Today's Papers

Wilson Racket 

The Washington Post’s lead follows up on, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, the CIA’s request that the Justice Department investigate an apparent leak from the White House purposely blowing the cover of a CIA agent. The WP headlines WH officials saying they’ll cooperate with the investigation. The New York Times’ lead says that an internal Defense Department review of the prewar intel provided by the Iraqi defectors sent along by Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi has concluded that most of the tips they gave were either bogus or useless. USA Today leads with the growing congressional determintation to tweak President Bush’s request for $20 billion in reconstruction funds for Iraq. “We may find some items in there—in fact, we’ve already found some items in there—that probably would be removed,” said Republican Sen. Trent Lott. The Los Angeles Times leads with a recall round-up, emphasizing a USAT/CNN/Gallup poll suggesting that Gov. Gray Davis is toast and Arnold is on his way in: 63 percent of probable voters said they’ll vote for Davis’ removal and 40 percent said they’ll chose Schwarzenegger. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante was second at 25 percent. As the LAT notes—and USAT’s fronter on the poll doesn’t—other polls suggest it’s a much tighter race, though they still have Davis getting the boot.

As the WP’s lead recounts, an unnamed administration official confirmed to the paperover the weekend that two White House officials called at least six journalists a few months ago and told them that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife is an undercover spook. Wilson’s wife was outed in a Robert Novak column in July; the column sourced the disclosure to “two senior administration officials.” Exposing an undercover agent is a felony. (“Senior administration official” typically only refers to tippy-top figures, such as department secretaries or, perhaps, their direct deputies.)

Back in early 2002, the CIA sent Wilson to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam was seeking uranium from there. Wilson came back and said the reports were wrong. He eventually publicly detailed those efforts after President Bush repeated the (already very shaky) uranium claims in his State of the Union speech earlier this year. The unnamed administration official who confirmed the leak told yesterday’s Post that naming Wilson’s wife was “simply for revenge.” (Most of the papers describe the outing as a “potential” felony; it’d be nice to know what the determining factors are.)

The WP continues it dominance in WMD coverage—in fact, it’s been the only consistent source of probing among the big papers—and has been driving reporting of the Wilson investigation. But today’s (two-column) headline doesn’t exactly sum up the one juicy bit in today’s dispatch: “BUSH AIDES SAY THEY’LL COOPERATE WITH PROBE INTO INTELLIGENCE LEAK.” As it happens, the Bush aides also said they won’t look for the potentially felonious leaker unless investigators push them to. Citing WH aides, the Post says Bush has “no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in revealing the name.”

The NYT, playing catch-up, off-leads the Wilson flap and combines it with other news first reported in the Post: A Republican-led congressional committee has made initial findings that prewar intel on Iraq had a “dearth” of solid info and “too many uncertainties.” Regarding the Wilson leak, one unnamed official told the Times, “There is blood in the water, and there are people all over Washington who want to take advantage of that.”

The NYT’s lead says that of the information provided by Chalabi’s defectors, a “third of the information was potentially useful, and efforts to explore those leads since have generally failed to pan out.” Analysts also concluded that some defectors made up their identities or inflated their ranks. One caution about the NYT’s conclusions: The article has no quotes directly from the apparently damning report and instead relies on descriptions of it from anonymous “federal officials.”

The Times’ lead also contains a little mea culpa, noting that Chalabi “had made some of these defectors available to several news organizations, including The New York Times, which reported their allegations about prisoners and the country’s weapons program.” What that seems to miss is the extent of the Times’ reliance on Chalabi and the papers’ pre-eminent role in pushing his preferred storylines. As ace WMD sleuth Judith Miller once wrote to a Times colleague, Chalabi “provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper.”

(Background defector reading: The LAT’s Bob Drogin reported a few weeks ago that U.S. officials wonder whether Saddam purposely gave defectors bogus intel. And this week’s Time magazine suggests that Saddam himself may not have known he didn’t have banned weapons since he scared his scientists so much they couldn’t be honest with him.)

The WP, in a Page One piece,keeps on hammering Vice President Cheney for continuing to make sketchy claims about Iraq’s connections to 9/11. The Post says Cheney and his office repeatedly pushed Secretary of State Colin Powell to include lame intel in his February speech to the U.N. “‘Wow! Here we go again,’ one of the speech’s drafters recalled thinking. “You write it. You take it out, and then it comes back again.”

In the world of unintended double-entendre: Cheney spinner Mary Matalin told the Post that the vice prez focuses on the big picture and “connecting the dots.” He “doesn’t base his opinion on one piece of data,” she said.

The NYT, LAT, and WP all front the death of tennis pioneer Althea Gibson, one of tennis’s top female players and the first black player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. national championship. She was 76.

And the same papers front the death of director Elia Kazan, whose work included such Broadway productions as A Streetcar Named Desire and films as On the Waterfront. Seven of his films won 20 Academy Awards. Kazan also testified in front of the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee and, famously, named names. He was 94.

What a Mother [Lover] … The LAT, in a lengthy look at Arnold’s body-building and steroid popping days, recounts how he once slept with a buddy’s girlfriend, then played a trick on the two: While the woman was still at Arnold’s house, Arnie dialed the phone and handed the woman the receiver, saying her lawyer was on the line. In fact, Schwarzenegger had dialed her boyfriend. A moment after the woman and boyfriend realized it, Arnold grabbed the phone and exclaimed, “I just [made love to] her. I just [made love to] her.”