Today's Papers

The Smell and Taste

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times (in its top national story) again lead with President Bush’s specious State of the Union claim that Iraq was shopping for uranium in Africa. W. helps keep the story on the front pages with his brief but definite defense of George Tenet, who took responsibility for the gaffe on Friday. The New York Times fronts the spurious statement, but leads with the impending House/Senate smackdown over a Medicare bill.

Aside from Bush’s defense of Tenet, there’s not much new on the uranium story—but the papers seem to smell blood. There’s still no explanation of how the offending sentence, based on documents that turned out to be “crude forgeries” (LAT), made it into the S. of the U. after Tenet—or someone else in the CIA—had already nixed the reference in an earlier speech. Bush again invoked Tenet’s name—or rather, a reporter did, and Bush ran with it—but the NYT reports that, according to senior administration officials, the CIA director didn’t read the draft that contained the uranium section before Bush gave the speech.

Tenet did meet with Colin Powell before the latter’s February U.N. speech, and the men “decided together” (NYT) that the uranium intelligence should not be used. Ari Fleischer says Bush’s misstatement was corrected in March, but the NYT reports that the White House claimed “throughout the spring that there was other evidence to back up the claim.”

“I don’t like the smell of this, I don’t like the taste of this,” says Dem Jay Rockefeller in the LAT. “In the end,” Dick Gephardt says, also in the LAT, “the president is responsible for the information he puts out to the American people.”But the president “has moved on,” according to Fleischer, in the WP. “And I think, frankly, much of the country has moved on, as well.” That may be wishful thinking. Over half of the respondents in an ABC-WP poll believe the administration exaggerated the WMD evidence.

A bill that would add prescription drugs to Medicare is roiling the House and Senate, according to the NYT lead. The two are substantially divided on what provisions should make it into the final version. “People are reading the 700-plus pages of the House bill and the 1,000 in the Senate, and understanding just how many technical issues there are in addition to the political issues,” says the policy director of the AARP. “There is a morning-after realization that this is a lot tougher than many of us might have hoped.” One sticking point is competition with private plans, which House Republicans say is essential if Medicare’s costs are to be brought under control.

Jimmy Carter weighs in on Liberia on the NYT op-ed page. He says the “time is ripe for persistent but modest American involvement,” meaning a force of 2,000 U.S. troops working in concert with a West African coalition. The bulk of the piece is a lobbying effort on behalf of the Carter Center, which monitored elections and helped keep the peace, such as it was, before closing up shop after the 1997 vote. Once Charles Taylor departs and order is restored, says the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner, “the Carter Center and other international monitors can help to ensure a proper electoral process.”

Bill Gates, another kind of international peacekeeper, doesn’t have to sing his own praises because the NYT does it for him, deep in the national section. “Those who think of Mr. Gates as a ruthless billionaire monopolist, the man who was so testy and sarcastic with government prosecutors during the Microsoft antitrust trial, may find it hard to reconcile that image with one of a humorously self-deprecating philanthropist.” He has, of course, not a center, like Carter, but, with his wife, a foundation, one the Times calls “innovative, ambitious and bold.”

The NYT Book Review finally gets around to reviewing the newish Harry Potter, and it’s a rave and then some. John Leonard lovingly extols the book—comparing it to One Hundred Years of Solitude among others—and also takes time out to wave his wand at its detractors, “least persuasive of all are the nitpickers who disdain children’s literature to begin with, which just means that they are tin-eared, tone deaf and born dumb. (Where do they think we begin to care about stories?)”

Meanwhile, the case is made in an LAT op-ed that Muggle teachers should be allowed to carry concealed guns in school—as they soon will be able to do in Utah. “Suppose a criminal is stalking you or your family,” writes the author of The Bias Against Guns. “Would you feel safe putting a sign in front of your home saying, ‘This Home Is a Gun-Free Zone’? Law-abiding citizens might be pleased by such a sign, but to criminals it would be an invitation.”

Finally, the NYT fronts the wedding expenses—the dress, the hall, the doves—that can doom a marriage. The resulting credit-card debt puts stress on the relationship and often outlasts the union itself. A couple in Florida charged themselves silly, from the $4,200 mermaid-shaped gown to the horse-drawn carriage, racking up $12,000 on a fistful of cards. They separated three years later, balance outstanding. “I hope everyone had a good time, because I’m still paying,” says the bride. “If you have to buy something on credit, buy a house. Buy a car,” says another scorched lovebird. “Certainly do not buy a wedding.”