Daily Flog 8/7/08: Hamdan acquitted but papers dance around it; the best anthrax stories; Mary-Kate isn’t talking; there’s a war in Afghanistan

Running down the press:

Times: ‘Panel Convicts Bin Laden Driver in Split Verdict’

William Glaberson‘s story is particularly lame, failing to note until way down on the jump that Salim Hamdan, one of several drivers for Osama bin Laden, was not a war criminal in the first place:

The two-week trial included references by both sides to the Nuremberg trials.

Prosecutors, eager to shore up the image of the commissions here, presented a video that included graphic images of Qaeda terror attacks and their victims that they titled “The Al Qaeda Plan,” in reference to “The Nazi Plan,” a film shown at Nuremberg to document the Holocaust.

The defense noted that Hitler’s driver, Erich Kempka, was not prosecuted as a war criminal at Nuremberg.

In fact, Hamdan was acquitted on the only charges that amounted to “war crimes.” A stunning defeat for the Bush regime.

You’ll have a hard time finding the best coverage of the Hamdan trial. That’s because it was an oral report yesterday by veteran newsman Fred Graham on Court TV. Graham was one of the few U.S. newspeople who actually covered the trial at Guantánamo.

Solidly in the mainstream, Graham rose above it, describing Hamdan throughout his thoughtful, articulate coverage as a “very low-level driver” and emphasizing that he was hardly a figure whose alleged acts rose to the level of “war crimes.”

Even the Washington Post — consistently more reliable than the Times for national and international coverage — didn’t rise to Graham’s level, fouling up its headline and story:

‘Hamdan Guilty of Terror Support: Former Bin Laden Driver Acquitted Of Aiding Attacks’

A military jury on Wednesday found a former driver for Osama bin Laden guilty of supporting terrorism but not of conspiring in terrorist attacks, handing the Bush administration a partial victory in the first U.S. war crimes trial in a half a century.

The hed should have been turned around, leading with the acquittal, and the story’s no better. But you’re still better off reading the WashPost‘s version, which includes this pretty high:

Deputy defense counsel Michael Berrigan called the trial a “travesty” but said the defense team “is not at all unhappy with the results.”

Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who attended the trial as one of several human rights observers, ridiculed the administration for inaugurating the military system on “a marginal figure.”

As for the tabs’ coverage of Hamdan, well, just count on them (as I noted earlier this morning) for news about the other guy known for his drives: Brett Favre.

Times: ‘In E-Mail, Hints of Delusions’

Bruce E. Ivins went to work each day in a high-security federal laboratory where he handled some of the world’s deadliest substances. But more than a year before the 2001 anthrax attacks, the scientist admitted to himself that he was losing his grasp on reality.

“Paranoid man works with deadly anthrax!!!” he wrote in one e-mail message in July 2000, predicting what a National Enquirer headline might read if he agreed to participate in a study on his work.

“I wish I could control the thoughts in my mind,” he added a month later in another message to a colleague. “It’s hard enough sometimes controlling my behavior. When I am being eaten alive inside, I always try to put on a good front here at work and at home, so I don’t spread the pestilence.”

Well, the guy was self-aware. As for delusional e-mails, I’ve received a ton of them and have even written a few. It’s unfortunate, of course, that Ivins didn’t stick to just writing e-mails, at least if the FBI is to be believed.


Now this is the way to promo the anthrax story:

Twisted scientist Bruce Ivins was the sole person responsible for killing five people with a rash of anthrax mailings that terrorized Americans after the 9/11 attacks, federal authorities declared yesterday, as they released hundreds of pages of . . .

Wall Street Journal: ‘FBI Paints Chilling Portrait Of Anthrax-Attack Suspect’

Today’s most complete collection of anthrax coverage, starting with the start of the main piece, which is hands-down the most concise and soberly best-written handling of all the main angles:

In a series of court documents that were at turns chilling and bizarre, federal investigators said U.S. Army microbiologist Bruce E. Ivins misled government agents investigating the 2001 anthrax mailings, sent emails with language closely matching the handwritten letters sent to victims and had access to the strain of anthrax used in the crime.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation says the evidence, including hundreds of pages of unsealed documents, proves that Dr. Ivins was the sole person responsible for the 2001 anthrax mailings. Many of the documents contain previously unknown details and shed fresh light on the seven-year investigation, one of the most complex and controversial undertaken by federal law enforcement.

