Today's Papers

Magical Kingdone

The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal business box, and Los Angeles Times all lead with cable company Comcast’s unsolicited offer to buy Walt Disney Corp. for about $54 billion. Disney is opposing the bid, but if it goes through, it would create the world’s largest media company. And even if Comcast doesn’t end up taking Disney, another bidder might get it. With Disney CEO Michael Eisner sucking wind after internal battles, the company, says the Journal,“is in play.” The Washington Post top-fronts the bid but leads with South Korean scientists’ announcement that they’ve created cloned human embryos and then extracted stem cells, the near-miracle cells that researchers believe will eventually help to cure all sorts of diseases. The scientists have said they want to use the embryos for research and have no interest in making human clones.

Each embryo—about as large as a speck of dust—was created from a cell taken from a woman. No sperm was involved. The NYT notes that the researchers’ paper, which was written in slight jargonese—”We report the derivation of a pluripotent embryonic stem cell line (SCNT-hES-1)”—details the exact process researchers took. “You now have the cookbook, you have a methodology that’s publicly available,” explained one scientist. “My reaction is, basically, wow,” said another. “It’s a landmark paper.” As the papers note, under a White House policy, federally funded scientists aren’t allowed to do the kind of research the Koreans did.

The Post says on Page One that the CIA is going to start giving analysts more details about the agents behind the info the analysts are evaluating. The CIA is making the change after an internal review of prewar intel found that the agency had occasionally been involved in a kind of game of telephone: Analysts, for instance, occasionally thought they were getting info from a reliable source who knew directly what was going on when in fact the source had just been passing along OPT (other people’s tips).

The NYT says that former Iraqi officials have told interrogators that Saddam had his own intel issues and was convinced that the U.S. wouldn’t invade. The findings come via a Pentagon-penned history of the war from the Iraqi perspective. As the Times summarizes, the report describes “a government disconnected from reality in peace and in war, where members of Mr. Hussein’s inner circle routinely lied to him and each other about Iraqi military capacities.”

As the Post notes on Page One, the White House released a document yesterday offering the first evidence that President Bush did spend time at an Alabama National Guard base as he has said. The records are from a dentist visit—complete with a map of the president’s chompers—and don’t clarify whether he served the length of time in Alabama that he says he did. 

The Post also emphasizes that the White House “backed off” from the president’s promise to open his various military records. During Sunday’s interview, NBC’s Tim Russert had asked, “Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?” Bush replied, “Yes, absolutely.” Yesterday, spokesman Scott McClellan, shall we say, clarified, “No, I think the question was payroll records, payroll records that would show you served.” USAT points out that portions of some of the president’s recently released documents—that contain responses to questions about arrests or convictions—have been blacked out

USAT teases on Page One an interview with a former Texas Guard official who says that back in the late 1990s he overheard superiors talking about how to avoid disclosing any potentially damaging info from then-Gov. Bush’s guard files. The man says he heard one official say, “We certainly don’t want anything that is embarrassing in there.” Citing their source, USAT adds in a suggestive but murky sentence, “Bush’s files were [then] carried between the base archives and the headquarters’ building.” The same former official has told the Associated Press he saw some of Bush’s files in the trash. USAT notes up high that the White House called the charges “outrageously false.”

The other papers either downplay this latest Guard wrinkle or don’t mention it. That’s probably because the whistleblower has an ax to grind: He fought with the Texas Guard over a previous issue and claims that in retaliation then-Gov. Bush and his aides denied him medical coverage. USAT’s reporters may be lending the guy’s story weight as a result of having used him before an unrelated story that panned out.

The NYT notes below the fold that the Justice Dept. has subpoenaed some hospitals’ records of patients’ abortions. The DOJ says it needs the information to respond to a suit doctors have filed against the new law that bans so-called partial birth abortions. The records are from some doctors involved in the suit. Justice lawyers said they don’t want to know the patients’ names, and are only curious whether each abortion was medically necessary or “if it was just the doctor’s preference to perform the procedure.”

Everybody mentions that 15 Palestinians were killed and about 50 injured in heavy fighting during an Israeli army raid in Gaza City. Most of those killed were gunmen, while many of the wounded were civilians. Another three Palestinians were killed in fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

The Journal notes a potential emerging market for Hallmark: Iran. Valentines Day is big among the young folk there. “The clerics want us to only celebrate religious holidays, but we are Iranian, we are tired of mourning for imams and martyrs, and sick of all this sadness imposed on us,” said one 18-year-old.

[P.S. The Post’s Web site was sick last night, so TP couldn’t read stories inside the paper.]