Today's Papers

Bin Hiding

USA Today’s lead says that Al Jazeera has aired a recently recorded audio tape that has Osama Bin Laden’s voice on it. While the other papers quote officials saying the voice is “probably” Bin Laden’s, USAT quotes officials being more certain: “It’s bin Laden,” said one person who was involved in analyzing the tape. “There’s no question.” The recording includes references to Russia’s theater hostage crisis, which ended just a few weeks ago. The Washington Post (online) and Los Angeles Times lead with word that key Democrats gave up their opposition to President Bush’s version of the Homeland Security bill, meaning the White House now has enough votes in the Senate to pass the measure. Much to the Dems’ dislike, the bill relaxes Civil Service rules in the new department, meaning managers will have a freer hand to promote and fire workers. The New York Times leads with news that accounting oversight board chief William Webster resigned yesterday. In an interview in yesterday’s WSJ,Webster basically said he was planning on doing that. The NYT, citing unnamed government officials, said that it might take months to get a new chairman.

Most of the papers portray the security bill agreement as a big victory for the GOP and a reflection of the administration’s post-election clout. Except for a few crumbs tossed to the Democrats, the bill has everything the GOP wanted. Given that, USAT’s coverage is off: Under the blasé headline, “DEAL SET ON HOMELAND DEPARTMENT,” the paper gets lazy and uncritically characterizes it as a “compromise.” The LAT,  meanwhile, doesn’t pussyfoot around: “BUSH’S SECURITY BILL FOES GIVE UP.”

About two-thirds of the way through its piece on the bill, the Post mentions something that deserves further attention: The revised bill doesn’t include a provision, as previous versions had, mandating an independent commission to look into 9/11-related intel failures. Why did the provision get taken out? Background: The White House had initially opposed such a commission, then agreed to it, then, according to a piece stuffed in the NYT last month, began to drag its feet.

The WP fronts what looks like a White House-sponsored scoop: According to unnamed administration officials, Pakistan helped North Korea with its nuke program—including the possible shipment of “nuclear material”—as recently as three months ago, much later than previously disclosed. The storymentions that while Pakistan’s President Musharraf has agreed to stop sending the stuff, the administration “questions whether he has full control of all entities that could be doing business with North Korea.” Given that some of those entities apparently have uranium, the question of Musharraf’s control seems worth a follow-up.

Following yesterday’s NYTreport that the Bush administration was concerned about Iraq’s order of a drug that can be used as an antidote against nerve gas, the Wall Street Journal says that U.S. officials on the U.N’s embargo committee actually approved previous orders of the drug. But because of recent changes to the embargo, the U.S. didn’t approve the latest order, which is the one that has administration officials worried, since it also included orders for auto-injectors, which apparently—the papers aren’t really clear on this—aren’t needed for non-nerve gas treatments.

Everybody goes inside with the growing student protests in Iran over the death sentence given a prominent professor convicted of insulting Islam. (The professor, who’s close to Iran’s reformist president, had publicly said that people should be allowed to interpret Islam as they see fit.) If the protests pick up, this should turn into front-page news. Look for the NYT to be first:  It’s currently the only major with a reporter filing from Iran.

A WSJ editorial focuses on one election result that hasn’t received much attention: Ninety-eight percent of incumbents in the House won re-election. The Journal attributes the high number to “bipartisan gerrymandering.” Four of the five seats that were won by less than 57 percent of the vote took place in Iowa, where (at it turns out) district lines were drawn by that rare thing, a non-partisan panel.

The LAT fronts, and the WSJ tops it world-wide newsbox with, the Iraqi Parliament’s vote urging Saddam to reject the new U.N. resolution on inspectors. As the LAT points out, the vote was “largely irrelevant” because, well, duh, Saddam is an absolute dictator. Or, as the LAT puts it, “the assembly acts on the president’s command.” Page One coverage of a non-event would normally be a no-no, but in this case it’s hard to blame the papers since they really just used it as a hook for wrap-up pieces summarizing developments regarding Iraq, a pretty important beat to cover.

On her way back from Saudi Arabia, the NYT’s Maureen Dowd does a stopover in London and files yet another thoughtful column on an important issue: “It’s intriguing to think what Shakespeare would have made of the Princess of Wales.” It is?