Biz-czar

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 8 2004 4:15 AM

Biz-czar

The New York Timesleads with New York state legislators voting to soften mandatory drug sentencing laws, which have been among the toughest in the nation. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the baseball players' union saying they'll agree to tougher rules on steroids. It's the first time since players unionized that they're allowing the amendment of a current collective bargaining agreement. (Yesterday's NYT suggested that would happen.) The Washington Postleads with the House passing the intel reorganization bill, as expected. The 336-to-75 vote was the bill's last major hurdle.Chiming in a day late, USA Todayleads with FBI memos that criticized the treatment of detainees at Gitmo.

The Post calls the intel bill passage "a victory for the Sept. 11 commission," which had recommended among other things the creation of an intel czar with control of the many spy agencies' purse strings. The bill creates that position. But as the Wall Street Journal, LAT, Postand Slate's Fred Kaplan all emphasize, the revised bill, which was tweaked over the weekend in a White House-powered deal, doesn't seem to give the new office much power. The LAT has some nice detail, noticing that the bill now prohibits the new intel chief from moving much funding from the Pentagon to other agencies. And the Journal notes how the revised bill's national counterterrorism office won't have the power to order specific, um, counterterrorism operations, military or otherwise.

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It's the NYT intel bill coverage that stands out—for particularly poor placement. Unlike the other papers, the Times fronts a news-piece that doesn't delve into the above issues. A NYT "assessment" does focus on the new intel chief's apparent lack of power, but that story is buries inside and under a mushy headline: "THE SPYMASTER QUESTION." The LAT is smarter about it, stuffing the already-knew-that vote, and going Page One with an analysis: "COMPROMISES CURB INTELLIGENCE CHIEF'S POWER."

The Post fronts and others stuff a memo—written by the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency—that said two intel specialists saw Iraqi prisoners being beaten in June by members of a special forces unit, two months after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. After seeing one prisoner punched to the point of needing "medical attention" and others with "burn marks on their backs," the specialists complained and then were reportedly intimidated by interrogators, who took their car keys and told them they were watching their e-mail. This is the same secret task force that an Army report leaked last week to the Post said was responsible for beatings. The Pentagon declined to say whether anybody in the unit or elsewhere has been disciplined. The Post mentions, "The Bush administration fought vigorously to keep the new documents from public view."

The documents the latest torture tips are based on were obtained by the ACLU, which got them via FOIA, and has posted them on the Web. (By the way: How did the ACLU scoop the papers? Did they not file similar FOIAs?)

A front-page Post story headlines some "U.S. military intelligence officials" saying that insurgents in Iraq are getting serious support from former regime types holed up in Syria. Then in the 14th paragraph, the Post acknowledges that some other officials think that's B.S. and that the U.S. still doesn't know much about the insurgents. "We don't know where the enemy is," said one official. The article also has more pessimism on the current situation. One defense official said the Green Zone itself is "overrun with agents" from the insurgency. Apparently, when a big convoy leaves the zone, Iraqi cellphone calls from there surge.

One GI was killed in Baghdad and one Marine was killed in the Anbar province. Three Iraqi national guardsmen were also killed. And two churches were hit by car bombs in Mosul. Nobody was injured. The Post says people realized one of the cars was rigged but couldn't do anything about it. "There are no police to go to," said one local. "People started throwing stones at the car to try to detonate it, but they couldn't. The car just exploded when the timer went off."

The Post alsofronts a double interview: one with appointed Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar and another with Jordanian King Abdullah, both of whom said Iran is doing its best to influence the upcoming elections. "Unfortunately, time is proving, and the situation is proving, beyond any doubt that Iran has very obvious interference in our business—a lot of money, a lot of intelligence activities and almost interfering daily in business and many [provincial] governates, especially in the southeast side of Iraq," said Yawar. The paper doesn't speak to spooks or independent analysts to get a second-opinion.

Yesterday's NYT: "RIFT AMONG SHIITE FACTIONS MAY HURT THEM IN ELECTION." TP doubted that take. And now the Chicago Tribune sticks a fork in it.

Better late than never ... A fascinating piece in the Journal says the Pentagon is tweaking its reorganization plans to better fight guerrilla wars. It seems to be shifting away from Rumsfeld's gizmo-filled vision, and instead is focusing on meat-and-potato issues, such as transport, and especially things like cultural awareness. "We're realizing strategic victory is about a lot more than annihilating the enemy," said "one senior defense official."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.