October 8, 2001
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For all the extensive coverage in today's New York Times -- including an excellent William Safire column and some good old-fashioned war reporting by David Rohde -- the paper is missing an article throwing into sharp relief the question of whether Washington intends to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Bush administration has been sending mixed signals on this question, and it is reflected in the Times coverage, which isn't much help to readers interested in this topic.
One front-page article in today's New York Times reports that "the White House insists military action is 'not designed to replace one regime with another.'" That is in keeping with the statements that have been coming from the State Department; at a briefing October 1, the department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said, "We have not changed policy goals over the weekend. We have not set toppling the Taliban as one of our goals. At the same time, we recognize very clearly that the Taliban is not representative, that they have in many ways betrayed the interests of the Afghan people and that the Afghan people deserve better."
At the same time, another front-page article in today's New York Times refers to "American-led efforts to topple the militant Islamic Taliban government." And another front-page article in today's Times reports that the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, "made clear that the U.S. was seeking to orchestrate the overthrow of the Taliban."
The contradictions here are clear enough that it sure would be nice to get a Times article explaining whether the American government is trying to overthrow the Taliban, and, if it is, why the White House and the State Department are misleading the public about it, while the Defense Department is being forthright about it. A case can be made that openly declaring the goal reduces the chance of achieving it, but Smartertimes.com doesn't find that argument particularly compelling. If that is the argument that is winning the day, then the Times could do a better job of explaining it.
Trimmed Transcript: Today's New York Times carries a transcript of the videotaped statement released yesterday by Osama Bin Laden. The Times transcript omits the opening sentences of the statement. Those sentences are available at ABCNews.com and in the Washington Post, and they include some significant points. Bin Laden said, "Let the whole world know that we shall never accept that the tragedy of Andalusia would be repeated in Palestine. We cannot accept that Palestine will become Jewish. And with regard to you, Muslims, this is the day of question. This is a new (inaudible) against you, all against the Muslims and Medina. So be like the followers of the prophet, peace be upon him, and all countrymen, lovers of God and the prophet within, and a new battle, great battle, similar to the great battles of Islam, like the conqueror of Jerusalem. So, hurry up to the dignity of life and the eternity of death. Thanks to God, he who God guides will never lose. And I believe that there's only one God. And I declare I believe there's no prophet but Mohammed."
Gephardt's Phone: The New York Times reports today that President Bush on Saturday night told the House minority leader, Richard Gephardt, about the plan for U.S. military action on Sunday. "Mr. Gephardt was at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles, straining to hear the news over the cheers for Cal Ripken Jr., who was about to play his last major league baseball game," the Times reports. Is there a secure phone line at Camden Yards? The Times doesn't tell us. If the timing of impending U.S. military actions is being announced to Congressional leaders over non-secure communications, it is no wonder that the videotape of Osama Bin Laden's message was delivered just in time to be aired during the attack. Maybe Mr. Gephardt has some sort of specially encrypted cellular phone. But the Times account sure raises more questions than it answers.
Afghanis: An article in today's New York Times reports, "In addition to food packets, the Pentagon also plans to drop leaflets, imploring Afghanis to oppose the Taliban." As Slate has pointed out, the people of Afghanistan are Afghans. Their currency is the Afghani.
Coffin Error: A dispatch from Israel in the international section of today's New York Times reports on a memorial service for a Jew killed by an Arab suicide bomber. "The Orthodox do not usually bury their dead in coffins, but because of the destruction caused by the bomb, the mourners today gathered around a plain pine box," the Times reports. The claim that "the Orthodox do not usually bury their dead in coffins" is false. In fact, the Web site of the Orthodox Union, a major Orthodox Jewish group, carries links to several articles that describe a plain wood coffin as standard in Jewish law. One of them is an article by Rabbi Maurice Lamm, a professor at Yeshiva University's rabbinical seminary, which explains, "'For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return' (Genesis 3:19) is the guiding principle in regard to the selection of caskets ... The coffin must be made completely of wood. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve hid among the trees in the Garden of Eden when they heard the Divine judgment for committing the first sin. Said Rabbi Levi: 'This was a sign for their descendants that, when they die and are prepared to receive their reward, they should be placed in coffins made of wood.'"
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