Today's Papers

Blair Switch Project

The Los Angeles Times leads with—and the Washington Post fronts—what both call a “shake-up” in the administration governing Iraq, where several officials appointed to reconstruct the country were abruptly reassigned amid swelling internal problems. The Post leads with word that the U.S. team leading the hunt for weapons of mass destruction is preparing to leave Iraq without finding any proof of the suspected outlawed arms. Going home empty-handed doesn’t look good for the Bush administration, since the suspected stockpile was a major reason they invaded in the first place. The New York Times leads with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to Jerusalem, where he called for compromise from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In a reflection of the awkwardness of the visit” Powell will not meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the paper notes.

According to early morning Reuters reports, Israeli police said Palestinian gunmen fatally shot the driver of an Israeli vehicle near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank just hours after Powell met with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

One of the key U.S. officials to be told to go home from Iraq is Barbara Bodine, an experienced diplomat. L. Paul Bremer III, a counterterrorism expert appointed by President Bush last week to run the reconstruction effort, will likely bring in his own officials and assert a different kind of management style in the region. Though the papers are vague on the reasons for Bodine’s departure, they mention she’s more of a diplomat than a manager. Reconstruction agency staffers seem wary of Bremer’s arrival, but hope that the situation will improve with the more assertive U.S. presence he’s expected to commence. “I don’t know if he’s a leader, but he’s a manager. And that’s what we need right now,” a “senior agency official” told the LAT.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, the U.S. group searching for WMD, is expected to leave Iraq next month, which the Post calls “a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.” A task force member tells the paper: “Do I know where they are? I wish I did … but we will find them. Or not. I don’t know. I’m being honest here.”

No one thinks the Middle East peace process will be any easier this time around. Powell has already told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the peace “road map” will not be revised to accommodate Israeli objections to granting Palestinians the right of return to their native areas they fled when Israel was founded. As the Post notes in an editorial about Powell’s visit, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas “may be powerless to take any of the steps Mr. Powell might ask of him; Mr. Sharon, in turn, may refuse even to do business with the American secretary of state.”

The hits keep on coming over at The New York Times. In a compelling front-page story, five reporters and “a team” of researchers piece together the plagiarism, fabrication, and deception by former reporter Jayson Blair in at least 36 articles (The Post summarizes the NYT’s story on its front page). His crimes are many, including copying other journalists’ material; making up interviews and scenes; charging hefty bar tabs to the company; and apparently lying about losing a family member in the 9/11 Pentagon attack to avoid work. Often his “reporting” consisted only of cell phone and laptop use to trick his editors into thinking he was on assignment when he was really in New York.

As troubling as the deceit is the apparent failure by Times management to catch this problem sooner. As early as April 2002, the Times’ metro editor wrote an e-mail to higher-ups warning of Blair’s lack of accuracy and professionalism: “We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now.” But Blair continued getting plum assignments. And editors didn’t notice the absence of travel receipts during the five months Blair was supposedly in 20 different cities.

In a special editors’ note, the Times apologizes to its readers and promises “a separate internal inquiry, by the management,” which “will examine the newsroom’s processes for training, assignment and accountability.”

The WP fronts a scoop on an FBI find that’s revived the 18-month-old anthrax probe. In an article entirely attributed to unnamed sources, the paper lays out an almost too-crazy-to-believe FBI theory that explains how the criminal could have put deadly anthrax spores in envelopes without contaminating himself. Some investigators believe the killer waded into a pond in Maryland’s Frederick Municipal Forest and used an airtight chamber to pack anthrax into envelopes. This equipment and plastic-wrapped vials were recovered this winter from the pond, leading officials to theorize that the culprit dumped the evidence in the water after finishing his work. The Post says the FBI has notified the city of Frederick and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources that it will begin draining thousands of gallons of water from a pond by June 1 to see if they can find any other clues.

Everybody mentions the return to Iraq of a senior Shiite leader who had been exiled in Iran. In a move sure to thrill American officials, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Hakim told a cheering crowd of thousands in Basra that his homeland needs a moderate Islamic government.

A NYT Week in Review article reveals that oops, some of those e-mail petitions forwarded by wannabe good Samaritans aren’t always so good. A recent e-mail urged recipients to sign on behalf of a Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for the crime of adultery. Much of the information conveyed in the petition was inaccurate and human rights advocates sent out their own message because of the harm they feared the petition would cause.

A fascinating piece in the Post’s style section separates the mythology from the reality of North Korea’s Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. The paper maintains that the truth is just as compelling as the fiction surrounding the dictator, calling his life “a surreal epic with drunken orgies, exotic dancing, gourmet pizza, Michael Jordan, a crying contest, magical albino animals and a mummified corpse that reigns as ‘President for Eternity.’ “

And on the NYT’s op-ed page, actor Harvey Fierstein muses about his experiences mothering actors during his theater career, suffering regular disappointments at the hands of ingrates who never remember to send Whitman samplers and floral tributes on Mother’s Day. TP agrees that such oversights by any children, biological or otherwise, are egregious, and is hoping that an online shout-out might suffice for certain moms who didn’t receive either this year.