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 Aug. 7 to 13

Issue: "Ghost busting," Aug. 24, 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.


corporate scandals

119 | While the number of new scoops waned in the newspapers, NBC kept pounding away at corporate scandals with seven major stories, including a focus on how many Enron employees will receive severance packages capped at $13,500, while top executives like CEO Kenneth Lay left with millions. Reporter Lisa Myers explained that Republicans are expected to suffer more from continuing revelations (like NBC's), since they are more closely tied to business. Some stories gained wider play. Revelations that WorldCom improperly booked another $3.3 million shook the company's plans to emerge from bankruptcy. ImClone CEO Sam Waksal was charged with multiple counts of securities fraud for tipping off insiders to the financial impact of the Food and Drug Administration's rejecting quick approval of ImClone's colorectal cancer drug Erbitux. Congressional committees are now talking about subpoenas for Waksal friend Martha Stewart, who sold her $227,000 pot of ImClone shares the day before the company announced the FDA ruling.


up, up, and out of cash

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56 | Airlines weren't kidding when they quickly asked for bailouts in the wake of last fall's terror-driven airport shutdowns. US Airways, the nation's seventh-largest carrier, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after losing $2.1 billion in 2001. While unions representing pilots and flight attendants agreed on plans to cut spending, the machinists union held out. United Airlines also expressed the need for a government loan guarantee to meet "significant short-term borrowing needs." In the meantime, airlines continue to worry about balancing the need for vigilance with customer service. Officials at the Transportation Security Agency recently convened to discuss intelligence that terrorists might use artificial limbs to conceal weapons, but they have issued no directives to airlines or airports about more thorough searches for amputees. Frustrated airlines can't do much, since the TSA is focused on being absorbed into the developing Department of Homeland Security this fall.


terrorists for allies?

50 | The role of Saudi Arabia in waging war on terrorism took center stage. TeamBush distanced itself quickly from a Pentagon briefing by a Rand Corporation analyst that described the Saudis as "active at every level of the terror chain" and said the Saudi regime "supports our enemies and attacks our allies." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the leaked story "unfortunate" and said it didn't reflect the government's view. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Saudi foreign minister with the same message. But the Saudis have declared that they would not allow the United States to use their territory for a war on Iraq. When Iran expelled 16 al-Qaeda fighters to their Saudi homeland, a Saudi spokesman told CNN that he would not guarantee that U.S. interrogators would have any access to them, although he said the Saudis would share any intelligence information from trials.


wars & rumors of wars

49 | The momentum toward a clash between the United States and Iraq picked up, as Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf said the mission of United Nations weapons inspectors is "finished" and charged that the United States is manipulating the issue to create a pretext for a military strike. In Washington, the State Department accused Iraq of trying to wriggle out of its international obligations to admit inspectors and dismantle weapons of mass destruction. A new ABC-Washington Post poll found nearly six in 10 of those surveyed favored a U.S. invasion of Iraq, and three in four identified Iraq as a serious threat to U.S. security. But three in four also wanted President Bush to gain approval from Congress, and support for war fell when pollsters asked about the possibility of opposition to the war from American allies, or the possibility of large casualties on the ground.


tragedy and contrails

46 | New York City unveiled plans for the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, including the sunset lighting of an eternal flame by world leaders, possibly including President Bush (see p. 23). Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will begin a reading of the names of 2,823 victims, and Gov. George Pataki will deliver the Gettysburg Address, with emphasis on how the "brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated [the ground] far above our poor power to add or detract." The historic grounding of all air traffic also led to scientific research. David Travis and his team at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater wondered if the exhaust trails from jets, called contrails, have any effect on the weather. They found the days were a little warmer and the nights were a little cooler after planes were grounded on Sept. 11. The scientists argued, in the journal Nature, that contrails mimic cirrus clouds in muffling temperature extremes.


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