Today's Papers

My Sharona

The New York Times  leads with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s somewhat tepid support of the U.S.-backed “road map” for peace in the Middle East. The move comes on the heels of a carefully worded statement from the Bush administration, promising to “fully and seriously” address Israel’s concerns about the proposed peace initiative. The Los Angeles Times (online, at least) and Washington Post, under a banner headline, lead with the Senate’s 51-50 approval yesterday of President Bush’s $350 billion tax cut. Vice President Dick Cheney cast the deciding vote on this latest package, which, if supporters succeed in making the bill’s temporary provisions permanent, could end up providing more than $1 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade.

Sharon’s qualified support for the road map appears “to break a deadlock” in Middle East peace negotiations and virtually guarantees that Israel will be able to alter the plan, the LAT notes. Sharon agreed to present the initiative to members of his Cabinet later this weekend after assurances that the U.S. would consider the changes that Israel wants. One major hurdle: Israel wants the Palestinians to deliver on the unconditional cease-fire called for in the map’s first step, while pushing off some of its first-phase obligations, like dismantling settlements.

The NYT picks up on the specific wording of Sharon’s speech yesterday, noting that he was prepared “to accept the steps” of the plan, not the plan itself. “Rather than a swift resolution of all disputes sought by the plan,” Sharon wants an “interim solution” before agreeing to Palestinian statehood. But Secretary of State Colin Powell, using an odd analogy about a can in the road, told reporters yesterday that elements of the road map won’t be changed. As a result, everybody notes, it’s unclear exactly how the U.S. will deal with Israel’s beefs.

The WP goes high with the worries of “Palestinian officials and some diplomats” over the White House’s statement yesterday. Some believe it opens the door to protracted negotiations and “lets Israel off the hook.” Unnamed U.S. officials, “desperate to show movement in the peace process,” tell the WP that agreeing to address Israel’s concerns was necessary to break an impasse and “privately acknowledged” that they might have opened up the peace process to “laborious disputes.”

Of course, it’s unclear if the road map will even clear Sharon’s Cabinet, which will begin weighing the initiative as early as Sunday. Many of the 23 ministers oppose a Palestinian state, the NYT says, although Sharon allies say the plan’s approval there is likely, but not guaranteed.

Everybody goes high with how the big tax cut is a big victory for President Bush. However, analysis pieces in the WP and LAT both cite the inevitable conclusion that this could end up being very risky for Bush, especially if the economy doesn’t pick up come election time. “Bush … has assumed responsibility for the economy as never before in his presidency,” says the WP. The bill’s passage underscores the willingness of Bush and congressional Republicans to leverage big changes in policy on a narrow legislative majority, the LAT’s Ron Brownstein writes. And that is likely to reinforce one of Bush’s most valuable political assets: “the view of him as strong and decisive.”

Specifically, the bill includes $320 billion in tax cuts, $20 billion in aid to state and local governments, and nearly $10 billion in child credits for low-income people who do not pay taxes. The most immediate effects of the bill will be a check worth $400 per child, for the first two children, that will be mailed to all but the wealthiest taxpayers, and a reduction in withholding rates that could result in larger paychecks during the summer, according to the WP.
On a related note, the Senate yesterday also voted to raise the nation’s debt ceiling by nearly $1 trillion—the “largest increase ever,” the NYT reports

Everybody fronts word that scientists think they may have uncovered a major clue in the origin of the SARS virus. A microbe virtually identical to the disease has been discovered in civet cats, small “weasel-like” mammals that are eaten as delicacies in southern China. Officials at the World Health Organization said the findings are preliminary, but hopeful. Hysteria about the disease remains high. In Singapore, broadcasters this week launched the SARS channel, a TV network that airs nothing but news and information about the virus, the NYT reports. (The must-see TV includes specials like “Not Just Another Flu.”) Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control reinstated its travel advisory for Toronto, after Canadian authorities discovered “a cluster” of new SARS cases.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist yesterday turned down a request by conservative interest groups to vacate the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, the WP reports. The law will remain in force until the Supreme Court takes up the issue later this year. Meanwhile, the NYT says that President Bush’s re-election campaign has launched a new fund-raising club. Individuals who pledge to raise more than $200,000 for the Bush camp will be known as “rangers.” During the 2000 campaign, elite fund-raisers were known as pioneers—a club that will still be around for those who raise at least $100,000. Bush is expected to raise at least $200 million for his re-election effort—twice the record-breaking amount he raised in 2000.

Finally, there’s a bunch of NYT news today. The WP’s Howard Kurtz gets a scoop on the specifics of former NYT reporter Jayson Blair’s “racially charged” book proposal. Under the suggested title of “Burning Down My Master’s House,” Blair trashes the NYT as his “tormenter, my other drug, my slavemaster” and likens himself to Washington sniper suspect Lee Malvo, noting that the “frustrations of young black men” can explode into rage that manifests in strange ways. The former reporter admits he “screwed up,” but at the same time, he levels charges of racism at the paper, noting that an editor told him he would never succeed. As a result, Blair says he “rose from the fields and got a place in the master’s house and then burned it down the only way he knew how.” 

Kurtz also follows up on yesterday’s NYT editor’s note regarding reporter Rick Bragg. As Slate’s Press Box reported late yesterday, Bragg has been suspended for failing to give a stringer proper credit on a story. While the WP doesn’t give specifics, the Columbia Journalism Review says Bragg will be out for two weeks.

Meanwhile, everybody goes inside with an Associated Press write-up of a libel ruling issued against the NYT yesterday. A federal jury in Cleveland ruled the paper libeled an Ohio Supreme Court justice in an article about a lawsuit filed by the son of Sam Sheppard, the doctor who was convicted of killing his wife. The justice said the paper had libeled him by falsely saying he used his influence in a case he had been involved in earlier as a prosecutor. While the jury agreed, it said the statement—which was later corrected by the paper—was done without malicious intent and refused to award damages.