The Los Angeles Times leads with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s praising of Saturday’s “targeted killing” of a local Hamas leader. He called it “a vital operation.” The Washington Post leads with, and the New York Times fronts, news that the British Observerbroke: The U.S. bombed a convoy of suspected Iraqi leaders last week near the Syrian border. Investigators are now trying to get DNA from the site in hopes that, just maybe, Saddam was part of the killed contingent. Contrary to other reports, the Post says that U.S. forces, were in “hot pursuit,” and as one defense official put it, “wound up crossing the Syrian border.” USA Today’s lead says that contrary to conventional wisdom, most states have only themselves to blame for their busted budgets. They instituted tax cuts and let spending boom during the boom years, and then when the crash hit often tried to cover the shortfalls by borrowing and using “accounting gimmicks” The NYT’s lead says that the cost of workers comp insurance is “soaring.” According to one study, on average it’s gone up nation-wide 50 percent over the past three years. The Times says the system is being overburdened by bureaucracy and just outright fraud.
Everybody notices that Secretary of State Powell expressed “regret” about the attack against the Hamas leader, saying it “could be an impediment to progress.” Also, three militants were killed in northern Gaza apparently after a mine they were planting exploded prematurely. The LAT says that Saturday’s strike was actually a more circumscribed operation than most. For one thing, the Hamas operative seemed to be not far from the definition of a “ticking time bomb.” Israeli officials said he was, besides the coordinator of a terror cell, a bomb-maker. It’s also not clear if Israel meant to kill him. Israeli commandos say they tried to arrest him and only shot him after he went for his gun, though Palestinian witnesses disputed that.
The NYT emphasizes that the road map and cease-fire talks are basically stalled; but it also mentions, down low, that the White House is now pushing Israel to make “parallel” concessions, including dismantling outpost settlements. “The Americans are not really letting the Israelis off the hook on this,” said one diplomat. Meanwhile, USAT’s Web site has a wire story noticing that yesterday Sharon reiterated that Israel will continue expanding existing settlements.
It is a slow news day, so it’s hard to criticize lame-ish leads that don’t deliver much. Still, by giving top-dog status to the strike in Iraq, the Post is implicitly lending a whole bunch of credence to the as yet very unproven notion that somebody important was killed. The NYT, citing officials says there was “no evidence so far” that Saddam or his sons were hit. Also worth noting: Judging from the datelines, both the NYT and WP’s pieces were written from Washington, meaning both papers’ sources were probably who-knows-how-many steps removed from the action. Don’t think that matters? Consider: The NYT says, with a doubt, the convoy was struck by a missile-firing Predator drone. The Post is also sure:The strike was by an AC-130 gunship.
Also, let’s not forget the papers’—particularly the Post’s—impressive previous reporting on the fate of Saddam: “U.S. THINKS HUSSEIN, SONS WERE IN BUNKER”— WP, March 21, 2003.
Meanwhile today’s Post picks up on an oddity: While “defense officials” said U.S. forces were going in for DNA samples, the CIA officials said they hadn’t heard anything about that nor about Saddam being a target. One question the Post doesn’t address: If U.S. forces are really going after the DNA and the strike was really in Syria, then aren’t there some issues with that? Like sovereignty? And who would leak such a sensitive thing?
As Slate’s Jack Shafer noted a few months ago, the papers’ coverage of the states’ fiscal woes have typically read like they were dreamed up by governors’ press offices, putting the blame for states’ money troubles on the economy and not on, say, elected officials’ mismanagement. USAT has been just about the sole exception, and today adds more meat to its argument with an analysis of each state’s spending habits, most them bad.
The papers all note that another GI was killed in Iraq, this time in a grenade attack. There was also a massive pipeline explosion north of Baghdad. It’s not clear if it was the work of saboteurs, but it happened near the town of Hit, which as the LAT helpfully mentions is where residents recently rioted against U.S. troops. The Post also says two U.S. soldiers were injured yesterday when their Humvee hit what was probably a landmine, again near Hit.
The NYT mentions that some soldiers in Baghdad have now been given riot gear—last week, the Times mentioned the lack of that equipment.
The Wall Street Journal says that Iraq’s oil wells are in much worse shape than thought. Besides damage from the war, looters, saboteurs, and sanctions, Saddam messed things up by overpumping.
A Page One piece in the Post notices that one of Iraq’s top Shiite clerics expressed what he called “great unease” with the U.S.’s moves and said that there should be self-rule soon. But what he didn’t say is probably as important: As the Post notes, the Grand Ayatollah “stopped far short of demanding a withdrawal.” The article’s headline misses that point: “IRAQI SHIITE LEADER UNEASY WITH U.S. ROLE: Rare Political Remarks Advocate Self-Rule.”
The papers mention inside that Russia’s only remaining non-government nationwide TV channel has just been closed. The NYT notices that Russia’s parliament also just voted to outlaw any political coverage that is deemed “biased.”
Breaking news… The WP’s Style page reports, “Howard Dean is running for president, The Washington Post has learned. The former Vermont governor will announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination today in his home town of Burlington. In addition, The Post has learned that Dean has in fact been running for president for more than a year. This finding is based on numerous statements from Dean, including ‘I’m running for president,’ ‘I want to be president,’ ‘I intend to be the nominee of this party’ and “I’m going to beat George Bush.’”
As the article goes on to explain, Dean is just following a hallowed tradition: Formally announce your candidacy and a whole bunch of media will write about it, even if, as one of the former governor’s spokespeople explained, Dean has been “having a dialogue with the American people” for over a year now. The Post’s headline, “DUH NEWS: THIS MAN IS NOW A CANDIDATE.”