Captains Courageous

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 24 2004 6:54 AM

Captains Courageous

The Los Angeles Times leads with a new poll giving John Kerry a 13-point lead over his nearest rival. It also shows that New Hampshire voters are as undecided as Iowa voters were a week ago. The Washington Post leads with Pakistan's admission that some of its scientists sold nuclear-weapons secrets to Iran on the sly. The New York Times leads with the resignation of the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, who announced that he no longer believes that Iraq had an extensive WMD program before the war. (The WP and LAT also front this.) 

Kerry commands 32 percent in the LAT poll, with Howard Dean (19 percent), Wesley Clark (17 percent), and John Edwards (14 percent) tied for second. (The margin of error is plus or minus three points.) One in ten voters is undecided, and two in five may change his mind—figures comparable to the LAT's pre-Iowa poll, which found Dean and Richard Gephardt vying for first place. Voters deemed Dean's signature issue, the Iraq war, no more important than the economy, and significantly less important than health care. Even among those focusing on the war, Kerry beats Dean by more than ten points. Kerry leads the pack across all genders, ethnicities, incomes, and ideologies, and he ties Dean among the college educated. The Post's front page examines how Iowa's results have thrown a wrench into Clark's "anti-Dean" strategy in New Hampshire.

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Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf insisted that political and military leaders never approved the sale of nuclear secrets to Iran, but the Post's detailed, anonymously sourced inquiry casts doubt on this. In particular, the paper notes, retired Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, who was army chief of staff from 1988 to 1991, told Pakistani politicians and U.S. diplomats in 1991 that he wanted to form an anti-U.S. alliance with Iran that included nuclear-technology transfer. The political leadership rejected this, but Beg may have proceeded anyhow. (Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was forced from power in 1990, tells the Post that she had little control over the military-run nuclear labs.) "Senior Pakistani officials" affirm that one of the profiteering scientists is Abdul Qadeer Khan, whose status as a national hero makes a treason trial a dicey proposition for Musharraf.

A harrowing front-page Post story reveals that Libya had a sophisticated, multi-national black market for its now-defunct nuclear-weapons program. U.S., British, and U.N. investigators have found detailed plans for nuclear bombs and ready-to-assemble centrifuge "kits," complete with quality-control stickers and customer-support contacts. The centrifuge parts, all of which are based on Pakistani designs, were manufactured in factories undetected by Western intelligence. A former Iraqi weapons inspector says that Libya's supply network was bigger than Iraq's was at its peak fifteen years ago. Libya will apparently reveal its black-market sources to the investigators. (The NYT's Libyan report, which is sandwiched inside its front-page Pakistan story, is less extensive than the Post's but gets an investigator to speak on the record.)

The U.S. replaced departed weapons inspector David Kay with Charles Duelfer, a former U.N. inspector in Iraq who wrote in the Post last fall that "clearly [Iraq's weapons program] is not the immediate threat many assumed before the war." Duelfer--who, like Kay, will report to the CIA director--distanced himself from his earlier criticisms of pre-war intelligence, reports the LAT. After resigning, Kay told Reuters that he doesn't think Saddam ever accumulated WMD stockpiles after the Gulf War; the White House, meanwhile, tells the NYT, "Yes, we believe he had [stockpiles], and yes we believe they will be found."

The NYT off-leads, and the LAT fronts, Ayatollah Ali Sistani's suspension of pro-election demonstrations by Iraqi Shiites as a result of the U.N.'s decision to send in an election-feasibility team. (It would mark the U.N.'s first return to Iraq since last fall's pullout.) Meanwhile, Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi criticized the U.S. plan for caucuses and announced, "Elections are possible. Seek to make them possible, and they will be possible." The Governing Council's chairman, however, backed off pro-election opinions attributed to him by yesterday's NYT (the paper even runs a correction for him). His "third-way" proposal for sovereignty transfer to an expanded, and more Shiite-heavy, GC would call for elections "in principle" but not "immediately."

A wire piece inside the NYT reports that an Army helicopter crashed in Baghdad, killing both pilots. It is the fourth American copter crash this month.

The LAT fronts (and the others stuff) Toyota's eclipse of Ford as the world's second-largest automaker after General Motors. The Japanese company will soon overtake Chrysler to rank third in U.S. passenger vehicle sales, and its stock is worth more than that of GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler combined. A separate LAT analysis concludes that Toyota owes its success to a great marketing strategy ("Oh, what a feeling!") founded on a ruthless--and, in the early post-war years, novel--pursuit of quality and efficiency.

The Post's editors peg Howard Dean's disastrous Iowa concession speech as a particular species of gaffe: The kind that matters only because it amplifies what is already widely assumed to be a character flaw. If John Kerry had made a similarly overheated speech, the editors speculate, he would have been praised for shedding his aloofness; if anyone but Dan Quayle had misspelled "potato," or anyone but Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet, those incidents would have been forgotten. "There are legitimate reasons to worry about Mr. Dean's temperament that the speech stirred up but didn't quite exemplify. Mr. Dean's problem is not that he's given to … 'crazy, red-faced rants' [but rather] … his admitted tendency to speak before he thinks."

All three papers front the death of Bob Keeshan, a.k.a. Captain Kangaroo. From 1955 to 1984 the Captain--along with Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Dancing Bear, the Magic Drawing Board, and the Grandfather Clock—entertained children six days a week on CBS. Keeshan got his start on The Howdy Doody Show in the early '50s. Awarded his own slot, he did away with Doody's reliance on a studio audience and spoke directly to his viewers, much as Mr. Rogers did a generation later. Mr. Keeshan, who obviously would have made a terrible 21st century programming executive, told the NYT in 1965: "We operate on the conviction that [our audience] is composed of young children of potentially good taste, and that this taste should be developed."   

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a fourth-year psychiatry resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He last wrote for Slate about his career change from journalist to psychiatrist.