move, Sharon replied, "You can build for your children and grandchildren and, I hope, even for your great-grandchildren."

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Nobody fronts two deadly attacks yesterday on U.S. troops in Iraq. In one, a U.S. convoy came under heavy fire north of Baghdad, one GI was killed; and another injured. In the other attack, a Humvee hit a land-mine on a well-traveled road near Baghdad's airport and then came under fire; another GI was killed in that attack and three were injured. The LAT says that some residents near the airport celebrated the ambush. "Boom boom," chanted Iraqi teenagers to GIs. "Bye-bye."

For the past week or so, the papers have been reporting that the White House suspects Iran of harboring the al-Qaida cell behind the recent attacks in Riyadh. TP has repeatedly complained that those stories have downplayed the fact that the intel nailing Iran is in dispute. Today's WSJ airs that part of the story: The U.S. intercepted a phone call of some AQ types in Iran who may or may not have been talking about the Riyadh attacks, and may or may not have had the conversation before the attacks. It's also not clear, as the NYT mentioned yesterday, whether Iran is knowingly harboring these guys. "There are certainly some [in the administration] who take [that] hard-core view," said one spook, "and others who say we don't know." (The only knock against the Journal's piece is that the dispute still doesn't make it into the headline: "U.S. OFFICIALS TO DISCUSS IRAN AS TENSIONS ESCALATE.") USAT says that Iran has announced the arrest of some AQ suspects; it's not clear whether they're connected to the Riyadh bombings.

The NYT's Paul Krugman, with a heavy assist from the Financial Times, argues that not only will the new tax cuts lead to a budget crisis (Krugman's projected cost for the cuts: $800 billion), it's exactly what some Republicans want. As the FT, which Krugman quotes from, put it, "Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door." Krugman also argues that the GOP's rhetoric aside, current federal taxes are actually pretty low by historical standards.

Quit Bragging ... The Post'sHoward Kurtz has the latest troubles at the Times: NYT reporter Rick Bragg, who was suspended last week for having fudged a dateline and over-relied on a freelancer, says he's quitting. According to a brief and opaque "editor's note" in Friday's NYT, Bragg visited the town datelined in a piece only "briefly" while "the interviewing and reporting on the scene" was done by a freelancer, not Bragg, who according to the kinda-correction should have shared the story's byline with the freelancer.

Bragg doesn't deny that a freelancer did plenty of the work and got no credit; he just pleads that it's standard operating procedure. "Those things are common at the paper," says Bragg. "Most national correspondents will tell you they rely on stringers and researchers and interns and clerks and news assistants." Bragg is right about that. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with reporters getting helping from youngsters. But, duh, readers should be told when freelancers, interns, or whoever are reporting significant parts of a piece. It's not hard. The LAT, WP, USAT and others often use "additional reporting" tags at the end of their articles. Why doesn't the NYT?

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