Today's Papers

Pulling Your Cheney  

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the collapse of World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, Mexico as delegates from poorer countries walked out charging that wealthier nations aren’t willing to cut farm subsidies enough. The Washington Post has a double lead, with one headline above both: In its top left space, the paper notes that during Secretary of State Powell’s trip to Iraq, he said rebuilding was going well and suggested critics “hold their fire.” The paper’s top right spot goes to a rare press appearance by Vice President Cheney, during which he defended and expanded upon the White House’s case for the invasion. USA Today leads with the White House’s diminishing hopes for foreign troops’ contributions to Iraq. As USAT notes, a few months ago, the administration was talking about 60,000 foreign soldiers coming in. Now it’s hoping for, and isn’t likely to get, 15,000. (Friday’s LAT had a similar story.) The Wall Street Journal’s business newsbox leads with the WTO walkout and the world-wide newsbox goes with Powell’s visit.

The NYT says up high that economists believe that the tariff reductions that the Cancun meeting failed to come up with would have injected hundreds of billions of dollars into the world’s economy. “We all could have gained here and now we have all lost,” said the E.U.’s top negotiator.

But the LAT, which has the best coverage of the failed talks, suggests that the poorer countries have a legitimate beef: “The United States and European Union spend far more than poor countries [on farm subsidies], thereby making it difficult for developing nations to compete in the global market.”

As the LAT also emphasizes, rich countries typically dominate WTO meetings; this was one of the first times that poor countries kept a united front and weren’t, as the paper puts it, “peeled off by their parochial interests.”

A NYT frontpager on Powell’s trip notes that he pooh-poohed France’s suggestion that authority should be handed over to Iraqis within a few months. When one member of the Iraqi Governing Coalition brought up France’s suggestion, the Times says Powell, referencing France’s objection to the war, explained, “We were right, they were wrong, and I am here.”

A front-page Post piece says that Governing Council leaders, including former Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi, appear to agree with France and are calling for the United States to give up power ASAP. It’s not until the 14th paragraph that the article explains that while exile leaders want the U.S. out, other council members want the United States to stay. “If the Americans leave now,” said one, “there will be a huge explosion of infighting.”

Meanwhile, the Journal says that despite appearances, France and the United States actually aren’t that far apart, and that there could be an agreement by next week. 

The WP’s piece on Powell trip suggests that while the secretary was full of happy-talk about reconstruction, he didn’t really see what’s going on: Powell “spent the day in a high-security bubble and met only with Iraqis who had been vetted by the U.S. occupation authority.”

Fronted by the LAT as well as the Post, Cheney’s appearance on Meet the Press consisted of, to be perfectly objective, a mélange of misleading and mendacious charges. A sampling: Cheney said that Saddam may have played a part in 9/11, that he also may have played a part in the ‘93 WTC bombing, that Iraq trained al-Qaida on biological and chemical weapons, that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intel source in Prague, and that the United States has “found” two mobile biological labs.

Wondering which of those claims may be true? Skip the LAT and NYT. They shy away from fact-checking, presumably because journalists should be objective and, gosh, explaining what is and is not likely true feels kind of, you know, icky.

For months the WP has been more aggressive than the other papers, most notably the NYT, and today is no exception. The Post goes through Cheney’s charges point by point, each time noting that the evidence is murkier than Cheney presented or simply not there: There’s no publicly known info that Saddam was involved in 9/11 or otherwise helped al-Qaida. The FBI has said that at the time of the supposed Prague meeting, it believes Atta was in the United States. As for the supposed mobile germ labs, Cheney might be convinced they’re part of a weapons-building program, but intel agencies are at best divided, with many experts convinced they’re for making weather balloons.

One knock on the WP: Its headline is 100 percent skepticism-free—and boring to boot: “BUSH TEAM STANDS FIRM ON IRAQ POLICY.” Zzzzzzz…..

One other note on Cheney’s appearance:  As the NYT and LAT mention, the vice president acknowledged he misspoke before the war when he said once on the Meet the Press that Saddam had “reconstituted nuclear weapons.” During the same program, Cheney repeatedly qualified the statement, saying that Saddam was “trying” to reconstitute his nuclear “program.”  Yet while it’s always been clear to anybody who spent the time to read the transcript that Cheney’s first assertion was just a verbal hiccup, many commentators and reporters (particularly at the WP) have offered up the line as evidence of the White House’s hyped charges. If they haven’t stopped already, they should now.