On the Road Again

On the Road Again

On the Road Again

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 7 2003 7:40 AM

On the Road Again

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with a bump in the "road map," as Hamas breaks off cease-fire talks with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. The militants object to the "speech of capitulation" (in the words of a Hamas leader, as quoted in the LAT) Abbas gave two days ago in a meeting with Ariel Sharon and President Bush. The Washington Post relegates the rift to A14, leading instead with a foam projectile—the apparent cause of the Columbia shuttle explosion in February.

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The Abbas speech in Aqaba, Jordan, was drafted by the Bush administration and then amended by the Abbas team, the NYT reports. What was wrong with it? In the eyes of Hamas and other rivals, including Yasser Arafat, Abbas showed too much compassion for Jews and not enough for Palestinians. He also called for an end to Palestinian armed uprisings. "Palestinians are sacrificing, Palestinians are suffering, and all this was wrapped up and put in the trash," says a Hamas leader in the NYT. "Everybody is angry at the speech."

The NYT baldly states the terms of the discord, making it sound irresolvable: "Mr. Abbas wants to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem, while Hamas wants to put an end to Israel." The LAT says Hamas will have to reinvent itself if it wants to play a role in the peace process.

The Post's choice of lead seems a little strange, given the day's other stories. Researchers fired foam out of a canon to see what would happen if "a piece of insulating foam from the external tank broke off and struck the orbiter's left wing." Sure enough, foam traveling at 524 mph will do some damage, in this case cracking a section of heat shielding—the kind of destruction that could have caused Columbia's demise. 

The NYT carries the foam, but under the headline "NASA's Failings Go Far Beyond Foam Hitting Shuttle, Panel Says." And it's true: The more interesting story, which the Post buries beneath the science, is what the NYT calls "the institutional culture that plays down problems, as well as constraints from Washington that may have reduced the ability to reach space safely."

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The NYT continues to poke around in those Iraqi trailers that Bush and the CIA say could only have been used to produce biological weapons. Not so, say American and British intelligence analysts with "direct access to the evidence." "Everyone has wanted to find the 'smoking gun' so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion," says one analyst (British or American, we don't know) in the NYT. "I am very upset with the process." Another says the administration's white paper on the trailers "was a rushed job and looks political."

Judith Miller and William J. Broad, the authors of today's Times piece, also wrote about the white paper two weeks ago, when it first came out. In that article, one gets the impression that the intelligence community was united in its support of the administration's conclusions. This was obviously not the case. Since then, the NYT coverage has been cautious: The LAT reported a week ago that there was no evidence to link the trailers to biological weapons, and the Federation of American Scientists came to the same conclusion on June 2.

Indeed, a WP fronter takes us all the way back to last fall, when administration officials began preaching the WMD gospel. At that time, the Defense Intelligence Agency, in a widely distributed report, concluded that there was "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons or whether Iraq has or will establish its chemical agent production facilities." The White House, then and now, was/is sticking to its story, lack of evidence be damned. Ari Fleischer, yesterday: "… the precise location of where Iraq had chemical and biological weapons was never clear, but the fact they had it was never in doubt, based on a reading of the intelligence." The Post calls the trailer talk a "burgeoning controversy," and there is the sense that the story is gathering steam.    

But there must be WMD somewhere, if not in Iraq, then in, perhaps, Iran. And sure enough, there are (or may be), according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose findings confirm U.S. intelligence reports. The U.N. agency says Iran secretly imported and processed uranium, according to an LAT fronter. "We've known for some time that Iran has a nuclear weapons program," says a State Department spokesman, who goes on to dismiss the possibility of U.S. intervention.

Finally, the LAT profiles a Today's Papers kindred spirit, media watcher Jim Romenesko. On his web site (known as Romenesko), he posts media stories from newspapers, magazines, and television, plus comments from journalists and others who read the site. The firestorm at the NYT has brought Romenesko to prominence. "The troubles roiling the highest corridors of power at the New York Times this week owe at least part of their notoriety to a man in his bathrobe who surfs the Web while sitting in a one-bedroom apartment in Evanston, Ill.," the LAT reports. TP can picture the scene. Romenesko refuses to be photographed in his work/home environment. "It's not pretty," he says.