The NYT's Rainey Day

The NYT's Rainey Day

The NYT's Rainey Day

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 15 2003 5:56 AM

The NYT's Rainey Day

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with word from U.S. officials that they recently warned Saudi Arabia about the likelihood of attacks but that the Saudis didn't do much about it. Saudi officials denied that. The death toll from Monday's attacks now stands at 34, including nine attackers. The warnings are also the top non-local story in the Los Angeles Times. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that documents found during the Saudis' failed raid of militants last week suggest that among the men was a top al-Qaida operative who had been a protégé of AQ's now-jailed operations chief, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The same group of militants is suspected in Monday's attacks. USA Today leads with news that the chief investigator of the Columbia shuttle disaster railed against NASA's safety office. "We find the safety organization on paper is perfect," he said in congressional testimony yesterday. "But when you bore down, there is no there there." He derided the office as "four people, and most of them are making sure people are wearing their hard hats." 

Everybody notices that the Saudis have had a long history of less-than-full cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The LAT, citing unnamed officials, says that the  Saudis won't let the CIA track al-Qaida cells in the country. "What the Saudis have accomplished recently has been enough to prevent people from saying that they've done nothing or even next to nothing," one Clinton-era national security staffer told the NYT. "One hundred more of these little steps and they'll be at the minimum level of what they should be."

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The Post says part of the slow response may just be that Saudi Arabia is poorly run. "It has a First World country infrastructure, but it's a Third World country," said one official. "You go two people down in any agency and it's bureaucratic inertia. It's not malicious, necessarily."

But that itself might just be a little friendly flacking for the Saudis. As the Post emphasizes, it's not clear how far the U.S. is willing push the Saudis—at least publicly. The U.S.'s ambassador to the country had the strongest criticism yesterday, charging that the royals had been asked to improve security at foreign compounds but hadn't followed through. According to the Post, the White House was "taken aback" by the ambassador's criticism and wants to emphasize that the Saudis are cooperating.

The LAT and WP both go high with comments from the top Army commander in Iraq that rogue Baathist forces are wreaking havoc in the country, particularly in sabotaging the electricity grid. The commander said "most" of his troops are currently engaged in countering these guys. The Post has a fairly skeptical take, noting that the commander has never mentioned the forces before and that Iraqis attribute most of the instability to common criminals. But the LAT actually seems to get confirmation of some sort of proto-insurgency: Two knowledgeable Iraqis "independently" told the paper that some Baathists have regrouped and started attacks; meanwhile "scores" of Iraqis said they often see former party apparatchiks walking around, "heavily armed, with impunity."

The NYT, which also attended the commander's press conference, plays down the saboteur angle and instead focuses on the commander's promise to put more troops on the streets. Meanwhile, a separate piece inside the NYT notes that the military has stopped sending troops home.

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Yesterday's NYT went above-the-fold Page One with an anonymously sourced piece saying that GIs "will have the authority to shoot looters on sight." In retrospect, TP should have noted that the Times never explained what that might mean in terms of actual rules of engagement. (Try to drive away with a stolen car and get shot? How about meandering out of a store with a toaster?) In fact, the story didn't really clarify to what degree the new "shoot-on sight" concept was actually an order versus something more akin to an out-loud brainstorm. As it happens, it now seems that it was closer to the latter (unless, as is possible, the administration just did a quick flip). "Unless the soldier's life is threatened, we are not going out and shooting looters," said the commander of the U.S. 3rd Division yesterday.

Pop quiz: Given that the above quote directly disputes yesterday's big-time report in the Times, where do you run think it runs in today's NYT? If you answered "23rd paragraph of a stuffed story," congratulations, you seem to have what it takes to be a newspaper editor.

Everybody goes high with word from Texas that 19 people, illegal immigrants, were found dead, locked in the back of a trailer truck that had crossed the border from Mexico.

The papers all detail yesterday's extraordinary town-hall-type meeting at the NYT. The closed-to-the-media session ("predictable, but ironic," says USAT) was convened to hear newsroom complaints about the  Jayson Blair affair and management's perceived failings. "You view me as inaccessible and arrogant," said executive editor Raines in his long mea culpa. "I heard that you were convinced there's a star system that singles out my favorites for elevation. Fear is a problem to such extent, I was told, that editors are scared to bring me bad news."

He heard right. As metro one editor put it, "I believe that at a deep level you guys have lost the confidence of many parts of the newsroom. I do not feel a sense of trust and reassurance that judgments are properly made. People feel less led than bullied." One reporter asked if Raines was considering resigning. He said no, and the Times' publisher backed him up.

The NYT's story on the meeting is solid, although it's a bit hard to find (look inside the "A" section). The LAT fronts its coverage. The WP, with the best piece, puts it on Page One of the "Style" section and says things got heated. The editor quoted above used a profanity, at which point Raines told him not to "demagogue me."

Is he meshugina? The Post's Lloyd Grove says that Geraldo Rivera has announced that he's getting married (for the fourth time). In a nod to his upbringing, Rivera plans to get hitched in a synagogue, explaining, "I'm making a conscious decision to take this whole Judaism thing seriously. I think the Jews need me right now."