Today's Papers

Walker’s Long Walk

The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Today all lead with news that the Senate unanimously passed a tough Democrat-sponsored bill to reform corporate accounting practices. Among other changes, the bill mandates the creation of an independent board to oversee the accounting industry and limits the amount of consulting work accounting companies can do. USAT concludes that the bill could amount to the biggest overhaul of accounting industry regs since the Depression. The Los Angeles Times leads with the announcement of a surprise deal in the trial of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh: He pleaded guilty to two felonies—working with the Taliban, and carrying an “explosive device” (grenades) while doing so—and will be sentenced to 20 years in prison. The government dropped all other charges, including the one that he conspired to kill Americans. 

The WSJ emphasizes that the Senate reform bill didn’t include a much-argued-about provisions limiting the practice of granting stock options to top execs. The bill will now be sent to a joint House-Senate conference committee where it will be jibed with the more industry-friendly House bill. Then, as everybody notes, President Bush will sign whatever comes out, even though it will probably go beyond the reforms he has called for.

The NYT’s lead editorial points to Coca-Cola’s decision to list stock options as expenses and concludes, sorta snobbishly, that Bush and Congress “ought to be embarrassed that it took a soft-drink company to lead the charge.”

The LAT and WP’s editorials savage Bush. The former is headlined “OUR AWOL PRESIDENT.” The latter reads “MR. BUSH’S EMPTY RHETORIC.”

Everybody notes that yesterday the Dow dived more than 400 points before having a huge bounce-back in the last 90 minutes and closing 45 points down.

The papers generally agree that the Lindh plea bargain is a solid deal for both sides. The government, according to experts cited in the dailies, would have had a hard time proving that he actually conspired to kill Americans. Lindh, for his part, gets the possibility of an eventual life outside the slammer.

Lindh, as the papers point out, also agreed to cooperate with investigators. “I think his bottom-up perspective can be helpful,” one lawyer in the Pentagon told the Post. “Even a basic organization chart—we don’t have that.” (Really? The Post gives no indication that it double-checked that.)

The WP quotes some legal experts as saying that the decision may make it more likely that terrorism cases will be tried in civilian courts. But the paper also quotes Yale law professor Ruth Wedgwood who says that’s not so. The Post IDs Wedgwood as a law prof “who has advised the Bush administration on its conduct of the war.” As Today’s Papers has pointed out, the papers quote Wedgwood frequently. Yet from a glance at the archives, it looks like they rarely mention the connection.

The WP and NYT both go high with word that the White House plans to detail its wide-ranging domestic security strategy today (beyond just the creation of the proposed new security department). It’ll include a call for national driver’s license standards and a proposal to create teams to probe security at vulnerable facilities across the country. The NYT, which has the more thorough analysis, concludes that it’s “questionable” whether Congress will implement the plan.

According to a fronted LAT headline “SHIITE LEADER SAYS IRAQI OPPOSITION IS OPEN TO U.S. HELP IN TOPPLING HUSSEIN.” The subhead clarifies that the opposition wants “air support, not an invasion.” As the paper explains in the second paragraph, the leader “opposes a full-blown U.S. invasion.” So, how about “IRAQI OPPOSITION LEADER OPPOSES U.S. INVASION”?

In the form of what appears to be a news article inside the WP, White House reporter Dana Milbank thwacks his handlers and grumbles: “White House reporters have grown tired of constant fights over access to information and bored by the administration’s sanitized version of events.”

The NYT’s op-ed page double-teams in digging up dirt on Bush’s role as one of the owners of the Texas Rangers. Columnist Paul Krugman points out that when the Rangers were sold in the mid-1990s, Bush’s 1.9 percent share was worth $2.9 million, yet his co-owners gave him $14.9 million. In other words, Krugman says, “A group of businessmen, presumably with some interest in government decisions, gave a sitting governor a $12 million gift. Shouldn’t that have raised a few eyebrows?”

Meanwhile, Krugman’s teammate Nicholas Kristof says that Bush and his partners used their government connections to get property that they wanted to buy condemned, and thus would get it on the cheap. “Even Kazakhstan would blush at such practices,” says Kristof, who calls it a “sordid tale of cronyism, of misuse of power, of cozy backroom, [and] of money-grubbing.” Kristof also happens to mention something that could explain the $12 mil payoff that Krugman considers scandal-worthy: “Bush did a great job leading the owners’ group.”