Hit and Run

Hit and Run

Hit and Run

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 29 2003 6:47 AM

Hit and Run

The New York Times leads with the Pentagon's decision to effectively stop withdrawing troops from Iraq, including the now-veteran 3rd Infantry Division, one of the war's main combat units. Indeed, though plans still aren't settled, the Times says more troops actually might be coming in. Five GIs have been killed in the past few days, including, according to wire reports, one this morning. There are 160,000 U.S. and British troops in Iraq now and about another 100,000 providing support in the region. As the NYTimes notes, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had smacked down one top general's troop estimate for a post-war Iraq by saying,  "The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark." The Washington Post leads with Saudi Arabia's announcement that it has arrested eight suspect militants wanted in connection with the recent bombings in Riyadh. Among those arrested were two clerics who had issued a fatwa urging followers to shelter AQ members. Saudi officials say they also found "explosives and bomb-making equipment" at the militants' hideout. The Los Angeles Times' lead says that in continuing with a world-wide trend by the Pentagon, the military plans to move its troops in Asia out of traditional strongholds, such as Japan and Korea, and will instead establish a wider series of small bases throughout the region. "Everything is going to move everywhere," said one defense official. "There is not going to be a place in the world where it's going to be the same as it used to be." USA Today leads with President Bush's signature of the tax cut bill.

USAT hands its lead over to what was essentially a photo-op. That is, there were no developments yesterday that weren't already known the day before; the signing was a formality and an opportunity for the White House to get its position on the cut across. It worked pretty well. According to USAT's subhead, "Bush's vision: Jolt to economy, more jobs."

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The LAT's headline isn't any better, "$350-BILLION TAX CUT SPELLS RELIEF, BUSH SAYS." Of course, that headline is factually correct, but so is this imaginary one, "BUSH SIGNS TAX CUT; CRITICS WARN OF FRIGGIN' FISCAL FIASCO." The question isn't which one is accurate—it's which one gives readers a better sense of what's really going on. According to the White House's own numbers, the federal government is looking at deficits from now until, well, basically forever. (Today's Financial Times reports that the Treasury Dept. commissioned a study, since downplayed by the White House, that found that the government is now facing "chronic" deficits.) As for jobs, as Slate's Daniel Gross, among others, has noted, the one million or so paying gigs that Bush predicts will be created are 1) not all that much considering the number of jobs the economy has been shedding 2) darn expensive on a per job basis.

A frontpage piece in the NYT points out that a last-minute revision to the recently passed tax cut bill will prevent most low income families from benefiting from the increased child credit. Many American families will get a $400 gov't check this summer, but low-income families were barred from the deal as Senate and House negotiators scrambled to keep the bill under the promised $350 billion sticker price. (Keep in mind that number is almost certainly bogus anyway.)

According to a fascinating LAT story that runs, inexplicably, inside, anti-American riots broke out in the Iraqi town of Hit yesterday, causing GIs to pull out. The paper's Tyler Marshall was on the scene (at least according to the dateline), and writes that was it hard to know exactly what was going on since "an uncontrolled mob still roam[ed] the streets as dusk fell." Tyler says he could only get "a series of chaotic interviews laced with anti-American rage and threats of vengeance." Hit doesn't seem to be the only place where things were happening. "We have reports of lots of skirmishes throughout the central region of Iraq," said one Pentagon official.

Everybody notes the U.S. government's latest unveiling of what officials now say could only have been a bio-weapons mobile lab. As officials pointed out (in a press conference given by unnamed officials), some equipment in one of the trucks was made late last year—after U.N. inspectors had returned to Iraq. But as the papers all mention, there's still no evidence that the labs were used recently, or, actually, ever. The CIA has published a page on the labs. One weapons expert told the Post that the government's case on the supposed mobile labs is "based on eliminating any possible alternative explanation for the trucks, which is a controversial methodology under any circumstances." (For those of you familiar with such things, it's kind of like IBS, a so-called "exclusionary" disease. Not that TP knows anything about that.)

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The Post also notes that the U.S. has agreed to let U.N. experts inspect a nuclear storage facility that has been looted. In a bit that deserves further attention, the WP mentions far down that the agreement "specifically prohibits the [U.N.'s] emergency teams from investigating reports that some of the material has been removed and may be causing radiation sickness in some local communities." Last week's LAT reported that some residents do seem to be suffering from radiation poisoning.

The WP off-leads President Bush's announcement that he will hold a summit next Wednesday in Jordan with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers. (For the record: TP had basically doubted that such a meeting would happen.) Bush is also going to meet in Egypt with some Arab leaders the day before.

Everybody, including the NYT, notes that NYT reporter Rick Bragg, recently whapped for having over-relied on an apprentice and having fudged a dateline, announced that he's quitting. Bragg, who only briefly touched his toe  in the town he sketched in detail, defended himself in a recent WP interview by arguing that plenty of Times reporters do what he does. That charge in turn enraged many NYT staffers, who yesterday posted a series of messages defending themselves on a media news site. Bragg resigned at the end of the day.

Anyway, the whole brouhaha might actually have some healthy fallout: Various media outlets have been rethinking their credit and deadline practices. Take Bloomberg News, which apparently is in the habit of using the dateline to say where the action of a story is, not where the reporter is (which Bloomberg saves for the bottom of articles). "That could be misleading," realized the wire service's editor yesterday.