Today's Papers

Peace in Pieces

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead with word that after this weekend’s series of suicide bombings in Israel, which killed nine Israelis, any potential peace talks have been put off by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks. (According to early morning reports, a suicide bomber on a bicycle in Gaza blew himself up, injuring three Israeli soldiers.) USA Today leads with Saudi police saying they’ve arrested four suspected al-Qaida members who had prior knowledge of last week’s bombings in Riyadh. The four were among the 19 militants who slipped through a Saudi raid two weeks ago. Citing Moroccan and U.S. officials, the Los Angeles Times’ lead says that Friday night’s attacks in Casablanca were probably carried out by a local militant group that coordinated the strike in some way with AQ.

Sharon said that he won’t make concessions toward peace until terror attacks stop. The U.S. plan calls for both sides to go forward simultaneously. Sharon also delayed a visit to the White House and ordered a general closure of the West Bank. The NYT’s lead focuses on Sharon’s “implicit repudiation” of the peace plan, while the WP lays the blame on the bombings (and bombers) themselves, saying they “paralyzed a nascent peace effort.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is trying to convince Hamas and other terror groups to disarm, but the Israelis are pushing him to get on with it and do it by force. The NYT all but says that Abbas doesn’t have the strength to do that even if he wants too. The paper explains that Yasser Arafat and not Abbas (“who has almost no popular backing”) controls much, if not most, of what’s left of the Palestinian Authority. By the way, one thing the papers haven’t been clear on: What is the White House’s position, if any, on whether Abbas should go after Hamas militarily ASAP or should try to negotiate first? 

Citing both U.S. and Saudi officials, the Post fronts word that members of Saudi Arabia’s national guard are suspected of selling arms to al-Qaida. The Post says that some guard members for years have been selling guns to anyone with the cash. Apparently, Saudi officials have long known about it but haven’t dealt because of “bureaucratic inertia.” The Post also says that the Saudis, despite saying otherwise to their domestic audience, have so far given U.S. investigators a central role in the investigation. That’s unlike previous terror investigations, during which they essentially shut out the FBI.

The WP emphasizes that Saudi police officials say they’ve identified the bodies of three of the suicide attackers and that they too were part of the Saudi cell that was recently uncovered, the strongest indication yet that AQ was behind the attacks. The Times also says briefly, far down in its story, that some diplomats and Saudi officials wonder if the attacks were actually committed by local militants “with military training” (read: former soldiers?) who were ideological compatriots with AQ but not really part of the group.

The WP says that the Bush administration has reversed itself and will now unequivocally support the WHO-sponsored anti-tobacco treaty. Last month, the U.S. had asked the 171 nations supporting the treaty to put in a clause allowing any nation to opt out of any provision. Though the Post stays modest and doesn’t mention it, the paper’s own Page One outing of the White House’s poison-pill position might have had something to do with the administration’s backdown.

A Page One picture in the NYT teases the feel-good story of theSan Quentin Giants, a prison baseball team that competes against local, non-incarcerated teams. “Every game, of course, is a home game,” chortles the Times. The LAT fronted the story last year.

Department of Inappropriate Puns: According to the front page of the LAT, “HUNGER GNAWS AT ETHIOPIA.”

NYT columnist Bob Herbert revisits the Jayson Blair scandal and says, “the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Blair’s reporting.” TP agrees with Herbert that those who confidently assert that race was the factor in management’s messing up are full of it. (After all, how do they know?) But the same holds for those, like Herbert, who insist that race had nothing to do with it. “I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities,” saidNYT top editor Howell Raines last week. “Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.”

Final Blair thought … There are no doubt a number of institutional and management issues that in some way or another helped Blair snooker the Times and readers. Here’s one to add to the pile: The NYT makes it unnecessarily difficult for readers to contact staffers. The LAT, WP, and WSJ all use a standard e-mail naming scheme. So, if you know the name of a reporter or editor, you can e-mail them. The LAT helps that along by publishing an editorial staff directory, while the WP has an easily contactable ombudsman. The NYT has none of that. Nor does it seem to have an e-mail address exclusively devoted to corrections.