Slanted or Enchanted?

Slanted or Enchanted?

Slanted or Enchanted?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 31 2004 6:53 AM

Slanted or Enchanted?

The Washington Post's top non-local story and the Los Angeles Times' off-lead both cite sources that blame the CIA—rather than political pressure from the White House—for exaggerated and now embarrassing prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons programs. The New York Times leads with government estimates that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4 percent during the last quarter of 2003—less than economic experts had expected, but still strong by historical standards. Several economic indicators point to continued growth this year, but the analysts the NYT interviewed say the growth is unlikely to generate very many jobs before November's election. The LAT's lead describes the draft law for a transitional Iraqi government, which the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council begins debating today. The law includes a bill of rights and a government made up of legislative and judicial branches, along with a tripartite presidency that would likely be shared among Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis.

According to the WP and LAT, a veteran CIA official conducted a damning internal review of the agency's prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs over the past three months and found no evidence that assessments were shaded to match the White House's very public desire to back up its case for war. "Analysts are very independent people," the official, Richard J. Kerr, told the LAT. "When they get pressure, they tend to react the other way. They find it quite easy to stand up [to superiors]." While the LAT's piece relies on its interview with Kerr, the Post assures readers that "congressional officials from both parties" have also found no evidence that analysts bowed to political pressure. Yet the paper doesn't quote or cite any Democrats to back up this point; in fact, it only names the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees conducting the probes. One thing neither paper does is talk to all those analysts who complained last year when Dick Cheney paid several visits to Langley, pushing for more evidence. Their direct testimony would be the most convincing.

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The WP and LAT both front claims that the White House has known for months that the new Medicare prescription drug law President Bush signed in December would cost significantly more than the $400 billion originally estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. "It was an open secret," said the WP's anonymous source, who "worked on the legislation." A former CBO director told the LAT that the revised figures represented "sort of a domestic weapons-of-mass-destruction scenario: Was Congress given the best information at the time they were making the decision?"

Drawing on data from year-end campaign finance reports, both the WP's off-lead and a NYT fronter take similar angles: Democratic presidential candidates are taking donations from special interest groups even as they regularly attack Bush for doing the same thing. While the NYT distributes its hypocrisy charges pretty evenly between Johns Kerry and Edwards, the WP focuses almost entirely on Kerry and deserves credit for digging more deeply into the potential conflicts of interest. For example, the Post reports that "since 1999, Kerry has sponsored at least two bills and co-sponsored a half dozen that were sought by the [Cellular Telecom and Internet Association]," a lobbying group that is a client of a Boston law firm that is, in turn, Kerry's largest donor. The LAT, for its part, stuffs an AP wire piece detailing how Bush raised more than $1 million from employees of five financial firms.

The NYT off-leads a scoop on the CIA's creation of a new Iraqi intelligence organization, which will employ some former agents of Saddam's feared secret police, the Mukhabarat. As you keep reading, though, the article transforms into story on a proxy war raging between the Pentagon and the CIA. The main opponent of the new spy organization, it turns out, is Ahmed Chalabi, who's allied with the Pentagon and its Defense Intelligence Agency. Those who look likely to run the new Iraqi spy agency, however, are part of the Iraqi National Accord, a bitter enemy of Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, and an ally of the CIA since 1996.

Pakistan is taking a lesson from the British Empire in its search for wanted men in the country's western tribal regions, according to a NYT Page One story. Like colonial administrators almost a century ago, Islamabad has delivered ultimatums to tribal leaders, threatening to demolish houses if the tribes don't turn in the men, who are wanted for sheltering al-Qaida members. So far 42 of the 72 have been handed over.

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The WP goes inside with the White House's refusal to allow the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks to view notes on highly classified presidential intelligence briefings, even though the notes were taken by members commission itself. The commission is considering issuing subpoenas for the information.

The LAT fronts and the NYT goes inside with Howard Dean's unprecedented plan to skip Tuesday's round of presidential primaries so he can save money for races he has a chance of winning. Dean's campaign treasurer admitted to the LAT that the campaign's spending in Iowa and New Hampshire had been "enormous, and you can emphasize 'enormous.' "

Meanwhile, Tuesday's Missouri primary has become a hard-fought battleground after the withdrawal of hometown favorite Dick Gephardt from the race, according to stories inside the WP and LAT. "It kind of feels like you've broken up with a longtime boyfriend and all these new guys are knocking on the door," said one Missouri Democrat in the WP.

According to the WP, NYT, and LAT, NASA's rover Opportunity may be one step closer to showing water once flowed on Mars. Although the results aren't official yet, the rover may have confirmed the presence of hematite in nearby Martian soil, using an instrument called the mini-TES. "Let's just say that the mini-TES team members all have huge smiles on their faces," a scientist said yesterday.

The NYT fronts an unbelievably detailed New York City health department report (caution: this PDF is more than 60 pages) that shows fewer New Yorkers died in 2002, the last year for which data are available, than at any time since the 19th century, when the city had half the population. Some other interesting stats: Manhattanites are thinner than people from outer boroughs, there was no 9/11 baby boom, and among pedestrians under 55 who died in 2002, men outnumbered women three to one.