Much of the evidence is circumstantial and was criticized sharply by some scientists and former colleagues, suggesting that this long-running saga is far from over. Dr. Ivins’s lawyer denies the charges.

Dr. Ivins, one of the world’s foremost anthrax experts, emerged as the central figure in the anthrax probe last week. He committed suicide on July 29 after federal prosecutors informed him they intended to charge him in the attacks that killed five people and injured 17. Investigators haven’t found a suicide note.

See Ivins’s e-mails here.

Daily News: ‘Heath Ledger probe closed, Mary-Kate Olsen doesn’t have to talk’

And we don’t have to listen to her.


A former NYPD detective is under investigation by the FBI for his alleged role in a mob hit ordered by John “Junior” Gotti and is expected to face federal charges, the Post has learned.

Besides ratting out his boyhood pal Gotti, mob turncoat John Alite fingered retired cop Phil Baroni, 56 for being in a getaway car and helping dispose of the body of coke pusher George Grosso, a source said. Grosso was shot in the back of the head on Dec. 20, 1988. At the time, Baroni was getting a generous disability pension from the NYPD.

“[They] just took him out of the car and dumped him on the side of the road” in Flushing Meadow Park, the source said.

Can’t wait for the movie? Read the story.

Daily News: ‘The Scattered Dutchman’

David Krajicek‘s story is a few days old, but that doesn’t matter because it zooms in on an event that’s 100 years old. It’s the kind of piece that daily papers don’t usually do, let alone write so well. Krajicek starts it out:

It was the summer of 1897, and pieces of Willie Guldensuppe began bobbing up in the East River.

His upper torso and arms were found by boys playing on the E. 11th St. docks. The lower torso was fished from the water in Harlem. The legs found their way to the backwaters of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Each section was neatly wrapped in distinctive oilcloth – a flower design of red and gold, like a homemaker might use for a tablecloth – and bound with window-shade cord.

Coroners unwrapped the packages and pieced together the body, lacking only a head and a 4-inch square of skin cut from the chest.

The human jigsaw puzzle was soon identified as Guldensuppe, a German – stout as an anvil – who worked as a masseur at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths on E. 42nd St.

Makes you want to keep reading.

Times: ‘500: Deadly U.S. Milestone in Afghan War’

Back to the grim future of 2008: This death story contains the paper’s “Quotation of the Day” (for God‘s sake, loosen up and call it a “quote” instead of “quotation”):

“People have forgotten. There’s a real war going on. People are dying all the time in Afghanistan.”
DAVID ROUGLE, whose brother, Staff Sgt. Larry I. Rougle, was killed in a
Taliban attack.

That “quotation,” or at least the idea behind it, should have been worked into the paper’s Hamdan story — while the U.S. is conducting a show trial (yes, kinda fair, and yes, the Bush regime lost it), there’s a war going on.

And speaking of war crimes, the U.S. committed a crime of war years ago by shifting its focus away from Afghanistan so it could unjustifiably invade Iraq.

Times: ‘Iraqis Fail to Agree on Provincial Election Law’

Touted electronically by the paper as its top “World” story, it’s not.

Times: ‘China’s Leaders Are Resilient in Face of Change’

Skip the first few grafs and see this:

But if the Olympics have presented unmistakable challenges and crises, the Communist Party has proved resilient. Public appetite for reform has not waned, but the short-term byproduct of the Olympics has been a surge in Chinese patriotism that bolstered the party against international criticism after its crackdown on Tibetan protesters in March and the controversy over the international Olympic torch relay.

Economic and social change is so rapid in China that the Communist Party is sometimes depicted as an overwhelmed caretaker. But in the seven years since Beijing was awarded the Games, the party has adapted and navigated its way forward, loosening its grip on elements of society even as it crushes or co-opts threats to its hold on political power.

The party has absorbed entrepreneurs, urban professionals and university students into an elite class that is invested in the political status quo, if not necessarily enthralled with it. Private capitalists may be symbols of a changing China. But the party has also clung tenaciously to the most profitable pillar industries and the financial system, and it is not always easy to distinguish the biggest private companies from their state-run counterparts in China’s hybrid economy.

“Unmistakable challenges”? That’s a dull understatement.

“Not always easy to distinguish the biggest private companies from their state-run counterparts”? You can’t.

Think Halliburton as the profit-making arm of the Pentagon in the early days of the Iraq Debacle, and you get the picture.

