Today's Papers

Night of the Leaving Ted

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with follow-up to the State of the Union: There’s a lot of rhetoric but no real developments. USA Today leads with AOL Time Warner’s $45.5 billion fourth-quarter write-off, which was done to reflect the newly svelte value of the America Online division. Also, Ted Turner, the company’s largest individual stockholder, announced that he’s stepping down as vice chairman.

President Bush continued to hammer the alleged connection between Saddam and AQ. “There’s now a shadowy terrorist network which [Saddam] could use as a forward army,” said Bush, “attacking his worst enemy and never leave a fingerprint behind, with deadly, deadly weapons.” The LAT and NYT both have relatively skeptical pieces about the allegations. The NYT says most of the evidence is “ambiguous.” The LAT has a harsher assessment, saying the renewed charges “puzzled” intel officials.

There’s lots of attention given to Powell’s pending Feb. 5 presentation, so it’s useful that the Post reminds about another important date: Feb. 14, when Blix and Co. are scheduled to give another (final?) update. The WP also plays up skepticism from some unnamed foreign diplomats who fret that Powell isn’t planning to say much new. “If you want to give intelligence information that could be decisive to votes,” said one ambassador, “you don’t do that in public.”

The Post goes above-the-fold with word from anonymous Jordanian diplomats that U.S. planes will be able to use Jordanian airspace and U.S. troops will be able to launch search-and-rescue missions from the country, but large-scale deployment of GIs is not going to happen. The officials said they want to avoid any high-profile American presence so as not to upset citizens. Of course, if that doesn’t work, Jordan has a backup plan. According to the Post, “The government has sent clear signals to opposition parties and unions that it will not tolerate large protests.”

The Wall Street Journal goes up high with an open letter  from eight European countries expressing support for the U.S. position on Iraq and implicitly dissing France’s stance. The letter, which is running in various papers, including the Journal, was signed by the leaders of Spain, Britain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Portugal. It concludes, “We are confident that the Security Council will face up to its responsibilities.”

AOL’s loss this past quarter means the company put itself in the hole last year to the tune of $98.7 billion—a record! The NYT, which plays the story on Page One, says in its 26th paragraph that the “accounting charges are largely symbolic, and investors usually ignore them.” Meanwhile, the papers dive into the scuttlebutt on Turner, explaining that he’s bummed that AOL’s pathetic stock performance has cost him billions and that he’s ticked off about the dumbification of CNN, particularly, says the NYT, “with Connie Chung’s new program.”

The NYT reefers U.S. officials’ conclusion that Indonesian soldiers murdered two American teachers last August. Indonesia’s military had blamed pro-independence rebels. “There is no question there was military involvement,” said a “senior administration official.” “There is no question it was premeditated.” This probably decreases the likelihood that the U.S. will resume military aid to Indonesia, which some in the administration have advocated doing; but who knows, the article skips the issue.

Everybody follows up on Bush’s AIDS proposal: The Post and NYT both focus on what caused the “remarkable turnabout” (WP): Bush essentially became convinced it was a moral imperative. The papers also say that since many evangelical Christians have taken up the cause, it is also good politics. The Journal, meanwhile, plays up negative reaction to the announcement, saying that “health activists” were skeptical about the proposal once they looked at the details. The plan is actually less generous than a bipartisan bill—sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist—that passed the Senate last year but has languished in the House. Critics also complained that the plan doesn’t cover China and India, where AIDS is booming. Meanwhile, USAT headlines: “AIDS ADVOCATES PRAISE BUSH’S $15 BILLION PROPOSAL.”

The Post, alone among the papers, fronts the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that the federal deficit will be $199 billion this year, a third more than the office projected five months ago.

The Post has another one of its clear-as-can-be corrections: “A column about President Bush’s State of the Union Address in some editions of the Jan. 29 Style section misrepresented part of the speech. The president said the British government has learned that Iraq recently attempted to acquire significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” So, what was the mistake?