Today's Papers

States of Crisis

The Washington Post leads with a leak from “senior U.S. officials” saying that the National Security Council is recommending that President Bush present Saudi Arabia with an ultimatum: Either you go after specific Saudi terror financiers within 90 days or we will. The unnamed officials didn’t spell out what the U.S. might do if Saudi Arabia doesn’t deliver. The Los Angeles Times leads with a National Governors Association report concluding that states are “facing their worst budget crisis since World War II.” Taken together, states have a cumulative budget shortfall this year of nearly $50 billion. Every state but Vermont has laws requiring it to keep a balanced budget, so big cuts are on the way. USA Today leads with the federal prosecutors’ announcement that they have busted the nation’s largest known identify-theft operation; which allegedly stole the credit histories of some 30,000 people. Only $2.7 million is known to have been swiped, but that number is expected to mushroom as victims come forward. The New York Times leads with a catch-all on Iraq and headlines Iraqi officials’ contention that Iraq doesn’t have chemical or biological weapons. The statement wasn’t a formal declaration, so it doesn’t really mean much. (In fact, nobody else highlights it.)

The leak of a plan to press the Saudis comes, probably not coincidentally, on the heels of charges that Saudi Arabia hasn’t really cracked down on terror funding and that the administration has demurred from pushing the Saudis. Today’s WP piece says the administration is “still debating how to present its demands”: The WP mentions two options: The White House could send a Cabinet-level official to Saudi Arabia or it could give a letter to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador. Gee, isn’t there another possible delivery method? Say, to leak it to the WP?

Meanwhile, the LAT doesn’t seem to know anything about the potential get-tough approach: “U.S. STRONGLY DEFENDS SAUDIS IN FIGHT ON TERRORISM.”

The NYT fronts the results of a lengthy poll “intended to assess the dynamics of the midterm Congressional elections.” The results are mixed: President Bush’s ratings remain steady at 65 percent. And 51 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the GOP, while only 45 percent said the same about the Dems. (FYI: The NYT makes a big stink out of that last number. But just three weeks ago, the number of people who had a favorable opinion of Dems was 55 percent. Do people just like winners?) Anyway, only 37 percent of respondents said they were “pleased with the outcome of the election,” and many said they were opposed to various Republican initiatives, such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (55 percent don’t want that). By the way, the Times gets a super-sized gold star for posting the full poll results, complete with bonus historical data.

A few other poll tidbits: Former Vice Prez Al Gore got smacked, 62 percent of respondents said the Dems should nominate somebody else for 2004. Only 19 percent said they held a favorable view of him. (Meanwhile, according to the WP’s Lloyd Grove, Al and Tipper’s new book, Joined at the Heart, is currently ranked 1,514 on Amazon.) One bit of data that the article itself doesn’t mention: 48 percent of respondents said they didn’t vote.

Everybody goes high with President Bush’s signature on the bill creating the new Department of Homeland Security and the president’s nomination, as expected, of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head it. The NYT mentions that some Democrats charged that the administration wasn’t giving the new department sufficient funding for, among other things, safeguarding nuclear facilities. The Times plays the complaints as a “he said, she said” spat and moves on. Why not take a few sentences and give readers a sense of whether the charges have any merit?

The NY Times goes inside with some families of 9/11 victims complaining about the homeland security bill. They’re angry that neither the CIA nor FBI was folded into the agency. And they’re particularly peeved about the pork in the bill, especially a provision that limits the liability of airport-screening companies for any negligence they may have committed by letting the Sept. 11 hijackers bring box cutters aboard. Some families have been preparing to sue the companies over that issue.

Everybody mentions inside that Israeli soldiers fired on a group of Palestinian children throwing stones yesterday and killed an 8-year-old boy. Israeli officials said somebody in the crowd was throwing firebombs.

The WP fronts the FEC’s decision to let candidates running for Congress or president use campaign contributions to pay themselves. Commissioners had been deadlocked about such a deal for years but finally agreed to let candidates get paid what they made in their last job or the salary of the office for which they’re running, whichever is less. That soothed Republicans’ worries that people might use campaigns as a sort of personal full-employment act. The deal only happened because, as the NYT points out (and the WP doesn’t), one of the commissioners decided to vote for the agreement after other commissioners had promised to support one of his unrelated proposals. In other words, as the commissioner put it, “I was basically doing a little horse-trading.”