Flooding the Zone

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 20 2003 7:33 AM

Flooding the Zone

The Washington Post devotes its entire front page—and about half the newspaper—to coverage of Hurricane Isabel. The two Timeses lead with a federal appeals court's decision to reconsider Monday's ruling to delay California's recall election. The 11-judge review panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will not include the three judges who had delayed the recall. The Los Angeles Times quotes both pro- and anti-recall advocates predicting that, because of the more conservative nature of the new panel, the recall delay will likely be overturned. (The 11 members were chosen at random after at least 12 Ninth Circuit judges voted to reconsider the delay.) A lawyer with the ACLU, which brought the lawsuit seeking a delay, tells the New York Times, "I don't think the legal analysis of the [three-judge] panel can be reversed without effectively nullifying Bush v. Gore."

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The Post runs its blanket coverage of Isabel's wrath under the banner headline, "Aftermath." Among the casualties in the Potomac region: 1.2 million people in Fairfax County, Va., are without drinking water after power outages at purifying plants; over 2.5 million residents of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia are without electricity, which may take up to a week to restore; 300 trees were blown down in D.C.; countless people had their homes, stores, and cars ruined by flood waters; and 20 people are in the hospital—two in critical conditionwith carbon monoxide poisoning after running generators indoors. By the time Isabel reached the capital, it had weakened and was traveling rapidly, which limited the expected flooding damage. The Post runs a note to readers apologizing for delayed delivery caused by power losses at printing plants.

Isabel caused extensive damage to 30 counties in eastern North Carolina, although not as much as was feared. It cut Hatteras Island into pieces and left several cities without power. The storm killed 17 people (the NYT says 23), many in traffic accidents. Privately insured losses (excluding flooding, which is covered by federal insurance) will be about $1 billion dollars, half the damage caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. (That storm was weaker but lingered longer.) The LAT reports that the number of canceled flights dropped from about 2,000 Thursday to about 1,000 yesterday, as more than a dozen airports reopened.    

The Post's executive editor, Len Downie, has remarked elsewhere that he's "interested in the weather, period." He's not kidding: TP counts 40 articles on Isabel in today's Post, compared to three in the NYT and two in the LAT. In addition to multiple bylines for many of its Isabel stories, the Post separately thanks 57 staffers for their coverage.

The NYT off-leads discount airline JetBlue's admission that it gave personal information on 1.1 million customers to a military contractor. The Defense Department asked JetBlue to cooperate with the contractor, Torch Concepts, to assist with a project to enhance military base security. JetBlue released names, addresses, and phone numbers; Torch then used a consumer research company to find Social Security numbers and financial histories for 40 percent of the passengers. In February, Torch used the data, without JetBlue's knowledge, in a presentation at a security conference sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. JetBlue's CEO apologized to customers and said Torch had destroyed the data. The Post puts JetBlue's admission on its Business front. In the third paragraph it credits Wired News with breaking the story; the NYT waits until the eighth paragraph—after the front-page jump—to credit Wired.

All the papers go inside with Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark's apparent flip-flop on the Iraq war. On Thursday, Clark said: "I probably would have voted for [the war resolution], but I think that's too simple a question. I don't know if I would have or not. I've said it both ways, because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position. On balance, I probably would have voted for it." Yesterday, he said: "I never would have voted for war. What I would have voted for is leverage. Leverage for the United States to avoid a war." A separate NYT piece plays up the fundraising challenge Clark faces. Many Democratic donors plan to sit out the primaries and throw their money at the nominee. This gives late starters like Clark a disadvantage, no matter how much enthusiasm he generates.

A Post editorial defends the Patriot Act provision allowing the government to examine library records, then rips into Attorney General John Ashcroft for jeering at the law's critics. This week, the editors remind us, Ashcroft unexpectedly declassified records revealing that the Justice Department has never actually used the library provision. He then announced that "the charges of the hysterics are revealed for what they are: castles in the air," and concluded that only those who "enjoy swapping recipes for chemical weapons from [their] Joy of Jihad cookbook" need fear the law. "The first question," the Post notes, "is why this fact was ever classified if its disclosure would not harm national security. ... The attorney general ought to manage to debate important policy without selectively declassifying to serve his own interests and then throwing a temper tantrum at the controversy that results."

Parris Glendening, the former Democratic governor of Maryland, pens an op-ed in the Post supporting President Bush's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Gov. Mike Leavitt, R-Utah. Glendening bases his support on Leavitt's development of growth-management rules at the National Governors Association. Glendening does not mention that Leavitt fought the Clinton administration's wilderness-preservation policies tooth and nail.

A Seattle restaurant has begun serving a gigantic dessert, called The Bulge, only after patrons sign a mock liability waiver. According to the Post, the restaurant's owner began the gimmick to poke fun at a Washington, D.C., lawyer spearheading a campaign of class-action lawsuits against fast-food restaurants. The waiver reads, "I will not impose any sort of obesity-related lawsuit against the 5 Spot or consider any similar type of frivolous legislation created by a hungry trial lawyer."  

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. He is on the clinical faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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