Today's Papers

Bye Bye, Benny

The New York Times leads, and the Wall Street Journal (online) tops its world-wide newsbox with, the collapse of Israel’s governing coalition. The Washington Post leads with former Vice President Walter Mondale’s formal entry into Minnesota’s Senate race. According to local polls, Mondale has an eight-point lead over the GOP nominee, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. The leads also fold in follow-up to Tuesday’s very political memorial for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone: Gov. Jesse Ventura, who was so angered he walked out of the event, said he may appoint an Independent rather than a Democrat to fill out the last few days of Wellstone’s term. USA Today leads with a warning: With so many congressional races so close, Americans should be prepared for at least one very long night of uncertainty. There are other factors contributing to that worry: The Senate race in Minnesota, for example, will have to be counted by hand, because there wasn’t enough time to print proper ballots. The Los Angeles Times leads with a consultant’s special on the California governor’s race: According to the paper, Republican challenger Bill Simon’s camp is split about whether to go way negative against Gov. Gray Davis in the last few days of the campaign.  

As expected, Israel’s center-left Labor party, led by Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, pulled out of the country’s governing coalition yesterday, ostensibly over a dispute about how much money to allocate to settlements. But as everybody points out, the dispute was over a relatively tiny amount of money and seems more like a crisis manufactured  by Ben-Eliezer to show his independence before any elections. The LAT says up high that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose conservative Likud party doesn’t have enough votes to form a government on its own, is leaning toward inviting a few small far-right parties into a new coalition. If that happens, say the papers, it could dim the prospects for a negotiated peace deal.

In a scathing scoop, the NYT says that shortly beforeWilliam Webster was appointed to head the SEC’s new accounting oversight board, he told SEC chairman Harvey Pitt that he had recently headed the auditing board of a company that’s being sued for fraud. Webster says Pitt told him that his people had checked it out and it wasn’t a problem. But the NYT says that Pitt didn’t tell any of the SEC’s four commissioners before they voted on Webster’s nomination. Nor, says the Times, does it seem that Pitt or any of his staff contacted the players in the dispute to look into the possible merit of the accusations. According to the Times, after outside auditors hired by the company flagged some iffy accounting practices, they were fired by Webster’s auditing committee. (Midway through the article, the Times notes the company’s alibi arguing that the two things aren’t related.) Meanwhile, investors have filed lawsuits alleging accounting fraud that happened after the auditing firm was fired and while Webster was still on the board.

The WP fronts word that authorities now think that a third person may have been involved in the shooting in Montgomery, Ala., that’s been linked to the two suspected snipers. Investigators explained that they’ve matched the Bushmaster XM-15 sniper rifle to the Montgomery shooting, but none of the witnesses recall seeing either Allen Muhammad or John Lee Malvo with it. They also point out that a blue car, perhaps Muhammad’s Caprice, was seen at the scene and cut off police, but that neither Muhammad nor Malvo appears to have been the driver. Meanwhile, the Post says that since Malvo is a juvenile his court proceedings are being held behind closed doors, although the paper adds that it has filed a petition opposing that.

The WP off-leads—and the NYT stuffs—the follow-up and response to yesterday’s report in the NYT that the feds messed things up by taking custody of Muhammad while he was speaking to local investigators. The Post quotes various sources as saying that the feds didn’t interrupt anything because they came in after Muhammad himself had ended the interrogation by invoking his right to speak with an attorney.

Everybody mentions that Russia has finally identified the gas it used to end the hostage crisis last weekend: It was, as expected, an opiate called fentanyl. Another two of the former hostages died yesterday from the effects of the gas, bringing the total to 118. 

The LAT and NYT both reefer the murder of Jason Mizell, known as Jam Master Jay of the pioneering rap group Run-DMC. Mizell, 37, was shot in a recording studio in New York. The shooters escaped, and there aren’t any details yet on a motive.

The LAT, alone the papers, fronts news of the European Union’s lawsuit against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds for allegedly knowingly selling smokes to the wrong crowd: No, not teenagers. Mobsters and drug traffickers, who in turn used the cigs to launder money.