Top News

This Week | The Top 5 news stories as measured by coverage in The Washington Post, USA Today, and NBC Nightly News over a one-week period from June 19 to 25

Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

Scoring system: 5 points for news stories appearing on the front page of The Washington Post, 3 for stories on the next two pages of the "A" section, and 1 thereafter. Same formula for USA Today, except the values are doubled to account for its national circulation. Stories carried on NBC Nightly News receive 10 points if they run before the first ad break, 6 between the first and second break, and 2 thereafter. Anchor-read stories earn 2 points early, 1 point late.


Yasser, no sir

175 points | The temperature of battle spiked again as Palestinian suicide bombers killed 19 people on a commuter bus and six people at a crowded bus stop in the Jerusalem area, all within 36 hours. Israeli forces retaliated, but apologized when tank fire killed four Palestinians, including three children, in the West Bank city of Jenin. The terror attacks and responses delayed President Bush's planned unveiling of a Mideast peace plan. When he mounted the podium for his June 24 speech in the Rose Garden, the president surprised some observers by transparently calling for an end to Yasser Arafat's rule: "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born." Mr. Bush added that the state would not be built on terror, but on "true reform ... entirely new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics, and action against terrorism."


Six-state blaze

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146 points | Disaster-movie aerial shots provided the compelling backdrop to report the 18 wildfires burning across six western states. Severe drought is a major reason. About 2 million acres have been burned, more than twice as many as the usual average by this time of year. While firefighting resources are strained, officials hadn't yet called on help from the military, as they have in the past. Last week's stories focused on the fire threatening the Denver suburbs, allegedly set by Forest Service employee Terry Lynn Barton. But most of the new attention focused on the pine forests of Arizona, where fire forced the evacuation of about 30,000 people from an area about 150 miles northeast of Phoenix. Despite widespread property damage, no deaths or serious injuries were reported in Arizona. The same was true of Colorado until a recent asthma death was blamed on wildfire smoke, which could worsen the charges against Mrs. Barton.



92 points | Intercepted conversations from Sept. 10 caught al-Qaeda operatives boasting "Tomorrow is Zero Hour" and "The match begins tomorrow," but the National Security Agency did not translate them until Sept. 12. Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Congress for leaking the specific information, but reporters noted that just 11 days after the attacks, The Washington Times reported more vaguely that intelligence agencies had detected al-Qaeda discussions on Sept. 10, so that a senior Bush official could explain why the White House so quickly blamed Osama bin Laden. Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared that Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are believed to be hiding in mountain caves in northwest Pakistan. An al-Qaeda spokesman said in an audiotape broadcast that Mr. bin Laden will soon make a TV appearance that will prove he wasn't killed by U.S. attacks. The spokesman, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, also declared, "We are going to carry out attacks on America."


'I dissent'

69 points | Two Supreme Court death-penalty decisions will spur a pile of appeals and trim the number of convicted killers receiving the ultimate punishment. First, the court ruled 6-3 that executing criminals with IQs below 70 violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Liberal justice John Paul Stevens said a "national consensus" was developing since 18 of 38 death-penalty states now bar executing the retarded; the court majority also saw fit to include a footnote to the opinion that took note of European views on the subject. The conservative minority thundered against the ruling: "Seldom has an opinion of this court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members," declared Justice Antonin Scalia. Chief Justice William Rehnquist ended his written opinion, "I dissent," leaving out the traditional adverb "respectfully." But a 7-2 decision that followed may be more significant. The court held that Arizona's death-sentencing law violates the constitutional guarantee of a jury trial when a judge decides who shall receive the death penalty. Eight states with more than 800 death-row inmates could be forced to offer commuted sentences, resulting in an impact greater than any other court ruling on capital punishment in 30 years.


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