Times: ‘Little Pieces of Politics, Some Obscure, Lure Collectors’

Really? I did not know that.

Times: ‘Minorities Often a Majority of the Population Under 20’

Sam Roberts‘s lede, relying on the hackneyed phrase “tipping point”:

Foreshadowing the nation’s changing makeup, one in four American counties have passed or are approaching the tipping point where black, Hispanic and Asian children constitute a majority of the under-20 population, according to analyses of census figures released Thursday.

Racial and ethnic minorities now account for 43 percent of Americans under 20. Among people of all ages, minorities make up at least 40 percent of the population in more than one in six of the nation’s 3,141 counties.

The latest population changes by race, ethnicity and age, as of July 1, 2007, were generally marginal compared with the year before. But they confirm the breadth of the nation’s diversity, and suggest that minorities — now about a third of the population — might constitute a majority of all Americans even sooner than projected by census demographers, in 2050.

A colored country. It’s a good thing for Jesse Helms that he finally died.

Times: ‘Bush to Urge China to Improve Human Rights’

On the eve of the Olympic Games in Beijing, President Bush said that he had “deep concerns” about basic freedoms in China and criticized the detention of dissidents and believers, even as he praised the extraordinary gains China has made since he first visited more than three decades ago, according to remarks released by the White House on Wednesday.

That, and $5 million, will buy you a cup of coffee in Zimbabwe (where inflation is over 1 million percent).

Bush has “deep concerns” about basic freedoms. Please. Do us a favor and just add this phrase: “constantly criticized at home by human-rights organizations.”

That wouldn’t be editorializing but simply adding context or perspective, and it would be fair to Bush.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Bush Conveys Concerns
About Fate of China Dissidents’

Much better and more rational angle about Bush than the Times‘s less-specific, buy-into-Bush-bullshit version. James Hookway‘s lede:

U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his concern about the fate of political dissidents in China and his determination to bring an end to the “tyranny” of the military regime in Myanmar a day before he is expected to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in China.

Times: ‘Freddie Mac’s Big Loss Dims Hopes of Turnaround’

The gloom over the nation’s housing market deepened on Wednesday as Freddie Mac, the big mortgage finance company, reported a gaping quarterly loss and predicted that home prices would fall further than previously projected.

The announcement disappointed those hoping that the housing market might be bottoming out and heightened worries that the government could be forced to rescue Freddie Mac and the other mortgage finance giant, Fannie Mae. The news also signaled that mortgage rates were likely to rise.

For some background on Freddie Mac that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else, take a look at my colleague Wayne Barrett‘s new piece, “How Andrew Cuomo Gave Birth to the Crisis at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

At last, detailed reporting on a New York politician who’s fucking us instead of fucking hookers.

Times: ‘State Board Lets Ciprianis Keep Their Liquor Licenses’

Continuing its hard-hitting coverage of NYC’s rich snoots (see yesterday’s Daily Flog), the paper sez:

The verdict is in: Patrons of the Cipriani family’s empire of opulent restaurants and catering halls across Manhattan will not have do without their favorite cocktail when they order the calamari risotto or Venetian calf’s liver.

Huzzah, my good man! Muffy won’t have to bring her 40s wid her.

Times: ‘China’s Gold Rush’

Matthew Forney‘s lame op-ed piece contrasting what China and U.S. do with their athletes is promo’ed this way:

In China, sports schools now train thousands of professional athletes with Olympic gold as the ultimate goal.

Yes, unlike in the U.S., where colleges train thousands of professional football and basketball players (while giving them free rides and other perks) with just gold as the ultimate goal.

Post: ‘Mess for Success’

Danica Lo chides fashion-faux-pas New Yorkers with her “pet peeve don’ts,” introducing it this way:

Summer is steaming up offices all over the city – and we’re not talking temperatures.

Lately, exposed cleavage, pastel bra straps, the odd half-moon and plenty of toes have been popping up for air all over town. Dressing professionally in 85-degree-plus weather is never easy, and with heat and humidity a daily battle now for weeks on end, so much of the city’s office populace has thrown in the towel – as well as the jacket, the cardigan, the pump and, well, any office-appropriate apparel you can name.

Since reinterpreting dress code is a major no-no in many corporate offices, it’s the business-casual class that is committing the most serious faux pas this season.

Reinterpret this. I haven’t worn socks since May. Danica, you put a sock on it.

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