The front page of Sunday's Los Angeles Times raised an intriguing question of the kind rarely examined on the network news: Should the United States use nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf War?

"If American losses were to mount into the thousands, and Iraq were to use chemical or nuclear weapons, President Bush would come under pressure to drop a nuclear bomb on Baghdad -- or to use smaller, tactical nuclear weapons -- to save lives and shorten the war," reporter Robert C. Toth wrote.

A review of several days' coverage by one newspaper (the Los Angeles Times) and one network (NBC News) suggests that their styles are as different as Scuds and Patriots. Although slower and heavier, the Times maintained air supremacy in terms of journalistic payload -- Sunday's four-pound paper delivered 20 war stories in the A section alone -- although readers may have had difficulty digging out from such a bombardment. NBC, of course, offered greater immediacy and emotional impact.

In terms of front-page news -- two more U.S. warplanes shot down, new Iraqi missile attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia, another Marine killed, possibly by "friendly fire" -- Sunday's L.A. Times offered little that NBC's viewers had not seen the night before. With most reporters in Saudi Arabia working off the same briefings and pool reports, their handling of daily developments can be strikingly similar.

Yet for both newspapers and television, the now-familiar drumbeat of bombing raids and troop movements has become less compelling than stories that graphically portray the human, military or political dimensions of the war.

The most haunting image on "NBC Nightly News" emerged from what newspapers call a "sidebar" story -- Martin Fletcher covering a Palestinian family living under Israeli curfew on the West Bank. The opening shot was a Mickey Mouse doll wearing a black gas mask. Then the camera pulled back to reveal a toddler who takes the mask off his doll and puts it on when the air raid sirens sound.

"That is more important that telling us that nine missiles fell and here's the rubble," says Steve Friedman, executive producer of "Nightly News."

In the first days of the war, Friedman says, "every time there was a siren, we went out. We've figured out that's not really the way to go. That's what CNN is for. They're doing play-by-play. We're trying to provide a real context."

Providing context was once the exclusive domain of newspapers, which are doomed to lag hours behind the news. Now everyone is playing the game.

Saturday Night Friedman is making a virtue of necessity in playing down the importance of combat footage, because the networks face at least a 14-hour delay in transmitting videotape from the front lines. Brad Willis's report on the fierce battle for the Saudi town of Khafji opened with pictures taken four days earlier ("29 JAN, 23:15 HOURS" flashed on the screen) and ended with two-day-old footage. Viewers already knew the outcome.

Still, the pictures were dramatic -- charred Iraqi tanks, black smoke rising over the flat horizon, a crew-cut Marine who said he was "scared to death" while hiding in an abandoned building. There was dimly lighted footage of Willis with helmet and goggles inside a tent, the urgent sound of machine-gun fire.

"What you're hearing is incoming firing onto our position," he said softly.

Sunday If television provides a grunt's-eye view, the L.A. Times paints the big picture, often in dark hues that clash with upbeat military assessments. Reporters John M. Broder and Melissa Healy quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying that a U.S. warplane sent to destroy the Iraqi information ministry had mistakenly bombed a building across the street.

"It could have been a grocery store for all I know. ... We knew from the beginning that we would injure and kill people we weren't all that angry with, and that's just an unfortunate part of the operation," the official said.

The Times's Sunday package included reports on possible defects in the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicles; a Navy admiral ordering stepped-up efforts to weed out lesbians; feelings of isolation among gay partners of soldiers; the war's impact on Norfolk, home of the world's largest naval base; the military's credibility gap with the media; the impact of CNN on the Arab world; Jordan burying its casualties; the West Bank curfew; and the massive oil slick reaching the Saudi coast.

Times Editor Shelby Coffey III says his goal is "to give the reader an ability to look at, sort out, compare and contrast, whereas television, which has considerable power, is here and gone. Newspapers have a strength in what computer people call the ability of random access. If you want to read about just one aspect of the war -- what's happening to military families in San Diego -- you can do that. In television, you have to wade through many minutes of other things."

