Today's Papers

Plame the Messenger

The Washington Post leads with an exhaustive, blow-by-blow account of the events leading up to the disclosure of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. The FBI is examining the link between Plame’s outing and her husband Joseph Wilson’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger. The New York Times leads with the selling of bonds by state and local governments in a Faustian attempt to cover pension shortfalls. The gambit works only if the investment return on the proceeds exceeds the fixed interest rate paid on the bonds. It usually doesn’t. The Los Angeles Times leads with lean times at public universities, which are charging more and offering less, e.g., no more dairy barn at Iowa State.

While it’s still not known who blew Valerie Plame’s cover, the motive for doing so may be coming into focus, according to the Post lead. At the heart of the story is Joseph Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger, where he was sent by the CIA to see if that country was supplying uranium to Iraq. It was not, said Wilson, who this summer became an outspoken, oft-interviewed critic of the war. Administration officials claim that the Plame informant(s) was merely trying to discredit Wilson, calling his trip a boondoggle arranged by his wife and therefore not to be taken seriously. (Bush, of course, told the uranium tale in his State of the Union Address, Wilson’s report notwithstanding.)

The NYT’s lead on boneheaded bond sales cites New Orleans as a case in point. The Big Easy sold a bunch of bonds in 2000 to finance the pensions of 820 retired firefighters. The underwriter, Paine Webber, pocketed its $3 million fee and made the following prediction: N.O. would pay only 8.2 percent interest on the bonds while earning 10.7 percent by investing the proceeds, mostly in stocks. Ergo, a tidy profit. What actually happened? The stock investments lost 3 percent a year, leaving the city to pay both the pensions and the interest on the bonds. A growing list of states and cities are up a similar creek.

Municipal money woes figure in the LAT lead as well, as public universities raise tuition and cut classes to make ends meet. The result may mean a narrowing of focus at some schools. “The University of Missouri at Rolla is a highly regarded engineering school. So why does it need to offer a degree in English?” asks the LAT. The paper seems to regard the cuts as an opportunity for some needed reform, or at least a chance to eliminate the waterslides. (See “Jacuzzi U.? A Battle of Perks to Lure Students,” from last Sunday’s NYT.

The NYT fronts a lengthy (almost 10,000-word) examination of the Lackawanna terror case, concluding that the threat posed by the so-called al-Qaida cell was “profoundly ambiguous.” Or, to let the head of the Buffalo FBI office tell it, “If we don’t know for sure they’re going to do something, or not, we need to make sure that we prevent anything they may be planning, whether or not we know or don’t know about it.” The Times worked in conjuction with Frontline, which will air its documentary on the subject on Thursday on PBS. 

The NYT also fronts testimony from the war crimes tribunal in The Hague indicating that the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnians in 1995 was well-planned and deliberate. Two Bosnian Serb officers, an intelligence chief and a brigade commander, described the logistics of the mass execution and provided names and documents backing their account. “They’ve practically written the judgment,” says one court official.

LAT editor John S. Carroll writes a spirited—and some might say paranoid—defense of his paper’s Schwarzenegger coverage. The LAT ran its first groping story just five days before the election and was subsequently accused of colluding with Gray Davis. “I’ll begin this accounting with a bit of background,” Carroll hisses. “One of our goals is to do more investigative reporting. At the risk of offending still more readers, I’ll say that if you’re put off by investigative reporting, this probably won’t be the right newspaper for you in the years to come.”

Finally, the NYT Book Review gives a qualified thumbs up to Madame Secretary, Madeleine Albright’s “down-to-earth” autobiography, put out by Miramax. The former secretary of state has lots to draw on, both professional (Kosovo, for starters) and personal (like when her journalist husband informed her that if he won the Pulitzer, he would stay in their marriage; win, and stay, he did not). Indeed, the reviewer seems charmed by Albright’s skillful juggling of affairs of state and living room, as evidenced by this to-do list: “1) Call Senator Helms; 2) Call King Hussein; 3) Call Foreign Minister Moussa; 4) Make other Congressional calls; 5) Prepare for China meeting; 6) Buy nonfat yogurt.”