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The Top 5 news stories as measured by coverage in The Washington Post, USA Today, and NBC Nightly News from Dec. 25 to 31

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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. 1 pyongyang ping pong 123 Points | In the face of North Korea expelling UN weapons inspectors, Secretary of State Colin Powell sought to underline the need for diplomatic overtures to defuse the crisis, even as he asserted the government's view that the regime of Stalinist strongman Kim Jong Il already has two nuclear weapons. Democrats have criticized President Bush for focusing on Iraq when North Korea could be at least as dangerous to the United States. But military and diplomatic planning is much more advanced around Iraq, and getting Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea involved in pressing North Korea for reform promises to be difficult. South Korea just elected as its president Roh Moo Hyun, who won based on his harsh words about America and its handling of North Korea. Mr. Bush said the United States has made "good progress in talking to our friends" about the rumblings from Pyongyang. The president will meet with Mr. Roh after he's inaugurated on Feb. 25. 2 awaiting the order? 114 Points | The prospect of military action in Iraq drew closer with the beginning of a final buildup of combat forces in the Persian Gulf. Currently there are about 60,000 troops and 400 aircraft at bases in the region. The forces amassed will be less than the half-million deployed in 1991, but military spokesmen are avoiding specifics. The Pentagon hopes the last troops to arrive will be able to land directly on Iraqi airstrips. With the slowdown in the news currents, some newspapers began reminding readers that Saddam Hussein used to be the apple of Washington's eye during the Iran-Iraq War that raged on through most of the 1980s. The Washington Post published grainy video images of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand when he was a special Middle East envoy in the Reagan administration. The message sounded much like the coverage of the Taliban when the United States went to war in Afghanistan: that the United States is merely preparing to slay a dragon it created. 3 taliban leftovers 84 Points | U.S. military authorities reported a brief Dec. 29 shootout between U.S. and Pakistani troops on the Afghan border, until it ended with a 500-pound bomb dropped on the Pakistanis by an F-16 warplane. One U.S. soldier was shot and wounded at the start of the shooting, but he was flown to Germany where he's listed in stable condition. Both American and Pakistani officials sought afterward to play down the fight, but it highlighted the suspicions that some Pakistani troops and tribal leaders remain sympathetic with the routed Taliban forces. 4 white christmas 62 Points | Although weather forecasters had promised a dreary, cold, and rainy Christmas for the mid-Atlantic states, Washington witnessed only the second white Christmas in 30 years. The Northeast was socked with up to 18 inches of snow, delaying dozens of planes from landing in New York or New England. Snow in the Midwest was blamed for more than 15 deaths, most of them traffic-related. After stringent water restrictions caused by drought-level ground-water readings, the winter's rains and snows have caused many states to relax or suspend their water limits. Severe thunderstorms pounded parts of the South on New Year's Eve, with tornadoes, heavy rain, and pounding hail. One man died when a tree fell on his pickup truck in northwest Louisiana. Two mobile homes were destroyed in the Florida panhandle town of Mary Esther. Heavy rains also left at least 6,400 homes and businesses without power on the last day of 2002 near Mobile, Ala. 5 cult of clone 53 Points | In a Florida press conference two days after Christmas, the Clonaid company announced that it had created the world's first cloned baby, a girl named "Eve," from a 31-year-old American mother. Scientists were skeptical of the success, since the company is part of a cult called the Raelians, who believe aliens created humans by cloning 25,000 years ago and that "Jesus was resurrected through an advanced cloning technique." Michael Guillen, a long-time science editor on the ABC program Good Morning America, agreed to appoint a panel to examine the Clonaid claims and report back. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush found the idea "deeply troubling" and said it "underscores the need for the new Congress to act" on a ban on human cloning. A proposal passed the House by more than 100 votes in July 2001, but was held up for a year and a half by Senate Democrat leader Tom Daschle.


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