Today's Papers

A Plan for Iran? 

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with a series of five Israeli airstrikes against targets in Gaza yesterday, which killed at least 11 people and injured about 100. The NYT calls it “one of the most intensive, lethal air barrages of the conflict.” The Washington Post leads with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Britain visiting Iran in an attempt to convince Tehran to bag its nukes program in return for international help developing civilian nuclear plants. The paper says there’s a good chance of a deal. USA Today leads with, and the WP top-fronts, sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad’s decision to represent himself in his trial. He claimed, “I had nothing to do with these crimes directly or indirectly.” And prosecutors couldn’t possibly know otherwise, he argued. “They wasn’t there. I was. I know what happened.”

In the deadliest air attack yesterday, Israel fired on a car carrying apparent militants, then fired on the car again after a crowd and emergency workers had gathered around. About eight people were killed, including four men in the car, and about 70 people were injured. An earlier attack on a militant in a car at an intersection wounded “several” (LAT) schoolchildren.

The Post suggests that the White House is happy to have the Europeans negotiate with Iran. “It’s sort of a good-cop, bad-cop” situation, said one analyst. About halfway through the article, the WP also mentions that the deal might not require Tehran to suspend enriching nuclear fuel, which can be used for both civilian plants and nukes. “Getting the Iranians to stop completely, after all they’ve invested, will be very difficult,” said one “Europe-based official.”

The LAT fronts the orchestrated make-nice meeting between President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox: “FOX, BUSH PUT THEIR RIFT TO REST.” Fox didn’t get any promises on policy changes (he wants immigration rules loosened). But he did get an invite to Bush’s ranch.

The off-lead in the NYT notices that President Bush took Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad aside and apparently told him that his recent anti-Semitic remarks were “wrong” and stand “squarely against what I believe in.” Bush apparently detailed the meeting to aides who in turn recounted it to reporters. The Times notes that Bush had the “strange and choreographed encounter” after having remained silent for four days. “Clearly, we had to respond,” said one unnamed White House official. “But the president wanted to do it in a quiet way, without further public embarrassment for Mahathir.”

The less-than-full-throated nature of Bush’s rebuke seems newsworthy. At least the NYT’s writer, David Sanger thinks so, emphasizing it at the top of his article. But as TP has mentioned before, headline writers at U.S.-based papers tend to be wimps, frequently deferring to officialdom spin (ironically, for fear of appearing biased). Today’s example, from the Times:  “MALAYSIAN LEADER’S TALK ATTACKING JEWS DRAWS IRE FROM BUSH.” Compare that to the headline of the same article in the Paris-based (but NYT-owned) International Herald Tribune: “BUSH’S CAUTIOUS REBUKE.”

As it happens, that’s not the only difference between the two articles. Check out their respective lead sentences, with the differences italicized. From the NYT: “President Bush told Malaysia’s pugnacious prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, on Monday that he was ‘wrong and divisive’ when he declared last week that Jews ran the world by proxy.” And the IHT: “President George Bush ran into Malaysia’s pugnacious prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, at the opening of the Asian summit meeting on Monday afternoon, and told him confidentially, out of the earshot of the other 19 leaders, that Mahathir was ‘wrong and divisive.’ ” Why did the NYT nix “out of earshot”? Did editors not think it was relevant? (Taking out “confidentially” is fair since details of the scolding were purposely passed along.)

Despite the failings of the NYT’s coverage, it deserves credit for giving Bush’s comments significant play—something none of the other papers do. 

The WP notes inside that Shiite leaders in Iraq are pushing to hold elections to elect members of a constitutional assembly, a move that some Sunni leaders oppose. The U.S. is also against it since it would almost certainly mean delaying the constitution-writing process by months if not years. “On balance, we believe it’s better to have a representative group of experts instead of a bunch of people with no particular credentials other than the fact they won an election,” said one unnamed American official, who apparently is not a candidate for Schwarzenegger’s transition team.

Everybody notes inside that one GI was killed and six wounded in an attack yesterday near Fallujah. A wire piece in the NYT notes that a man killed after the attack appears to have been executed by U.S. soldiers: “The man had a gunshot wound in the back of his head and his hands were tied in front of him with plastic bands similar to those used by the United States military.” The other papers don’t mention this. 

The papers all note that the federal deficit for fiscal 2003 was, according to the White House’s numbers, $374 billion, that’s twice last year’s figure but lower than the WH’s recent estimates. USAT goes with the good: “2003 DEFICIT IS LOWER THAN FORECAST”; the WSJ with the bad: “BUDGET DEFICIT DOUBLES LEVEL HIT IN PREVIOUS YEAR”; and the NYT with both: “DEFICIT DOUBLES, BUT FALLS SHORT OF FORECAST.” Meanwhile, the papers all say whatever the short-term trends or changes in expectations, the deficit isn’t going away. We aren’t going to “grow out of this,” one analyst told USAT. “These are large, structural deficits that are going to require either limits on spending or increases in revenues.”

Back to the anti-Semite … The NYT picks up on some follow-up comments the Malaysian prime minister made to a Thai paper. He insisted he’s not anti-Semitic and that the wily Western press just gave him a raw deal. “In my speech I condemned all violence, even the suicide bombings,” he said. “But those things were blacked out in the Western media.” Then he said, referring to Jews, “The reaction of the world shows that they do control the world.”