Today's Papers

Bombing Barrage

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead with the fifth suicide bombing in Israel within 48 hours. Three people were killed and about 50 injured in the latest attack, which happened outside a mall in the northern town of Afula. The Los Angeles Times and USA Today front the bombings but lead with the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a Maine program that uses the threat of withholding state Medicaid business to push drug companies to offer the uninsured cut-rate prices on pills. Many states are considering emulating Maine’s plan, though the Bush administration has opposed the program.

The papers say that Islamic Jihad and the Fatah-connected Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades both claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack—the NYT wonders  whether it was a joint effort.

As the papers note, while President Bush reiterated his support for the so-called “road-map” peace plan, given the attacks it’s not clear whether he is willing to push Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to sign onto the plan. The Post says that White House officials are still urging Sharon to visit the White House next week, where pressure would probably be applied. The LAT says don’t hold your breath. “I don’t expect this administration to push Sharon while his people are suffering,” one former American diplomat told the paper. The Post says that when Sharon met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, Abbas said he would follow through on a security plan (details of which aren’t mentioned) so long as Sharon formally accepted the road-map. Sharon turned him down.

The lead editorials in the NYT and Postboth urge Bush to not merely pay lip service to Mideast peace and to keep pushing Abbas and, especially, Sharon. 

Meanwhile, Post columnist David Ignatius criticizes Sharon for refusing to endorse the road map. As Ignatius points out, the plan calls for Palestinian security services to crack down on terror while also saying that Israel should take “no actions undermining trust, including deportations [or] attacks on civilians,” a path Israel hasn’t yet followed. By “dickering and delaying,” says Ignatius, “Sharon is only retarding a process that could bring greater security to Israel.”

The Post, alone among the papers, fronts what appears to have been the largest protest march in Iraq since the occupation began. According to the Post, 10,000 Shiites—and no doubt that number is a WAG—called for the U.S. to hand power over to Iraqis. Other papers also cover the march, but the Post’s piece, by Anthony Shadid, excels and gives useful context: The march, which was peaceful and orderly, wasn’t simply about Shiites vs. the U.S. It was also a show of strength by one Shiite faction (led by Moqtada Sadr) that is competing for influence with SCIRI, the Iranian-influenced party that is the largest Shiite political group. Sadr hasn’t called for jihad against the U.S and recently suggested he wants to negotiate. By the way, score one for reporters, like Shadid, who actually report on location. The NYT’s subpar piece mentioning the protest, though filed from Baghdad, quotes placards by citing Reuters.

Also in Iraq yesterday, a Marines helicopter crashed, killing all four passengers. One soldier who tried to rescue those aboard also died.

The Post says inside that the number of revenge killings against Baathists seems to be picking up as Iraqis are losing hope that the U.S. is really going to go after former party hacks. “Why can Americans kill anyone they want? Why can’t we?” said one man. “I will kill Baathists myself. This is my right.” Given the state of things in Iraq, the WP understandably doesn’t have hard numbers on the recent killings. But within the past few days, one well-known suck-up singer to Saddam was murdered as was the former head of Iraq’s official artists union.

The NYT and Post go high with WorldCom’s agreement to pay about $500 million to settle charges that the company defrauded investors by falsely claiming it was profitable. The SEC is overseeing the settlement, but, thanks to a provision in the corporate reform bill that passed last year, the money will eventually be doled out to investors.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced yesterday that he’s quitting, effective July, because wants to spend time with his new wife and make some cash. As the papers all mention, those reasons appear to be the real thing. The WP though does get a bit of dirt, writing that FOA (friends of Ari) “say he chafed at the constraints put on him by top aides, and [that] he occasionally battled with some members of Bush’s inner circle.”

Fleischer is, of course, less-than-loved by WH correspondents, and they get their revenge. As the Post puts it, “His tight-lipped approach undermined his credibility.” But don’t expect things to change.“I know there was frustration among the press with how Ari did his job,” said one GOP official. “But I guarantee you that Ari did his job the way this White House wants the job done.”