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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
US headlines turn to Bin Laden
New York Daily News front page on Osama Bin Laden
Some papers had their own message for the al-Qaeda leader
Pictures of Osama Bin Laden dominated the front pages of US newspapers on Saturday, replacing shots of the presidential candidates, three days before the election.

As the papers reported the content of a new video - apparently showing Bin Laden alive and well recently - commentators and analysts considered the timing and possible impact on the White House race.

The San Jose Mercury News in California called it "Bin Laden's chilling message", reporting that the al-Qaeda leader took responsibility for the first time for the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people.

It added that he said he was appealing directly to Americans, but said the video was aired on the Arabic al-Jazeera channel at a time when many Arabs would also have been watching.

"Intelligence analysts said Bin Laden's message contained powerful cues for his fellow Arabs," the Mercury News reported.

"In addition to wearing the gold robe, Bin Laden spoke as the leader of a rival power to the United States, not as a hunted man, they said."

Boost for Bush?

The Washington Post was among those papers saying that the impact of the tape on the election was uncertain.

While everyone has been waiting for an "October surprise" that might swing voters one way or the other, Bin Laden's message was not the type either campaign had in mind, reporter Dana Milbank said.

Republicans argued - and some Democrats privately agreed - that the videotape would revive Americans' fears of terrorism, an issue on which Bush is strongest
Dana Milbank,
Washington Post
"As Bush and Kerry responded with dignified statements of unity against Osama Bin Laden, the two campaigns struggled to game out their reactions, and to figure out how such a surreal event - the feared, ghostly image returning to Americans' TV screens after a long absence - would alter Tuesday's outcome," he wrote.

"Some Democrats held out hope that the reappearance of Bin Laden would remind Americans that Bush still had not caught the arch villain, and lend legitimacy to Kerry's argument that Bush allowed the United States to get distracted in Iraq.

"But Republicans argued - and some Democrats privately agreed - that the videotape would revive Americans' fears of terrorism, an issue on which Bush is strongest. "

The Chicago Sun Times' message was blunt. Its front page was taken up almost entirely with a still from the video and the headline "Osama messes with the election".

The paper's Washington bureau chief, Lynn Sweet, said in a commentary that the tape had come too late in the campaign for much change of direction by the candidates. But it may tip the scales in favour of the president.

"You might think that Bin Laden bursting on the scene automatically helps Kerry because of the reminder of how Bush failed to hunt him down, as he said so famously, 'dead or alive'," she wrote.

"But if the final conversation in the weekend before Election Day is about terrorism, the advantage most likely falls to the president. While polls show Bush and Kerry in an overall tie, Bush does better with likely voters on questions having to do with terrorism."

Manhattan anger

In New York, the city that was the primary target of the 11 September attacks, there was a range of opinion.

New York Times correspondent Adam Nagourney noted that news of the video came out on a Friday afternoon, typically the time when experienced politicians try to sneak out bad news they hope will not be noticed too much over the following weekend.

We know he hasn't gone away... and we know he's going to end up dead... and he does too
New York Post editorial
But he said it brought the end of the campaign back to where it began - national security and whether Mr Kerry can compete with Mr Bush on that stage.

"With all his 'bring it ons' and Vietnam talk, Mr Kerry may have thought he had vaulted that hurdle. Mr Bin Laden's weekend re-emergence will put that to a final test," Nagourney wrote.

The New York Post ran a Halloween headline "Trick or Treat" and decided that the video was an endorsement for Mr Kerry in all but name.

"Clearly, yesterday's tape was meant to influence Tuesday's US election - much as al-Qaeda caused Spain to show yellow in the War on Terror - though it remains that it was only a tape," its editorial said.

"There was no Madrid-like terror bombing in America, but you can bet your last dollar that Osama and his bloody-handed henchmen wouldn't hesitate to attempt one if they thought for even a moment that they could get away with it.

"Indeed, they've failed to pull off any such strike on US soil since 9/11.

"Thank President Bush - and the US military - for that."

The New York Daily News had its own messages for Bin Laden. "Butt out", it said in a front-page headline. "Osama rants in pre-election tape - Bush, Kerry tell him to stuff it".

In an editorial, the paper said Bin Laden's video or "attention-seeking behaviour" seemed less of an attempt to influence the election and more just a reminder that he was still around.

"We know he hasn't gone away. We know good and well he's still out there plotting unpleasant things, to whatever degree he's still able to do that on the run every day with what scattered lieutenants he's got left," it said.

"And we know he's going to end up dead. And he does too.

"The American people aren't impressed with the scarecrow act. Trust us on that one, Osama."

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