BFD...A

BFD...A

BFD...A

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 16 2005 3:27 AM

BFD...A

The Washington Post, New York Times national edition, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the FDA announcing it will indeed create a panel to check up on the safety of drugs after they hit the market, a move critics have long called for. The agency will also start a Web site posting early-look data on drug risks, a move that has some analysts worried about its potential to cause panic. The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and USA Today go high with the FDA announcement but lead with the U.S. turning up the heat on Syria and recalling its ambassador. "We're not laying blame," said Secretary of State Rice, who then pointed to Syria's occupation and said Damascus "is in interference in the affairs of Lebanon." Continuing its tin-eared trend on the Syrian-angle the NYT announces, "U.S. RECALLS ITS ENVOY IN SYRIA, LINKING NATION TO BEIRUT BLAST."

The NYT and Journal detail a few of the slight caveats about the new FDA panel: 1) It won't really be independent. Members will be drawn mostly from the FDA itself, though not from drug-approval programs. 2) It will have no regulatory authority to recall drugs, fine companies, or do anything else. Its power will come from advising FDA honchos and naming-and-shaming. 3) While the FDA said it will pore through healthcare databases looking for signs of bad pills, there's no money in the proposed budget for such a project, which researchers told the NYT would cost "tens of millions." 

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The other papers don't dig into the panel's limitations. The Post's coverage is particularly credulous: "FDA PLANS NEW BOARD TO MONITOR DRUG SAFETY; Independent Panel to Be More Open to the Public."

The administration said it doesn't have the goods on Syria, yet. The NYT suggests the tough talk is at least partially intended to send a message to Iran, which is buddies with the weaker Syria and also has proxy forces in Lebanon. "Syria is low-hanging fruit compared to Iran," said one analyst. Meanwhile, the LAT says it's better not to think of Syria as being controlled by a single actor. Apparently, Western diplomats have taken to calling it "a dictatorship without a dictator."

The NYT reefers CIA folks saying they're looking to get out of the detention business, a feeling that was recently "heightened" when now Attorney General Gonzales and others "seemed in public testimony to sidestep responsibility for shaping interrogation policies." Besides the growing legal headaches, there are the logistical ones, such as "caring for a small population of aging terrorists whose intelligence value is steadily evaporating." One former "senior intelligence official" said, "No one has a plan for what to do with these guys, and the C.I.A. has been left holding the bag."

The Post and NYT front a federal appeals court upholding an earlier ruling that the NYT's Judith Miller and Time's Matthew Cooper should indeed head to the slammer unless they spill who outed a CIA agent to them. The NYT has said it will appeal. The LAT also fronts the case, though putting it in a bigger context: The paper guesses that the ruling will push along federal "shield-law" legislation, which would allow reporters to stay mum about their sources.

The Post's Jackie Spinner files from Fallujah where she says a heavy Marine presence has made insurgents darn scarce and things seem to be getting better."We're relaxed," said one resident. "The Americans protect us." Then he added, "What about fixing the town?"

The Journal details the latest craze in Iraqi security forces: ad-hoc forces "commanded by friends and relatives of cabinet officers and tribal sheiks," which usually operate with government funding. A U.S. major explained, "We don't call them militias. Militias are ... illegal. I've begun calling them 'Irregular Iraqi ministry-directed brigades.' " There are an estimated 15,000 of these guys, and though there's obviously the potential problem of command-and-control, they're apparently pretty motivated. "Pound for pound, the toughest force we've got," said an American officer about one unit. Asked about the advisability of keeping them around, top training Gen. David Petraeus said, "To be candid, I would err on the side of fostering initiative. I want to get the hell out of here."

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