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A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 19 2004 4:29 AM

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USA Today leads with a FDA drug-safety researcher telling a Senate committee that the agency is too cozy with drug makers and "virtually defenseless" against dangerous drugs on the market, such as, apparently, Vioxx. As yesterday's Washington Post detailed, that's a long-standing problem. The Los Angeles Timeshas a similar lead but focuses on the researcher and others saying the Vioxx risks have been known or least strongly suspected for years. The New York Timesleads with Sen. Arlen Specter winning support from fellow Judiciary Committee Republicans for the chairmanship after he promised to ignore—or not use a "litmus test" on—court nominees' stances on abortion.  The pro-choice Specter has faced heat for his post-election comments that the Senate probably wouldn't confirm a pro-life Supreme Court nominee. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online) with a congressional roundup, including Specter, as well as Congress increasing the debt limit by $800 billion.

The Post leads with word that Secretary of State Powell's recent warning, about Iran designing missiles for nukes, was based on an "unvetted, single source." Alone among the papers, yesterday's Post led with Powell's Iran scuttlebutt—and unlike the LAT—it didn't note that Powell himself acknowledged the info wasn't confirmed. Today's Post says the original tip came from a guy who, unsolicited, handed over about 1,000 pages of supposed docs on Tehran's nukes operation. The LAT also fronts a followup on the Powell zinger, citing a "senior State Department official" who tried to play the whole thing down, arguing that the comment was off-the-cuff and the intel weak. Whatever the case, the paper says, the comment "appeared to catch the Bush administration and its European allies off guard."

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Saying the FDA's slacker habits might result in the "single greatest drug safety catastrophe in the history of this country or the history of the world," the agency researcher named five other drugs on the market that don't have sufficient warnings or should just be pulled: Crestor, Bextra, Meridia, Serevent, and acne drug Accutane. The NY Times does a good run-down on the drugs and their risks, most of which have been reported before.

The FDA's top drug review doc, a civil servant, said the researcher's claims "constitute junk science." But the LAT notes that two medical profs who've looked into all this on behalf of the Senate said the researcher's charges are basically on the mark.

Nobody fronts Iraq, where the NYT says a "wave of assaults continued" in the center and north of the country. Insurgents mortared the governor's compound in Mosul, killing one of his bodyguards and wounding four. A GI was also killed in town. The BostonGlobe's Thanassis Cambanis seems to be the only Western reporter filing from Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and has been giving a strong sense of the barely controlled chaos there.

Elsewhere, six Iraqis were killed by bombings in the north; a bomb in Baghdad killed two civilians; there was heavy fighting in Ramadi; and another GI was killed in Fallujah, where there are still some holdouts. The Post details one family's escape from town and stay at an ill-equipped refugee camp.

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USAT teases on Page One: "INSURGENCY BROKEN, U.S. SAYS."

USAT CREDULOUS, TP SAYS.

The paper's report is based on the top Marine commander in Fallujah saying the offensive there has "broken the back of the insurgency." The other papers aren't impressed. In the newspaper version of a smackdown, the NYT notes that the commander's comments "appeared optimistic, given the fact that Abdullah Janabi, the leader of Fallujah's mujahedin council, was still operating in the city."

The commander also said troops have discovered a house that appears to have been a command center for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's network. That's the Iraq news most of the papers headline, an interesting (aka: bad) choice for a few reasons, one being that the insurgency doesn't appear to have a consolidated command structure. Meanwhile, relying on an unnamed intel source, the Post deflates the excitement a bit,saying—down in a piece that is itself buried—Zarqawi "apparently did not use Fallujah as his base of operations."

The military said 51 American troops have been killed in the Fallujah offensive and 425 wounded. 

The Post also notices that continuing a recent trend, the U.S. has arrested another firebrand cleric, while the appointed Iraqi government warned clerics against "incitement."

The NYT teases a U.N. report concluding that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has reached "the highest levels in the country's history and in the world."

The Post notes that an important American artifact is now safely ensconced at the Smithsonian: Seinfeld's Puffy Shirt