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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. 21 to 27

Issue: "Scorched-earth politics," Sept. 7, 2002

1: deja vu all over again?

119 points If U.S. forces finally hit Iraq, the initial strike will have to be the most telegraphed punch in the history of modern warfare. A small media uproar surrounded TeamBush arguments that the president can launch an attack on Iraq without approval from Congress. Administration officials argued the 1991 Gulf War resolution authorized the use of force against Iraq to enforce UN Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction, resolutions with which Saddam Hussein has failed to comply.

More than any other topic, the debate starred figures from the first Bush presidency, with old Bush hands like former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker arguing against military action. In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville, Vice President Dick Cheney-defense secretary during the last war on Iraq-represented the hawkish view, saying that while some think "until he [Saddam] crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any pre-emptive action. That logic seems to me deeply flawed."

2: campaign '02

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79 points President Bush continued juggling recreational activities at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, with campaign appearances for Republicans around the country. In California, the president appeared at three events with gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon. But national news accounts often centered on the contrast between Bush's corporate-accountability stance and the $78 million fraud judgment against the GOP candidate's family's investment firm, William E. Simon & Sons.

USA Today cheered the record number of women who are running on major party slates in governor's races this year-15 women in 12 states. By the time the votes are counted on Nov. 5, experts expect election-year records to be broken on the number of women chosen as major party nominees (10), the number of women elected governor in one year (3), and the most women to serve as governor at the same time (5). But the number of women in the Senate and House of Representatives could fall.

3: 9/11 and still counting

70 points More than 170 communities nationwide have planned formal events to mark the first anniversary of 9/11, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. For the more than 30,000 people expected in Shanksville, Pa., where the fourth hijacked plane crashed, a bell will toll 40 times to commemorate each victim. New York officials say more than 150 nonprofit organizations and communities requested pieces of steel from the collapsed towers to be featured at their events.

Closing the books on the terrorist attacks isn't an exact science. The 9/11 anniversary will come and go without a definitive count of the dead. While counts are consistent on 224 dead (not including hijackers) in Virginia and Pennsylvania, the final tally in New York is still in dispute. The police department lists 2,823 missing and dead, while media estimates range from 2,786 to 2,814.

4: give us the tools

68 points The war on terror is getting bogged down in the courts. The secretive federal court that approves domestic spying on terror suspects denied requests to give the Justice Department enhanced surveillance powers. The court complained that the Justice Department and FBI officials supplied erroneous information to the court in more than 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps. Some media accounts focused heavily on the rejected request from Attorney General John Ashcroft, downplaying the number of misleading applications filed during the Clinton administration. Until recently the court, set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), had approved all but one government request since the court's inception in the Nixon years.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court panel in Cincinnati ruled on Aug. 26 that the government must allow the press and public to observe immigration hearings for suspects detained in the 9/11 investigation. Ruling in favor of Michigan activist Rabih Haddad, the judges scorned a Sept. 21 Justice Department order that closed hearings of "special interest" to the terror probe.

5: Turbulence Ahead

60 points Analysts continue to express concern about whether the airline industry will recover from 9/11 repercussions. While major carriers Delta, Continental, and Northwest agreed to honor each others' tickets in frequent-flier plans-which could result in higher fares-Southwest moved to cut last-minute ticket prices by 25 percent. "Financially speaking, we are well prepared for the economic storms bestting the airlines," said Gary C. Kelly, Southwest's chief financial officer. While the largest carriers have entered or might enter bankruptcy court, the only profitable airelines are smaller enterprises like Southwestm, AirTran, and JetBlue.

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