Today's Papers

Hong Kong Throng

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with President Bush’s effort to dispel concerns about attacks in Iraq and doubts about the U.S.’s commitment there. The New York Times leads (online) with yesterday’s meeting and photo-op between the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers. Sharon and Abbas have met before, but except for the time with President Bush, they’ve never let cameras catch them together. As the NYT mentions, the glad-handing was broadcast live on Israeli and Palestinian TV.

“Without providing new evidence,” complains the NYT, Bush asserted that al-Qaida linked terror cells are behind some of the attacks. “These groups believe they have found an opportunity to harm America, to shake our resolve in the war on terror and to cause us to leave Iraq before freedom is fully established,” said Bush. “They are wrong, and they will not succeed.” The LAT also gets skeptical and separates out and wraps quotes around “war on terror.”

That comment by the president is perhaps what prompted the Post’s Dana Milbank to cite a new poll in which 71 percent of respondents said they “believe that the Bush administration implied that Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

The Post notes that the White House is going to decide in a few weeks whether more troops are needed in Iraq. The paper also notices that Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer has asked the administration to beef up his “modest civilian staff” (WP) and shift security work away from GIs.

At least six GIs were wounded yesterday in attacks. (Some of those casualties were mentioned in Tuesday’s TP, which relied on early-morning wire reports.) And as the NYT mentions up high, four Iraqis were killed by GIs at checkpoints. It’s not clear what happened yet. But the Times says, “Soldiers have become more willing to shoot first and ask questions later.”

The NYT briefly mentions that the total number of attacks is actually “considerably higher” than the number released by the military: “Though often willing to confirm attacks when asked about them, Army officers rarely announce incidents that do not result in American casualties.” One of the papers—sadly, TP couldn’t find the original reference—recently mentioned that the Pentagon’s press office has had a tough time keeping up with the number of attacks.

As the NYT notes in a frontpage piece, residents are still insisting that the U.S. was behind yesterday’s explosion at a mosque in Fallujah, despite evidence that it was caused by a bomb or maybe stored explosives inside the building. The LAT calls the sentiment a “sign of frustration with the occupation.”

Sharon and Abbas met alone for two hours, and as the Post emphasizes, agreed to set up high-level committees to work through various economic and security issues. Israel also announced it will start pulling back from Bethlehem today. The NYT mentions that troops will continue to ring the city, though the LAT suggests that isn’t settled yet. The NYT and LAT both notice that the head of Israel’s security service said troops won’t withdraw from any more towns until the Palestinian Authority starts disarming militants, something Abbas has said he can’t do right now.

Alone among the papers, NYT fronts yesterday’s massive protest in Hong Kong against proposed anti-subversion legislation. There were between 300,000 and 500,000 protesters—in a city of about seven million. Among other components, the law would allow authorities to ban any groups that are already banned in elsewhere China.

The Times paraphrases a Hong Kong government official saying that the law has been “widely misunderstood” and won’t impinge on civil liberties. The paper seems sympathetic to that argument and refers to the “perceived imposition of Chinese restrictions” [emphasis added]. (Today’s Papers’ cousin, International Papers, summarizes foreign coverage of the protests.)

The Wall Street Journal goes high with word that the White House is now leaning towards sending troops to civil-war-torn Liberia to lead a peacekeeping force and oversee a ceasefire. The Journal and the NYTsuggest that part of the change in heart stems from President Bush’s coming trip to Africa, and the White House’s concern that it not be seen to be ignoring the crisis.  

A solid Page One piece in USAT notices that police departments are rebelling against the feds color-coded alert system, which many of them view as being too wide-ranging to be useful. “If there are threats to the Brooklyn Bridge,” asks one police chief, “does it make sense for Phoenix to go the same alert level? I don’t think so.”

The NYT, in a Page One exclusive, says that a few years ago the government set up a secret training unit that built a mobile biological weapons lab, real in all ways except that the parts were never connected. The man in charge of building the lab: Steven Hatfill, long-labeled by the government “a person of interest” in the post-9/11 anthrax attacks. According to officials cited in the Times, his work on the labs is a major reason why investigators have focused on him—though, of course, they still haven’t brought charges against him. Hatfill denies any connection to the attacks.

Despite the big play given to the lab story, it doesn’t address what feels like the crucial question: As has long-been-known, Hatfill is a bio-weapons expert, so did work on the non-functioning lab really contribute to his ability to manufacture anthrax? If so, how? The Times also waits until the 38th paragraph to mention that at the time of the attacks construction had only just begun on the lab. It was only half-built by the time Hatfill was fired six-months later.

The Post goes inside (page A21) with a congressional investigation concluding that the Agriculture Department is helping American tobacco companies export their smokes despite a prohibition against it.

The NYT’s Maureen Dowd, perhaps inadvertently, mentions a heart-warming moment President Bush recently had: “At his recent Yale reunion, among the classmates he greeted at the White House was one Yalie who had changed from a man to a woman. According to news reports, the president did not blink and warmly greeted the alum, saying: ‘Now you’ve come back as yourself.’ “