Today's Papers

Juan Everyman

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with more on Friday’s bombing in Najaf that killed Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim and nearly 100 others. The New York Times off-leads the bombing, going instead with plans for an American-sponsored Iraqi militia—a paramilitary force that might assume peacekeeping duties from U.S. soldiers.

Hard facts are scarce in the reports from Najaf, as the investigation of the bombing begins. The LAT floats the most compelling item—that four of the suspects detained have links to al-Qaida—but this remains unconfirmed. The Post focuses on the crime scene, outside the Shiite mosque, where the bomb, packed in an SUV or a BMW, was apparently detonated by remote control. All the papers depict the “tide of grief” (NYT), as thousands of Hakim’s followers mourn at the mosque and in the streets, preparing for his funeral, which begins today. Hakim’s remains have not been positively identified.       

Blame is assigned, both to Hakim’s bodyguards (there were about 16 of them at the site, according to the NYT) for allowing a strange car to park so close to the mosque, and to American forces for failing to maintain the peace in postwar Iraq generally. The NYT lead—which had been the off-lead in the early edition before it swapped places with the bombing story in the final—reports that U.S. and Iraqi officials are considering the creation of a large Iraqi paramilitary force (or forces) that might have better luck restoring order. The competing view is that the militias—composed of, as the Times puts it, “undisciplined young men, some of them fired by religious zeal”—would be apt to attack one other. 

Meanwhile, the LAT fronts “Operation Tin Cup”—attempts by the U.S. to persuade its allies to ante up on the rebuilding of Iraq. But they opposed the war in the first place—France, Germany, Russia, China—and now refuse to contribute unless they have a say in the reconstruction, which the Pentagon is reluctant to grant. The cost for the U.S. continues to escalate; Bush is said to be preparing to supplemental budget request for $3 billion.

The WP fronts a profile of Cruz Bustamante, the Cali Dem who might sneak into the governor’s mansion in the recall. He comes across as a man one might underestimate—an anti-celeb for sure. “He’s like Juan Everyman,” says one activist. “His style is not electrifying. Women don’t shriek. But that has appeal in the Latino community—being humble is important. It’s like your dad being elected governor.” Bustamante burnishes the legend. “Early on, I realized I wasn’t going to be the smartest kid in class. But I knew if I worked hard—and I work very, very hard—I would overcome obstacles and make something of myself. I’m not flashy. I’m a straight shooter.”

Speaking of straight shooters, the NYT fronts gay Canadian couples wrestling with the implications of their newly won right to marry. Many want no part of it. “Personally, I saw marriage as a dumbing down of gay relationships,” says a Toronto man. “My dread is that soon you will have a complacent bloc of gay and lesbian soccer moms.” The Times compares the debate to that among blacks in the ‘60s over integration.

A LAT editorial smartly bemoans the dearth of grocery stores in L.A.’s poorer neighborhoods. “Rent-by-the-hour motel rooms are easier to find in South Los Angeles than a quart of skim milk,” it begins. “In West L.A., 80% of the stores carried skim milk, compared with 38% in South L.A., where some didn’t carry milk at all. West L.A. stores stocked, on average, 26 types of fruit and 38 kinds of vegetables, twice the variety found in South L.A. stores. In West L.A., 33% of the stores had a diabetic food section, compared with just 4% in South L.A. stores. Yet African Americans are twice as likely as whites to suffer from diabetes.”

The NYT Magazine runs its usual mix of brows both high and low, from “How To Talk About Israel” to a piece on competitive eating—”any food in the mouth at the buzzer counts if swallowed thereafter.” A recipe for Buttermilk Soup with Cardamom Ice Cream comes later, in the food column. The cover goes to Sofia Coppola, 32, whose new film is called “thrilling and new.”  

Finally, the NYT’s Job Market—a wisp of a section on this Labor Day weekend—features the outlandish lengths to which job seekers are forced to go in these troubled times. The worst of the lot: A Manhattan advertising firm staging a “Survivor”-esque competition. Ten lucky applicants will perform thankless advertising-related chores for a couple of weeks, with the bosses voting off one hopeful at the end of each business day. The last supplicant standing gets a low-paying, entry-level job at the firm. “We’re not going to denigrate or degrade people,” says the chief exec. “But somebody else’s idea of humiliation isn’t the same as mine.”