Phoney Numbers

Phoney Numbers

Phoney Numbers

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 27 2003 6:08 AM

Phoney Numbers

The New York Timesleads with—and The Washington Post fronts—word of federal prosecutors launching an investigation into claims that MCI defrauded other phone companies of at least hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade. The Los Angeles Times leads with—and the others front—the latest attacks on American soldiers in Iraq that killed five. The Post leads with the Bush administration's plans to propose a $1 billion aid package for Afghanistan, more than tripling what the country now gets from the U.S.

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According to "people involved in the inquiry," MCI is accused of disguising long-distance calls as local calls to avoid paying access tariffs to local carriers nationwide. This is not the first trouble for the company: MCI merged with WorldCom a few years ago, and then the company filed for bankruptcy last July after revealing improper accounting of billions of dollars.

The Times either got a look at prosecutors' documents or one of their anonymous sources provided them with some very good specifics—the paper quotes detailed statements made to investigators. The Times has the juicier story here with the WP playing catch-up; as the Post itself notes, "The New York Times first reported the investigation on its Web site yesterday." The only named source in the NYT story is Joseph Friedberg, a lawyer representing an unidentified former MCI executive who is providing evidence to prosecutors. "The magnitude of it I can't begin to describe," he says, but he does—in the WP—where he maintains, "we're talking about multiple billions of dollars."

Three American soldiers guarding a children's hospital in Baquba, Iraq, were killed when someone reportedly threw a grenade out the window of the building; a fourth soldier's leg was severed. In a separate incident, another G.I. was killed and two were injured when their convoy was attacked near Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. Everyone quotes the same U.S. soldier who was nearby the hospital strike and who laments to the LAT: "When people die is the only time when the American media and the public pays attention."

Early morning reports note the death of a Marine in another grenade attack, bringing the number dead in the last 24 hours to five—one of the deadliest days for troops since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.

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How many U.S. soldiers have been killed in attacks since then? The papers disagree. Before the Marine's death Sunday, The LAT says 48; the WP says 47; and the NYT says 104 have been killed, presumably counting accidental deaths, too.

The Post says that senior administration officials are hoping that the $1 billion for Afghanistan  will counter criticism that American officials have lost interest in Afghanistan.  The money will be shifted from existing military and foreign aid accounts and will help fund construction, police and army training, and education efforts.

The LAT fronts two stories on the recall hoopla in the Golden State, one that examines the rifts among the GOP contestants vying for Governor Gray Davis' job and the other that concludes that no one in the state knows what to expect from this rare event.

In an A1 piece, the WP deconstructs the role of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the recent controversy over the Bush administration's use of intelligence about Iraq's weapons prior to the war, with analysts and officials weighing in on whether she overlooked crucial information or lied. One unnamed senior official says that she didn't read the "definitive prewar assessment" of Iraq's weapons, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., worries about "a frightful level of incompetence."

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For the first time since the end of World War II, Japanese troops will be taking part in a combat operation, reports the NYT. The country's Parliament voted to send 1,000 troops to Iraq later this year, joining the 148,000 American forces and 13,000 other allied troops.

Everybody mentions the takeover of a downtown Manila building by dozens of mutinous Filipino soldiers. The Post and LAT say they've stormed a shopping center; the NYT calls it an apartment complex. Everyone agrees it's rigged with explosives and the Australian ambassador is inside. The hostage-takers have demanded the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The LAT is the only paper with a Manila dateline.

The Post buries a brief Reuters report on the first U.S. soldiers known to face charges of abusing prisoners of war during the Iraq conflict. The alleged incident took place in mid-May at Camp Bucca. The Associated Press has a more detailed report on the charges, naming the four soldiers who will be tried and quoting some of their family members. In addition to assault and mistreating prisoners, three are charged with making false statements and two are charged with obstruction of justice. The soldiers claim their actions were in self-defense.

The NYT goes inside with predictions on CIA director George Tenet's future. The Times informs readers that the third-longest-serving director in the agency's history was considering leaving his job even before the most recent controversy over the 16 disputed words. He may even be mulling over a run for Congress, according to anonymous sources (who provide all the info in the story save for a single quote).

Watergate makes it back into the Post's A section again with new allegations from Jeb Stuart Magruder, a former Nixon campaign aide. Thirty years later, Magruder's now claiming he heard the president personally order the burglary of the Democratic headquarters. The WP trots out the usual cast of scholars and insiders to debate the credibility of his claims; most say the story is hogwash.