Today's Papers

Going Cold Turkey

The Washington Post leads with, and the LAT and NYT front, Turkey’s election, in which voters overwhelmingly kicked out the ruling party—it didn’t even get 10 percent of the vote—and elected a reformist party led by an Islamic moderate. The New York Times leads with an overview of the coming congressional elections andsays that Republicans will probably keep control of the House and maybe even gain a few seats. USA Today leads with a poll suggesting that, overall, voters may be leaning more toward Republicans than Democrats. The Los Angeles Timeslead   tries to put a new hook on a story that’s almost become an evergreen: Despite the White House’s continuing assertions to the contrary, Saddam and al-Qaida aren’t known to be linked, at least that’s what European intel sources told the LAT. Even officials from the U.S.’s best buddy, Britain, say they haven’t found any links.   

Everybody struggles a bit to contextualize the Turkish elections. On the one hand, the winning party, the AKP, used to be part of a broad religious party, and AKP’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was jailed in 1999 for having written militant poetry—if there is such a thing. He once wrote, “Minarets are our bayonets. … Mosques are our barracks.” (Erdogan served time in the slammer for that and thus isn’t allowed to serve as prime minister; his party will need to pick a replacement.) On the other hand, the AKP ran on a pro-Western platform and has promised separation of mosque and state. “We see secularism as the guarantee of all the faiths,” said Erdogan, who explained that his party’s first priority will be to get Turkey into the European Union. Given all this, the Post’s early-edition headline seemed off-key: “TURKS VOTE FOR PARTY ROOTED IN ISLAM: Nation’s Secular Rule May Be Challenged.” The final edition does a better, though not perfect, job: “PARTY TIED TO ISLAM WINS BIG IN TURKEY: Key Ally of U.S. Has Long Secular Tradition.”

The papers all say that the AKP won not because it’s a religious party but because it’s viewed as competent and not corrupt and not the same guys who oversaw the tanking of Turkey’s economy. Last year, the country’s economy shrank 9 percent.Meanwhile, everybody notes that Turkey’s military, which has made a habit of keeping Islamic parties out of power, wasn’t thrilled with the electoral outcome.

The NYTimes’ lead spends a good amount of space detailing how Republicans might keep control of the House and pondering by what margin it may do so. Lost amid the numbers games, the article’s 24th paragraph notes: “Neither a modest Republican increase nor Democratic gains that fall short of control will have much effect on legislation in the House.”

USAT’s lead emphasizes that voters’ apparent swing toward Republicans is a recent change. When “likely voters” were asked which party’s local congressional candidate they would vote for if elections were held today, 51 percent said Republicans, 45 percent said Democrats. That’s a nine-point shift from just two weeks ago, when Dems led Republicans by 49 percent to 46 percent. But don’t read too much into that. Other recent polls have asked the same question and have gotten different answers. In fact, a piece inside the WP says that  according to a new Pew poll—that asked the same question that USAT’s poll did—the election is still a statistical dead heat: 46 percent of likely voters said they’ll go for a Democrat, 44 percent for a Republican. The Post also points out that such so-called generic polls are really a rough tool and aren’t very useful when you have a few deciding races that are still close.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the pharmaceutical industry has launched a pre-election advertising blitz, at least $16 million, to help Republicans gain control of Congress.

A front-page piece in the Post looks at Georgia’s snazzy new voting system, the most advanced in the country. Every polling place has been equipped with laptop-looking touch-screen devices that will, theoretically, make it easier to vote and eliminate counting issues. Of course, even if the devices work flawlessly, forcing every Georgian to be an early-adopter has its risks. “People are going to play with the machines,” said one engineer, “and voting time is going to be increased. It’s a new toy.”

The NYT  off-leads  former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to accept the role of foreign minister if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agrees to call for new elections soon. In any new election, Netanyahu, who is to the right of the right-wing Sharon, is expected to challenge Sharon. Meanwhile, Sharon is still negotiating with a number of far-right parties to help him form a new government coalition.

The LAT, alone among the papers, fronts news that Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said yesterday that his country won’t allow the U.S. to use Saudi bases or have fly-over rights for any invasion of Iraq, even if the invasion is sanctioned by the U.N. The U.S. does have other basing options, namely in Qatar.

The LAT notices a new study that found that people with severe back pain felt 3 times worse when their spouses were in the room and tried to soothe them. It’s not that the sufferers hated their loved ones, it’s that—as many people who have seen a small child trip have suspected—humans feel more pain when others take notice. Or, as one researcher put it, “The solicitous spouse has become a cue for a more intense pain experience.”