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 July 17 to 23

Issue: "John Smoltz: The closer," Aug. 3, 2002

1. Repeating history?

186 points Tumbling stocks ensured a return to "The Economy, Stupid" coverage, complete with intimations that perhaps George Bush the Second was another successful war president without a knack for boosting economic confidence. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled below 8,000 for the first time in almost four years, and market losses have wiped out about $8 trillion of stock wealth since 2000. Investment advisers like Prudential's Edward Yardeni said, "I don't recall so much pessimism about both the short-term and long-term outlook for stocks." Reporters followed the gloom, detailing every sign of decline from curtailed vacation plans to sinking 401(k) retirement plans. President Bush insisted "the platform for growth is in good shape," as the White House touted figures in June showing strong gains in U.S. industrial production, very low inflation, and further declines in jobless claims. They hope market concerns help break the deadlock on granting the president authority to boost demand with new international trade pacts.

2. A miserable chapter

144 points Another Dow Jones spook came from WorldCom, which announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. WorldCom beat out Enron as the largest bankruptcy filing in American history. Despite its rapid decline since admitting its accounting statements left out $3.9 billion in expenses, WorldCom's brass insisted the filing would not mean any disruptions in service for its 20 million customers, and would cause no layoffs beyond the 17,000 employees laid off last month. With an eye on the November elections, 30 House and Senate conferees struggled over competing bills to reform corporate accounting procedures, with the Senate Democrats claiming public opinion is on their side and the House Republicans scrambling to resist a full embrace of the harsher Senate bill. Some Democrats and some accounting lobbyists would prefer to delay passage, but for different reasons. Democrats want to harp on their latest campaign issue, and the lobbyists hope a month away will cool the ardor for overregulation.

3. "Don't sleep"

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79 points Parents across America were gripped by the news that California first-grader Samantha Runnion was found unclothed and dead on a hillside, sexually assaulted and asphyxiated. "Don't sleep. Don't eat. Because we're coming after you," said Orange County sheriff Mike Carona to Samantha's killer. Within 72 hours, Mr. Carona announced the arrest of Alejandro Avila, 27, and said he was "100 percent certain" he had the right guy. Mr. Avila's mother, Adelina, told ABC she watched the early news about Samantha with her son and said, "They should get that person and tie him up alive and burn him." She's now hoping the police are wrong. Officials say there is no epidemic of child abductions, but the media have focused on a string of sad tales, including still-missing Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City and Alexis Patterson of Milwaukee. In Philadelphia, ransom-demanding kidnappers abducted 7-year-old Erica Pratt. But, left alone in an abandoned house, Erica gnawed through the duct-tape binding and freed herself. A policeman on patrol nearby took her home.

4. Elusive Osama

76 points Dale Watson, the FBI's counterterrorism chief, put himself on Page 1 by telling a national conference of police officials that he personally believes that Osama bin Laden is dead. FBI officials quickly insisted that Mr. Watson was not speaking for the bureau. TeamBush has tried to blur any singular focus on bin Laden, while some Democrats have attempted to make the case that the war on terror is a failure if the al-Qaeda leader isn't found and brought to justice. U.S. Customs agents nabbed a possible al-Qaeda operative as he arrived in Detroit on a plane from Indonesia. Officials said the name of Omar Shishani, 47, has appeared on a watch list of people trained in Afghanistan by al-Qaeda. The Jordanian native was allegedly carrying $12 million in false cashier's checks. Hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who escaped from Afghanistan are believed to be living in Indonesia, a recent haven for Islamic terrorists.

5. Seven-month itch

60 points John Magaw, a 66-year-old former Ohio state trooper who became the first head of the newly created Transportation Security Agency, was forced out after only seven months at the helm. Legislators, security experts, and the aviation industry had complained for weeks that Mr. Magaw, former head of both the Secret Service and the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, surrounded himself with tough ex-cops who lacked organizational experience and ignored outside advice. The TSA, created after 9/11 to provide federalized security to the nation's 429 commercial airports, will now be headed by retired Adm. James Loy, a former head of the Coast Guard. The White House proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security won approval in a special House committee and was expected to pass the House of Representatives before the August recess. Senators, including territory-conscious Appropriations Committee chairman Robert Byrd, warned of excessive haste to beat a Sept. 11 deadline for passage.

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.


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