Lights, Camera, Faction

Lights, Camera, Faction

Lights, Camera, Faction

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 24 2003 7:56 AM

Lights, Camera, Faction

The New York Times leads with word of an internal Pentagon review sought by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, aimed at increasing U.S. military strength and efficiency worldwide without recruiting additional troops. The Washington Post leads with an effort by occupation officials in Iraq to glean on-the-ground intelligence from former members of Saddam Hussein's spy and secret-police network. The Los Angeles Times leads with a new poll declaring California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante the front-runner in the race to succeed Gov. Gray Davis should he be recalled. Bustamante leads second-place contender Arnold Schwarzenegger 35 percent to 22 percent.

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According to Rumsfeld's aides, the Pentagon review, which the NYT deems "sweeping," would draw on lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, and re-examine policies concerning both reserve and active-duty troops. Among the proposals said to be under consideration are the transfer of thousands of administrative jobs held by uniformed personnel to civilians and contract workers; a rethinking of the current system of standing regional commands; and the creation of an international "peace operations" force designed specifically for, in the NYT's words, "missions like that underway in Liberia." Speaking of troop strength, the WP goes inside with comments from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who after a visit to Iraq last week called for "a lot more military … [and] … a lot more money" in order to stabilize the situation there, stressing the need for an immediate $13 billion to $15 billion in new reconstruction funds. White House aides told the paper that President Bush plans to ask for supplemental funding for Iraq later this year but declined to give specifics. The Post also mentions a recent Newsweek poll in which 60 percent of respondents said that the U.S. was spending too much money in Iraq and should cut back its commitments there.

The Post's Iraq lead says that U.S. recruitment within the former Baathist intelligence apparatus (which is being pursued despite the objections of some members of the Iraqi Governing Council) is primarily focused on heading off attacks like last week's bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. New sources of informaton might also complement a tactical shift away from the kind of large-scale security sweeps that had in the past made for bad PR with the locals. The paper says that the campaign to flip ex-spies has been ratcheted up in the past couple of weeks, and bills it as an "extraordinary move," but word of this general strategy has been in the air for a while now. The NYT reported on similar efforts being undertaken by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress about a month ago, and back in May, the Iraqi blogger Salam Pax had heard tell of the CIA's reaching out to former members of the Mukhabarat.

The LAT and WP front (and the NYT reefers) word that Republican businessman Bill Simon, who polled at 6 percent in the most recent survey, dropped out of the California governor's race on Saturday. Simon, who lost to Davis in the gubernatorial election last year, and who had had trouble raising money this time around, said he was stepping aside in order to help unify the Republican push to unseat the governor. Simon's spokesman denied—despite much speculation to the contrary—that state GOP leaders had asked him to bow out. From elsewhere in recall-land, the WP "Style" section fronts a long, somewhat unsettling profile of candidate and former Diff'rent Strokes star Gary Coleman, sketching a bittersweet biography made up of equal parts cuteness and disappointment. (Coleman, for his part, failed to crack the LAT poll.)

With the final report of the investigative board looking into the space shuttle Columbia disaster due this Tuesday, the WP off-leads a lengthy reconstruction of the events leading up to the disintegration of the orbiter upon its re-entry last Feb. 1. The paper estimates that any attempt to rescue the crew with another shuttle would have had to be set in motion by Jan. 21, several days before engineers realized the potential severity of the damage the shuttle had sustained on takeoff.

The LAT, WP, and NYT all front the death of John Geoghan, the defrocked priest whose recent trial helped bring to light widespread child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. Geoghan was strangled by a fellow inmate at the Massachusetts prison where he was serving time for molesting a 10-year-old boy.

The NYT fronts a back-to-school special about the impact of state budget crises on public universities across the nation. Trying to stanch the flow of red ink, the University of Illinois has canceled 1,000 classes for the fall semester, the University of Nebraska has scaled back its Portuguese department, and Ball State has dissolved its track-and-field team. The NYT "Week in Review" section, meanwhile, takes a look at other ad hoc ways in which states are trying to scrimp and save. Custodians in Missouri, for example, have been instructed to unscrew every third light bulb in the lobbies and hallways of government buildings in order to bring down the bills.

A harrowing front-page piece in the WP documents the growth of online suicide pacts in Japan, where over the past six months, police say, some 32 people have killed themselves in the presence of like-minded strangers they met on the Internet.

Finally, lest one think that the California recall, with its Lowes and Schwarzeneggers and Colemans (oh, my), offers the last word on the convergence of entertainment and politics, a piece in the NYT "Arts & Leisure" section raises the curtain on K Street, a new quasi-reality show about the lobbying industry, which premieres on HBO in September. The show, which will be filmed on location in Washington over the course of three days at the beginning of each week, features such real-life political players as Michael Deaver, James Carville, and Mary Matalin interacting with actors who staff a fictional lobbying firm. 

Benjamin Healy is a staff editor at the Atlantic Monthly.