Lynch Mobbed

Lynch Mobbed

Lynch Mobbed

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 17 2003 6:21 AM

Lynch Mobbed

The Los Angeles Times leads with Iran's moves against the student protests. Militia and police have set up checkpoints around universities, and the government has shut down cell-phone networks near campuses. More significantly, over the weekend paramilitary groups raided dorms and beat up about 50 students. With the clamp-down, the paper says, the protests are waning but still have occasional flare-ups. The New York Times goes with the Supreme Court's compromise ruling giving the government limited authority to force defendants to take anti-psychotic drugs to make them competent to stand trial. Among the criteria the court imposed: There must be no other less obtrusive options available, and the pills must be in the defendant's best medical interest. USA Today's lead says that one reason intel on banned Iraqi weapons was so limited was that the U.S. didn't have many spies in Iraq. The Washington Post's top non-local story is a huge revisionist piece on Pfc. Jessica Lynch's saga, and it concludes that the story of her capture and rescue "is far more complex and different" than has been portrayed by the ocean of People-like coverage.

As the LAT's lead says, and others have noticed as well, that unlike previous protests in Iran, the current ones are aimed against the whole Iranian government, including moderates, who've never been able to get the power to change much. "We used to come out in support of [President Mohammed] Khatami," said one student. "Now we know he's just another mullah—they all have to go."

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USAT's lead emphasizes the CIA's explanation for its dearth of Iraqi spies: Saddam killed most of them. And that's probably true. But there's also another reason, left unmentioned by USAT: Over the last 30 years or so, U.S. intel services have increasingly relied on satellite photos and electronic intercepts while flesh-and-blood operatives have been relatively neglected.

The Post's piece on Lynch is, to the paper's credit, largely a corrective on the Post's own anonymously sourced initial take on her capture and rescue. She wasn't stabbed or shot as first reported. And contrary to the original reporting, Lynch probably did not put up a big fight; she might not have even fired. Her M-16 jammed. Today's piece, unfortunately still citing anonymous sources, also says up high that Lynch was "mistreated by her captors," then waits another 65 paragraphs (really) before mentioning that Iraqi doctors dispute that. The doctors also dispute an Iraqi lawyer's recollection that he saw Lynch slapped. "That's some Hollywood crap you'd tell the Americans," said one. As for her rescue, the Post reiterates what the paper itself, in a little-noticed dispatch, reported a few months ago: Iraqi troops had abandoned the hospital the day before, and the special ops troops weren't fired upon, didn't fire themselves, and contrary to a mad suggestion in the British press, they weren't shooting blanks.

One beef: Today's WP piece downplays the Post's own role in creating the Lynch Media Myth. The WP says "initial news reports, including those in The Washington Post" were misleading. The reality is that the WP was the prime mover of much of that bogus info. Consider the WP's "scoop" that landed on Page One two days after Lynch's rescue, "'SHE WAS FIGHTING TO THE DEATH'; Details Emerging of W. Va. Soldier's Capture and Rescue.'" Most other media outlets just riffed off that report.

As the papers all note, Hamas rejected an Egyptian delegation's pleas to sign onto a ceasefire. As the NYT emphasizes in its off-lead, a few hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised to "hound" Hamas. Meanwhile, negotiations on withdrawing Israeli troops from northern Gaza are still moving forward.

The Post says inside that reconstruction in western Afghanistan is going swimmingly—funded by Iran. The U.S. has distanced itself from the region's reigning warlord, and Tehran has been happily filling the void.

The LAT and WP front the official resignation of Frank Keating as head of the U.S. Catholic Church's sexual abuse oversight board. Last week Keating said some of the top clergy were acting like "La Cosa Nostra," and yesterday he refused to back down: "To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away—that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church." (Slate's Tim Noah argues that Keating's comparison is apt.) As the WP explains up high—and props to the Post for emphasizing the substantive stuff rather than the fun, but ultimately less important name-calling—Keating made his comments after bishops in California refused to cooperate with a survey about sexual abuse. The bishops now say they're happy to help out.

Everybody mentions inside that as counterinsurgency sweeps continue in Iraq there were two attacks in Baghdad yesterday, one a land-mine explosion on a route often traveled by GIs and another a car bomb that killed a mother and her daughter. The Post says that it tried to get more information on the second attack from the Pentagon but was told that the military doesn't investigate "such incidents" (read: car bombing!) unless U.S. troops were targeted. The papers also mention that at least nine soldiers injured in attacks on Sunday. Most of Monday's papers skipped those attacks and the NYT has a small hint as to why: On Sunday, a military spokesman had insisted, "There was no attack. No Americans were injured."

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