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The Top 5 news stories as measured by coverage in The Washington Post, USA Today, and NBC Nightly News from Oct. 23 to 29

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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.


muhammad and malvo

404 Points | The aftermath of the Washington-area sniper shootings could be long and complicated. Defense attorneys for John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo are suggesting their clients cannot get a fair trial, since everyone in the jury pool is a victim, at least in terms of suffering from fear and inconvenience brought by the shootings. Conservative media critics, quiet during most of the sniper scare, complained that coverage of captured sniper suspects Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo repeatedly referred to them as "an Army veteran and a teenager," instead of describing the pair in more accurate, if politically incorrect, terms: as a member of the Nation of Islam and an illegal immigrant from Jamaica. Media stars also downplayed the suspects' admiration of the Sept. 11 attacks. Rev. Alan Archer, who runs the Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham, Wash., was the first to wave red flags in Mr. Muhammad's direction. Rev. Archer became suspicious last fall when Mr. Muhammad, who dropped in for several seven- to 10-day stays at the mission between August 2001 and January 2002, received calls at the shelter from airline ticket agents-pretty uncommon calls at a homeless shelter. James Mitton, an administrative assistant at the mission, told WORLD Mr. Muhammad was very cooperative about attending required chapel services at the mission, but did not participate much otherwise: "He didn't spent much time at the mission. He spent most of his time out in the community doing whatever he was doing." What he was doing was raising suspicion. Rev. Archer became so suspicious that he called the FBI last October. Mr. Muhammad seemed too quiet, too neat, and too polite, Rev. Archer later told reporters, adding that he suspected the man got his money from some terrorist group. The FBI would not say whether it investigated Rev. Archer's report.


chechen imbalance

119 Points | Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater, taking 700 people hostage and demanding an end to the Russian military struggle to keep Chechnya from secession. After a 58-hour standoff, when the Chechens started killing hostages, the Russian government raided the area and pumped gas into the theater, killing 115 hostages as well as 50 militants in a rescue attempt. Russian authorities initially refused to identify the gas used in the attack, but Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko relented and said the gas was based on Fentanyl, a potent opium-based narcotic, noting it was not an internationally banned substance. But it proved fatal to hostages suffering from heart conditions and other stresses of captivity. Russian leaders saw ending the crisis as part of a U.S.-led war on terror, and Bush administration officials did not condemn Russian actions. Russia still holds an important seat on the UN Security Council as it considers endorsing U.S. military action to enforce UN mandates in Iraq.


so sue me

118 Points | Elections are supposed to settle things, but in the days before Americans went to the polls, uncertainty was the theme of many news stories: Political parties were preparing to argue in court over how to count absentee ballots cast for the late Paul Wellstone; pundits argued over what a lame-duck Senate session-between now and the end of the year-might look like; others worried that Florida's untrustworthy vote-counting procedures might be in the news yet again. Late Democratic contenders from Minnesota and New Jersey drastically changed the dynamics of mid-term elections that seemed weeks earlier tilted toward Republicans.


a partisan funeral

107 Points | Even some liberal pundits were surprised at the way the memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) turned into a political rally. "The crowd repeatedly stands, stomps, and whoops," complained Slate's William Saletan. And so it went for three hours at the 20,000-seat basketball arena at the University of Minnesota. The memorial/rally aired live on C-SPAN and throughout Minnesota; Minneapolis TV stations had phones ringing off the hooks with callers suggesting it was unfair to air a three-hour political commercial. Days later, Minnesota Democrats apologized for the tone. "It probably would have been best not to get into politics and elections in the way it was done," said Sen. Wellstone's campaign manager. Sen. Wellstone died in the crash of a small plane that also took the lives of his wife, daughter, and three staff members. The state Democratic-Farmer-Labor party quickly selected former Vice President Walter Mondale, 74, as a stand-in. Mr. Mondale last served in the Senate in 1976, and in 1984-as the Democratic nominee for president-famously tried to make an issue of then-President Ronald Reagan's advanced age (Mr. Reagan was 73).


arms are for inspecting

76 Points | The United Nations inched closer to the U.S. position: an insistence on a tough new regime of arms inspections in Iraq. After talks with Security Council members, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the council was moving toward agreement on a new resolution, which Iraq had pledged not to accept. On the question of how long the United States would wait to see how a new round of inspections were faring, Mr. Powell said: "We understand that it will take time and the president understands that means that we will have to wait for them to do their work and complete their report." When UN inspectors report, the United States would take part in a Security Council debate on what to do next and could work for a second resolution authorizing force. But TeamBush refuses to be bound by the UN: The United States reserves the right to take action against Iraq without UN approval if the Security Council refuses to respond to a clear Iraqi violation of the UN disarmament requirements.

Tim Graham Tim is a former WORLD reporter.


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