The Times is publishing half-page graphics ("Attacking a Tank" was Sunday's effort) and small boxes crammed with factoids (U.S. troops are learning such Arabic phrases as "lay down your weapons"). The paper also runs a daily column called "TV and the Gulf War," and has borrowed a staple of network coverage -- the armchair general -- in running regular analysis by retired Col. Harry Summers Jr.

On "Sunday Today," anchor Garrick Utley asked retired Gen. William Odom when he believed the ground war would start. "Two or three days plus or minus, the 15th of February," Odom predicted with military precision.

The morning show featured more than its share of talking heads -- expert Gary Sick on Iran's role, John Dancy with the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ed Rabel on diplomatic rumblings in Tehran. More talking heads followed with Budget Director Richard Darman on "Meet the Press."

At dinner time, Utley was back with the latest headlines: "Good evening. An American B-52 bomber has crashed in the war. ... Confirmation that eight of the first American casualties to die in the ground war were killed by mistake by U.S. weapons." These would be front-page stories in the next morning's Times.

Most of the broadcast was routine: There was Willis again with sand-swept footage from Saudi Arabia, and Rabel with diplomatic non-developments in Tehran.

But the show also produced one of those indelible images of war. Reporter Bill Lagattuta showed footage of an unidentified American woman whose husband was killed in the war last week. She struggled to speak after bursting into tears. "Her grief was almost unwatchable," Lagattuta told viewers. Television showed it anyway.

Monday The Times scooped the tube with a Reuter dispatch from Iraq, cleared by Iraqi censors, describing how two streets near a communications tower had been reduced to rubble. "They bombed without mercy," an Egyptian hotel manager was quoted as saying. "They hit the hotel, full of families, and then they came back to hit it again."

With all the networks except CNN barred from Baghdad, NBC would not catch up until evening, when pictures of the devastation became available.

The Times served up a 16-story news smorgasbord, ranging from propaganda on Baghdad Radio to the love life of women soldiers. ("It's better than for men, but perhaps only because there are 100 men for every six women in the military," wrote reporter John Balzar.)

As if to underscore television's dominance, the paper had one story on Darman's comments on "Meet the Press" and another on the televised image war. The Times quoted NBC's Pentagon reporter, Fred Francis, on why Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell felt compelled to brief an increasingly restive press corps last week.

"This was a political decision to feed the {media} animals," Francis said.

On the "Today" show, the war was distilled into a few minutes of snippets -- the first use of naval guns, two soldiers injured in a bus attack, an update on the B-52 crash, Rabel in Tehran. By now, loyal viewers may have had a feeling of CNN-itis.

"The immediacy of the story has faded somewhat," says Brookings Institution analyst Stephen Hess. "Turning it on and finding out whether one or three Scud missiles landed yesterday becomes less important. The events off the main story become more interesting. When you want detail and analysis, you go to print."

Monday was a slow day, so "Nightly News" led off with speculation --

Rabel on Iran's future role, Dancy on postwar plans for the region. Willis again recapped the battle for Khafji (using the same sound bite that was first shown Saturday from the Marine who said he was "scared to death").

But an expanded, hour-long format made room for two illuminating reports -- Robert Bazell on development of a new LANTIRN targeting system for nighttime bombing, and Ann Curry on the anguish of a black Chicago pastor who had urged impoverished young men to join the military.

"If we're doing who, what, when, where and why," Friedman says, "the 'what' is almost the least important. It's not just CNN, it's all-news radio, it's people with computers in the office. It's not like the old days, where people had to wait until 6:30 or 7 p.m. to find out what happened that day."

Tuesday The Times's lead story quoted Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston as saying that even though Saddam Hussein is hiding military equipment in residential neighborhoods, the United States will "continue to scrupulously adhere to our policy that we will not target civilian areas."

But on "Today," reporter Katherine Couric declared that Pentagon officials "will not hesitate" to continue such bombing, "even if it does mean targeting civilian areas."

The fog of conflicting media reports was back. But that story was quickly superseded by Bush's televised news conference, the one event virtually guaranteed to dominate both newspapers and television for the next 24 hours.