The papers all lead, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box, with the snowballing controversy over the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism, which played out via tit-for-tat appearances on the Sunday talk show circuit and during a 60 Minutes interview last night with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Washington Post’s lead goes high with Rice’s reiteration of her decision not to testify publicly before the 9/11 commission despite the commission’s intensified press for her to do so—the angle of the Los Angeles Times’ top story. The New York Times’ lead zeroes in on Rice’s admission that, on the day after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush did after all order former counterterror czar Richard Clarke to find out if Iraq was involved, as Clarke has contended. And USA Today’s lead emphasizes Clarke’s call to declassify all his private testimony about 9/11, along with his e-mails to and from Rice, his former boss.
Despite the fact that Rice has, in the words of one 9/11 commissioner quoted in the NYT, “appeared everywhere except my local Starbucks,” she was adamant that testifying under oath would compromise the role of the national security adviser. “Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there is an important principle here,” she said. The Post, however, cites two Republican officials “who declined to be identified because they are not supposed to talk to reporters,” who say the administration is looking for a compromise, such as releasing a transcript of Rice’s private testimony, which would not be under oath. “That would help our credibility,” one said. (The NYT notes that there is not thought to be a transcript of Rice’s previous appearance before the panel.)
The papers’ leads all note that Clarke, appearing on CNN and in an hour-long interview on Meet the Press, upped the ante on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has suggested that the White House expose allegedly perjury-worthy contradictions in Clarke’s accusations by declassifying sworn testimony he gave before a congressional committee in 2002. “Let’s declassify all of it,” Clarke rebutted, suggesting also the release of memos that he said contain policy suggestions the Bush administration delayed adopting until it was too late.
The NYT’s lead makes a point that is rarely mentioned in this talk showdown: Clarke’s assertions about the Bush administration’s lack of focus have some pretty strong corroboration. For example, the joint congressional report on intelligence failures concluded back in December that “significant slippage in counterterrorism policy may have taken place in late 2000 and early 2001,” and, in Bob Woodward’s Bush at War, Bush himself admitted Osama Bin Laden wasn’t a priority before Sept. 11. “I was not on point,” Bush said. “I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling.”
The NYT off-leads and the LAT goes above-the-fold with the U.S. occupation’s decision to shut down a popular Iraqi newspaper run by a radical Shiite cleric. According to the LAT, troops gave the newspaper’s editor a letter from L. Paul Bremer that said the paper had violated a law issued last year banning publications from printing material that incites violence. Both papers front large photos of the ensuing demonstration that saw between hundreds (LAT) and thousands (NYT) of demonstrators gather peacefully in front of the paper’s padlocked offices. Best ironic quote goes to the NYT: “I guess this is the Bush edition of democracy,” said an Iraqi freelance journalist.
USAT fronts, the WP reefers and the LAT and NYT stuff an Israeli prosecutor’s recommendation that the country’s justice minister indict Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for bribery in what has become known as the Greek Island affair. The newly appointed minister will probably take at least a month to decide whether to pursue prosecution, but if he does, it would probably fracture Sharon’s ruling coalition in the Knesset and force him to resign. Still, Israeli politics are always hard to read. The LAT, for example, notes that that the threat of prosecution will make it difficult for Sharon to begin his unilateral withdrawal from the occupied territories. USAT, however, writes that “the proposal is popular in Israel. Some political experts say Sharon may try to hasten implementation to deflect domestic attention from the bribery charges.”
An Arab League summit that was set to have discussed democratic reform in the Arab world was canceled yesterday, just one day before opening, according to a story that the NYT alone runs high and large. The exact reason for the cancellation is in dispute, but the paper reports that, after it became clear some leaders, such as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, were not planning to attend, the host country, Tunisia, abruptly pulled the plug, saying that it would not preside over a milquetoast call for democratic reform. Context: The paper notes that Tunisia is ruled by a seeming president-for-life who routinely suppresses dissent.
The WP fronts an interesting, almost hopeful article describing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Shiite organization as a kind of Iraqi version of the U.S.’s National Association of Evangelicals—a hierarchical group that’s as political as it is religious. Each day, for example, activists fan out to collect signatures for a petition rejecting the interim constitution, which Sistani opposes. Thousands of those signatures are scanned in nightly and sent by CD to headquarters in Najaf. Of course, Iraqi politics are still a little more lurid than the U.S.’s. According to one Shiite activist, a third of the people wanted to sign with pens dipped in their own blood; Sistani, he said, “has refused people doing this. He said it’s disgusting, and he doesn’t accept it.”
Below the fold, the WP fronts a changing of the guard among “the real powers that be,” in the words of one executive headhunter. Yes, that’s right, an unusual number of the dons of K Street—those who control the country’s major lobbying groups and unions—are retiring. While the groups have been installing G.O.P. loyalists at their coveted helms for the last few years, the Post reasons that the toss-up nature of the general election could make this round of hirings much more exciting (in an exceedingly narrow, Beltway-ish sense).
From the Dept. of Taking Things Too Literally … In an article about a still-classified report on the U.S.’s bioterror preparedness, the NYT’s Judith Miller gets back in the intelligence game—revealing what our careful government censors don’t want the terrorists to see:
In one instance in the redacted version, the summary states, “The fall 2001 anthrax attacks may turn out to be … to confront.” The deleted passage reads: “the easiest of bioterrorist strikes.”