Today's Papers

Spanish Fly … Away

The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal word-wide newsbox, and USA Today all lead with Spain’s incoming prime minister saying he’s going to follow through on his campaign promise to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the U.N. takes over. Spain has about 1,300 troops in Iraq, a bit less than one percent of the total foreign force there. “The war has been a disaster; the occupation continues to be a disaster,” said incoming the prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. As the LAT headlines, he added, “You can’t organize a war with lies.” The New York Times’ national edition also leads with Zapatero but emphasizes his comments that he’s not going to be as tight with the U.S. “I want Europe to see us again as pro-European,” he said. The Washington Post fronts Spain and leads with the revelation that EPA officials in charge of monitoring D.C.’s water knew that the supply contained five times the level of lead considered safe but didn’t do anything about it for a year because of cost concerns and logistical issues. “In hindsight, we missed some opportunities to engage earlier,” said one EPA official.

Most of the papers highlight mounting evidence that al-Qaida or affiliated local Islamic terror groups were responsible for the Madrid bombings. Unnamed Moroccan officials told the Post that they had had one of the five men arrested in the attacks under (presumably poor) surveillance since last year’s bombings in Casablanca. Time magazine also has plenty of details, saying Moroccan officials think that threeof the men arrested in connection with the attacks are members a local group responsible for Casablanca.

While the NYT also says that authorities are all but convinced that Islamic militants were behind the attacks, it emphasizes that officials seem less than sure that the guys arrested were involved. Two of them might be released. So far, they’ve only been linked to selling hot cellphones that may have been used in the attacks. “There is not a lot of good evidence yet,” said one unnamed counter-terrorism official.

But then, that may be yesterday’s angle. According to this morning’s El Pais, Spain’s leading paper, police believe they’ve ID’d six of the bombers, and one is already in custody. 

Four American aid workers were murdered and one more wounded when their car was fired on near Mosul. Most of the papers stuff the killings, with the only the Post seming to give it a front-page headline, a small “teaser” with a reference to the story inside. That reminds TP of an observation it made in the fall: The papers no longer consider a few Americans killed in Iraq to be front-page news. That’s reasonable given the frequency of attacks. But, cumulatively, it has the effect of underplaying the deaths. So, here’s the idea, again: Why not put a small box on Page One with stats for any killed or wounded that day?

The NYT goes inside with a poll taken among Iraqis in which respondents said 48 percent to 39 percent that the U.S. was right to invade. Fifty-one percent also said they aren’t into foreign forces in the country.

Everybody goes inside with the first U.S. casualty in Haiti: A Marine was shot and wounded Sunday night by unknown gunmen. Meanwhile, the Post fronts former president Aristide’s arrival in Jamaica, where he’s scheduled to hang out for about two months. The Post describes Aristide as being “coy” about whether he’s going to try to get involved in his country’s happenings. “Let us be wise enough to continue to listen to the voice of the Haitian people,” he said.

The best reporting today on Haiti unfortunately is relegated to the latter half of the Post’s piece. After noting that Aristide continues to insist that the U.S. “kidnapped him,” the Post offers some evidence suggesting he might have a point. Aristide says the U.S. ambassador to Haiti tricked him, saying that rebels were about to arrive and that they should go to a TV station to broadcast an appeal for calm. Instead, Aristide says, he was driven directly to the airport and all but shoved on the plane. The Post says that two people present at the time corroborated Aristide’s account, including one of Aristide’s American security guards who was on the U.S. government’s payroll. The guard said the ambassador’s plea to Aristide “was just bogus. It’s a story they fabricated.” The Post flags that reporting with the hard-hitting headline, “ARISTIDE BACK IN CARIBBEAN HEAT.”

The Post goes Page One with the Department of Agriculture announcing that it’s going to increase tests for mad cow disease tenfold. The WP emphasizes that the government made the “turnaround” after being accused of dilly-dallying. Japan and other countries have said that the U.S. needs to test all cattle going to slaughter, a level of testing that the U.S. still won’t be anywhere near.

But again, it’s the latter half of the story where things get interesting. As the Post explains, much of the question about how many cows to test revolves around the issue of whether all cattle with mad cow are downers, that is, so sick they can’t walk and thus easier to spot. The USDA has always said that the one U.S. cow known to have the disease was a downer. But the worker who killed the cow as well as the owner of the slaughterhouse in question say they repeatedly told the USDA that the cow wasn’t a downer. And as it turns out, for at least two weeks there’s been a criminal investigation into whether people at the USDA lied about it and falsified records.

Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t know that. The story was first broken by the Oregonian, and the national dailies haven’t exactly been flooding the zone with follow-ups. So far as TP can tell, before today the coverage had consisted of 101 words on Page 8 of the LAT and 650 words on A16 in the NYT.

The LAT goes above-the-fold with current unnamed and former named EPA staffers complaining that when they were devising revised mercury standards, they “were told not to undertake the normal scientific and economic studies called for under a standing executive order.” The LAT also points out that the language in the administration’s mercury proposal is darn similar to language used in a paper put out by a power industry lobbying group. The Times posts the docs for comparison.

The NYT notices inside with the administration backing away from the proposed mercury standards.

Everybody notes inside that Pakistani police defused a big bomb outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi. Secretary of State Powell is scheduled to visit Pakistan tomorrow.

The paperssay inside that 23 Afghans and three Pakistanis have been freed from Guantanamo Bay and sent to their home countries. U.S. officials said it’s up to the former prisoners’ governments to decide whether to charge the guys with anything.

The Post’s Reliable Source column reports on a fund-raiser for and at Ford’s Theatre. Bush was there and made a small verbal gaffe, calling the theater, where Lincoln was killed, the Lincoln Theatre. But he was one-upped by another attendee, singer Jessica Simpson. Upon being introduced to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Simpson complimented her, saying, “You’ve done a nice job decorating the White House.”