"Bush Orders 200,000 More Troops to Gulf," The Washington Post declared yesterday. "120,000 More Troops Ordered to Gulf," said USA Today. The New York Times put the deployment at "more than 150,000." The Los Angeles Times went further in a front-page banner, "U.S. Will Double Force in Gulf," pegging the increase at 240,000 troops.

What gives?

The problem for news organizations covering President Bush's announcement is that neither he nor Defense Secretary Dick Cheney would say precisely how many troops would be added to the 230,000 American servicemen already in Saudi Arabia. But they did list the Army, Marine and Air Force divisions, aircraft carriers and other units that would be dispatched.

"You had to sit there and add up how many men are normally in each operation," says Ann Devroy, a White House correspondent for The Post. "You had to spend a lot of time with a calculator."

Jack Nelson, the Los Angeles Times's bureau chief here, says his defense reporter, John Broder, "talked to Pentagon officials and they added it up for him." He says military officials "ought to just go ahead and say how many they're sending. It is sort of game-playing."

But Cheney insisted the administration would not give out specific numbers until "troops arrive in theater" and "are deemed combat-ready and become part of the force."

There was even a lack of unanimity among family members: While Devroy went with the 200,000 figure, her husband, Baltimore Sun correspondent Mark Matthews, was more cautious, saying the additional troop levels "could reach" about 170,000.

The Mort Zuckerman Story By any standard, the profile of developer-publisher Mortimer Zuckerman in the latest GQ magazine is less than flattering.

Author Alicia Mundy, an editor at Regardie's magazine, writes that Zuckerman "dates with a vengeance, shiksas and status symbols." She describes one "flavor of the month," Diane von Furstenberg, "slithering up Mort's arm."

Mundy says Zuckerman told her he doesn't like giving interviews to female reporters because "they all ask the same thing: Why is a man like me not married. ... All they really want to know is why aren't I married to them."

The media buzz over the story quickly took a hostile turn. According to recent items in Newsweek and the New York Daily News, some of Zuckerman's friends are questioning whether "Mensch-Child in the Promised Land" contains a whiff of antisemitism. They point to Mundy's references to "Mort the Jew and Mort the WASP" and analogies to Duddy Kravitz, the fictional character who tries to escape Montreal's Jewish ghetto.

Edward Kosner, editor of New York magazine and a longtime Zuckerman friend, says he told GQ Editor Arthur Cooper that the article seemed "preoccupied" with Zuckerman's Jewishness. Kosner calls the profile "vile and despicable. ... It's what used to be called a hatchet job, and it wasn't even deftly done."

Cooper dismisses the antisemitism charge as "absolute nonsense," saying of the article, "If I thought it was unfair, I wouldn't have published it."

Zuckerman, who owns U.S. News & World Report and the Atlantic, is known for complaining about stories he regards as unfavorable. Before Mundy's profile was published, Zuckerman "barraged me with phone calls, letters and faxes complaining about the writer and the article," Cooper said in an editor's note.

Zuckerman complained that Mundy "was talking to his friends without his permission," Cooper says. "I said, 'Mort, that's what reporters do... . Why don't you cooperate with the profile?' "

After the story appeared, Cooper says, Fred Drasner, president of U.S. News, wrote a letter charging that the article was "one-sided" and "a piece of trash."

Mundy says sources told her that Zuckerman himself uses terms like "shiksa" and that the criticism "just looks stupid when you consider the two editors I dealt with are in fact Jewish." She says Zuckerman "didn't have any way to deflect the really dreadful things that are in there. He can't come back and say 'this is wrong.' ... . The word 'whiner' might apply."

Author David Halberstam, who is quoted in GQ as calling Zuckerman "a Jewish Gatsby," says the recent criticism is "a stupid flap deliberately orchestrated by friends of the Z-Man." He calls Mundy's story "an unattractive piece about an unattractive person."

Zuckerman said through U.S. News spokeswoman Kathy Bushkin that the article wasn't worth commenting on. Bushkin says Mundy was "let go" from U.S. News last year and that "we find it surprising that they chose to print the article but not disclose that fact to the readers." The article noted that Mundy left U.S. News when her investigative unit was disbanded; Mundy says she was offered another position but left because she was "disgusted" with the magazine.

"Even if she was fired it doesn't make a difference, as long as she doesn't have some sort of personal vendetta," Cooper says. "It's something of a smear."

Halloween Surprise It seemed an unusually grisly crime: The city attorney of Piggott, Ark., attacked and castrated at his home by a costumed assailant on Halloween night. Darvin Stow, the sheriff of Clay County, told a local reporter that "we're going on the theory that it is a paid job."

The story was broadcast throughout the region and made the front page of the Daily American Republic in nearby Poplar Bluff, Mo. But the next morning it turned out to have been a hoax staged by police.

"I was madder than hell," says Stan Berry, editor of the Daily American Republic. "You wouldn't really expect the county sheriff to lie to you and to go into such detail while he's doing it... . I had no idea we were being had."

The sting was intended to convince a suspect -- who allegedly paid a police informant $4,000 for the job -- that the Piggott attorney had been castrated and his arms broken, authorities said. Local officials, along with Missouri and Arkansas state troopers, cut the phone lines to the city attorney's home, rushed an impostor to the hospital and put out the news on police scanners. Authorities said Harold Speer of Greenway, Ark., who had represented the attorney's ex-wife in a 1985 divorce, was charged with assault, conspiracy and burglary.

When he learned of the hoax, Berry says, "I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach and my red hair started to flame a little. I just don't think there's any justification for deceiving the public."

Stow did not return phone calls. Berry, who denounced the sting in an editorial, said the sheriff never contacted the paper to apologize.