Hotel Havoc

Hotel Havoc

Hotel Havoc

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 18 2004 5:33 AM

Hotel Havoc

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead with yesterday's car bombing outside the Mount Lebanon Hotel in central Baghdad that left at least 27 dead and 45 wounded, apparently mostly foreigners from Arab countries. At least one American was wounded, and according to early morning reports one British citizen was killed. Most of the papers catch word that two GIs and one Marine were killed this morning in two attacks in Iraq, one near Baghdad and one near the border with Syria. Six GIs were also wounded. USA Today fronts the papers' most sobering photo of the aftermath, butleads with new Census Bureau projections that non-Hispanic whites are on their way to losing majority status. At about 70 percent of the population now, if trends continue they will drop to 50 percent by 2050.

Military officials estimated the bomb weighed about 1,000 pounds. It essentially destroyed a whole apartment block. The hotel didn't appear to have much strategic value. It wasn't popular with occupation officials or Western contractors. But it also wasn't well-defended, lacking blast walls.

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Alone among the papers, the NYT highlights the scene at Baghdad hospitals, which have received some U.S. help, but still "lack much in the way of basic equipment and medicines." Given that and the severity of some of the injuries, the death toll is expected to rise.

The papers note that officials said they suspect Islamic militants, specifically Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. But the NYT notes, "No specific evidence was offered implicating Mr. Zarqawi." And in a little noticed story a few weeks ago, the LAT questioned the focus on Zarqawi. As the subhead put it, "Critics say an accused terrorist's role in Iraq attacks is exaggerated, noting weak evidence."

The Journal's bombing coverage has conflation issues. Its first sentence states, "Terrorists launched the second major attack of the past week with a massive bombing in Baghdad." The rest of the piece continues in the same vein. Now, maybe yesterday's Baghdad bombers are Islamic militants. Or maybe they're Baathists. We don't know. Of course, it is accurate to refer to the people behind both attacks as "terrorists." But it's also too vague. The WSJ actually means something more specific: AQ types, that is, global jihadists. That's why, for instance, the storydoesn't include this week's suicide bombing in Israel.

Most of the papers front Vice President Cheney's big entrance into the campaign. In a speech, he ripped into Sen. Kerry, charging that he's a waffler and weak on defense. Pointing out that Kerry ultimately voted against $87 billion bill for Iraq—Kerry had supported an alternative that would have funded the operation through scaling back Bush tax cuts—Cheney said, "The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample doubts about his judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security." One unnamed Bush campaign adviser told the Post, "This is the beginning of the process of trying to detoxify [Cheney] and make him back into the political asset that he should be."

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Kerry pushed back, saying it's the White House that's fumbling on defense by overstretching the military and needlessly alienating allies. Kerry said he'll hire more than 40,000 soldiers, though he didn't add much detail about how he'll pay for that. About 30,000 troops have been given "stop-loss" orders preventing them from leaving service.

The Journal says that Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly suggested that national elections currently slated for June will have to be put off by at least a few months because of security problems. Also, in what appears to be the only follow up to Tuesday's battle between militants and Pakistani troops, the Journal says that 18 Pakistani soldiers—whom yesterday's NYT alone noted were missing—may have been taken hostage.

Last week, the NYT took a few days to cover the Medicare bill numbers scandal, in which the agency's actuary seems to have been warned by the then Medicare head not to release projected budget numbers that were higher than the ones Congress had seen. The Times off-leads its story, and gets all excited and tabloidy, headlining a "mysterious fax"—but it doesn't really deliver any significant developments. For that, flip to the Journal, which moves the threat from allegation to fact:It has an e-mail written last year from the Medicare chief's top aide ordering the actuary not to share his numbers with Congress. "The consequences for insubordination are extremely severe," wrote the aide. (The Journal posts the e-mail—behind a friggin' pay barrier.)

The LAT and NYT both go Page One with oil prices at the highest levels in 13 years, right around what it soared to after Kuwait was invaded. The NYT blames tight supplies and stricter enviro laws.

Everybody goes inside with the latest bloodshed in ... Kosovo. In the worst violence there since the end of the war, at least 17 people were killed and about 200 wounded after Albanian mobs attacks Serbs, claiming Serb men had been responsible for the drowning of two Albanian children. (Early morning reports say 22 people have been killed and about 500 wounded.) According to the U.N., 17 peacekeepers were also wounded. The NYT, which has the best coverage, says the U.N. has "lost control of several city centers." In the provincial capital, Pristina, "machine gunfire and explosions could be heard late into the night." The LAT adds that in response, some Serbs in Belgrade rioted. Marching on a mosque, they screamed, "Kill all Albanians!"