Today's Papers

The Bad News Bombers

The Washington Postleads with claims from Afghan villagers detained by the United States—and since released—that American soldiers beat and kicked them when Special Ops forces attacked some buildings in their town last month. The Afghans also said that they were beaten some more after they were captured, including with rifle butts. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the Pentagon’s high hopes that the former Taliban foreign minister, who was captured over the weekend, will hand over useful intel about the whereabouts of his former colleague, Mullah Omar, and other co-workers. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a check-in on the battle to pass the “broadest overhaul of the nation’s campaign laws in a quarter century.” The paper says that at this point the vote is too close to call. The New York Timesleads with some evidence that more Americans are choosing to become teachers. For example, the number of applicants to Teach for America has doubled in the last year. The NYT attributes the increase to the recession and post-Sept. 11 “soul-searching.” USA Todayleads with an unconvincing report headlined: ECSTASY GROWS AS DANGER TO TEENS.

According to the first sentence in USAT’s piece, “The number of teenagers using the club drug Ecstasy could double in five years and is rising at such an alarming rate that leading anti-drug advocates will launch a campaign against it today.” Never mind that a campaign by anti-drug advocates is not exactly rock-solid proof of an E-epidemic. The evidence for that supposed trend is a report, whose age the paper leaves unclear, from the advocates mentioned above. Moreover, the article’s last paragraph contradicts the thesis that Ecstasy use is skyrocketing: “John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, notes that one recent study on Ecstasy use suggested that it could be leveling off.”

The NYT and LAT also front the allegations of abuse in Afghanistan. According to an Afghan quoted by the Post, who said two of his ribs were broken by American soldiers,“They were punching us with fists, kicking me with their feet. They said, ‘You are terrorist! You are al-Qaida! You are Taliban!’”

According to the WP, one witness saidthat“he saw eight bodies of men who had been handcuffed.” The paper doesn’t add any context or additional information, leaving readers to believe that perhaps the men were executed. The LAT, which also notes the handcuffs on the dead men, says, “No evidence of executions has arisen here. Rather, the U.S. soldiers may have handcuffed anyone who appeared to be wounded or dead so they could move on quickly.” (Quibble with the LAT’s version: What does it mean that “no evidence of executions has arisen”? If the paper interviewed witnesses who denied that there were executions, it should say so.) 

The Post and LAT both do a better job than the does NYT in making clear that many were beaten after they had been subdued and tied up.

None of the papers explains the circumstances around which it interviewed the villagers. But it seems clear there was some sort of press event to get the story out: The three papers all carry similar quotes from many of the same sources.

The WP appears to have scored a scoop after reporter Doug Struck hoofed it into the area of last week’s missile strike against suspected al-Qaida members. He reports that villagers in the area say the missile strike there didn’t kill any al-Qaida troops and instead hit three local men who had been gathering scrap metal.

Struck—who says that U.S. soldiers were surprised to see him all the way out there—reports that the GIs blocked him from visiting the actual site of the strike and refused to let him visit the village where the three men lived.

“This is an ongoing military operation,” the soldiers’ commanding officer told Struck. “If you go further, you would be shot.”

The Post says that both locals and the Pentagon continue to believe that al-Qaida forces are still hiding in the area where the missile struck, around Khost.

The paper adds to the impression that the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan need to work on their listening skills. “There’s no communication with the Americans,” said the region’s governor. “We are happy that they came, and we are ready to help them. But the people are starting to get angry at them.”

Palestinian gunmen killed two female Israeli soldiers yesterday. In retaliation, Israeli F-16s bombed a police building near Yasser Arafat’s headquarters.

USAT says that President Bush could be a big winner if the campaign finance bill is passed. That’s because, though the bill curtails some types of donations, it allows individuals to give up to $6,000 to a candidate—that’s six times more than is currently allowed. And Bush is the king of individual donations; he set a record for them during the last election. 

The LAT, in the middle of its lead on campaign finance, takes a moment to issue some firm declarations about how Washington would change if the bill does pass: “Would reform favor one party over the other? Hard to say. Would it be easier for challengers to unseat incumbents? Also unclear. Would it reduce the influence of big donors? Probably, to a degree.”

Everybody goes high with Ken Lay’s announcement—through a personal spokesperson—that the former Enron chairman plans to take the Fifth when he appears before Congress on Tuesday. (One assumes the spokesperson is working pro-bono for the supposedly cash-strapped Lay.)  

The WP’s media writer, Howard Kurtz, says that Enron’s hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle, hasn’t exactly nailed a Pulitzer with its scandal coverage. As one story in the paper reported, “Overdue. Appropriate. Best for the company. Those were the thoughts of some former Enron employees on Ken Lay’s resignation…. Respected. Upstanding. Personable.”