Shocked, Shocked

Shocked, Shocked

Shocked, Shocked

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 12 2005 7:00 AM

Shocked, Shocked

The Washington Postand New York Times lead with a raid on another horrendous Iraqi Interior Ministry prison. American and Iraqi forces searched the facility on Thursday and found it crammed with more than 600 prisoners, some of whom were subjected to "severe torture," including vicious beatings and electrocution. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with details of the Iraqi government's elaborate security precautions, including border closures and a ban on civilians carrying firearms, ahead of this week's elections. USA Today leads with an interview in which a top election contender called for the country to be partitioned into semi-autonomous enclaves. The Los Angeles Times leads with a local story, while off-leading a well-documented analysis that concludes that despite fears of an unprecedented exodus after Hurricane Katrina, "the vast majority" of New Orleans households displaced by the storm "are staying close to their former homes."

Iraq's Interior Ministry—which is led by a powerful Shiite politician—has been the focus of increased scrutiny since last month, when American troops discovered a secret detention facility within its headquarters building where it appeared prisoners were being beaten and otherwise mistreated. The abuse at this second prison, which was operated by a commando unit, seems to have been "more severe," reports the WP, which broke news of the raid on its Web site Sunday evening. An anonymous Iraqi official says that 12 or 13 prisoners had to be hospitalized due to treatment that included the "breaking of bones, torture with electric shock, extraction of fingernails and cigarette burns to the neck and back." Both papers portray the Interior Ministry as an out-of-control organization that recruits heavily from Shiite militias, and the NYT notes that "there is growing evidence that such forces are abducting, torturing and killing Sunni Arabs."

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Against this backdrop of increasing sectarian violence, Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq's Shiite vice president and a leading candidate to be the next prime minister, tells USAT that he believes that the country's Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds should all govern themselves while sharing the nation's oil wealth. (Is this a newly articulated position? What do the other top candidates say about the issue of autonomy? USAT's story doesn't tell us.)

Meanwhile, the NYT fronts a feature showing exactly how all-in-the-family this campaign is: Three of the top candidates—Mahdi, Ahmad Chalabi, and Ayad Allawi—crossed paths at the same elite Jesuit high school during the 1950s. Though political rivals, they are "linked by a network of social and familial connections that dates back generations." Finally, the LAT fronts a campaign-trail story that contends that the swing vote could lie with secular Shiites.

The LAT's Katrina piece is a fine example of how creative number-crunching can be used to counter conventional wisdom. Using data compiled by the U.S. Postal Service, the story finds that out of some 325,000 displaced households that filed change-of-address forms as of mid-October, "only a small percentage has landed more than a day's drive—about 300 miles—from New Orleans." Those who relocated further away, however, tended to be poor and black, portending a future city that will be "much more white and middle-class," a demographic researcher tells the paper.

As the 100-day anniversary of the big storm approaches, the papers are full of stories of the aftermath. The NYT travels up the Gulf Coast, where some residents are resisting the federal government's efforts to declare wide swaths of formerly inhabited land flood zones, which would make it difficult for them to rebuild. The WSJ fronts a fascinating story about the latest wave of looting to hit New Orleans: "architectural pilfering." Some of the city's stately Victorians are being stripped of antique fixtures—mantles, doors, even cypress roof beams—that fetch a handsome price on the thriving resale market. Authorities suspect "out-of-state work crews" involved in the recovery effort are to blame. USAT fronts a feature on the Big Easy's tourism industry. It is not exactly thriving.

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The NYT off-leads a developing story in China, where the leader of a paramilitary group that fired on peasants protesting land seizures, killing an unknown number, was detained by the government. It's highly unusual for a military figure to be disciplined so quickly and publicly, the paper says, which suggests how seriously the government is taking the threat of rural unrest.

The NYT fronts former Internet wunderkind Steve Case's call to destroy the monster he helped create, (you-can't-call-me-AOL) Time Warner. In an article published in the "Sunday Outlook" section of the WP, Case wrote that he proposed to the company's board last July that it split the conglomerate into four separate companies. The proposal was rejected, and Case resigned from the board. Case's choice to publicly air his gripes now is significant, the NYT says, because corporate raider Carl Icahn, a big Time Warner stockholder, is also advocating a breakup plan. What's strange, though, is that this story makes the front page of the NYT—but doesn't even merit a follow-up story in the WP. Did its business editor skip "Outlook" on Sunday?

The day's best read is a long takeout in the LAT on a massive counterfeiting ring run out of North Korea. Though its existence has long been rumored, recent criminal prosecutions have afforded an unprecedented glimpse into the racket, which teams Chinese gangsters and Irish terrorists with Stalinist apparatchiks "using equipment from Japan, paper from Hong Kong and ink from France" to mass-produce phony $100 bills at a mint burrowed in a remote mountain. The aim is to get rich while also undermining confidence in the dollar abroad. 

The WP has an interesting piece inside on another shady market, the trade in old computers. Many of them are donated to charity by well-meaning companies and then end up in fetid dumps in Nigeria, which has no means to properly dispose of them.

Finally, the WSJ fronts and the NYT reefers news of Paramount's $1.6 billion purchase of DreamWorks SKG, the movie studio founded by David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Steven Spielberg. Both pieces are "tick-tocks"—journalist-ese for stories that purport to be moment-by-moment accounts of dramatic events, usually told from the perspective of the story's "hero." (That is, the reporter's best source.)

The Times' piece breathlessly begins with Paramount's new chairman, Brad Grey, cold-calling Geffen, and declares, "thus did Mr. Grey pull off one of the more stunning coups in recent Hollywood history." The Journal's piece begins with a high-flying anecdote of its own, depicting Grey's boss, Viacom Inc. co-president Tom Freston, as he "boarded a private plane to Los Angeles with a secret mission: persuading director Steven Spielberg to sell DreamWorks SKG." Grey does not show up until paragraph 23 of the Journal story. Freston hardly appears in the Times. These are the sort of unfortunate misunderstandings that can sometimes make for problems in the boardroom. Good thing those Hollywood studio executives have such sturdy egos.