Today's Papers

Try, Try Again

A German appeals court ordered a retrial of the only person so far convicted of participating in the 9/11 terror attacks, according to the lead story in the New York Times and articles inside the other papers. The court complained that United States and German governments had withheld crucial evidence requested by the defense. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with sharp criticism President Bush has drawn for the use of 9/11 imagery in his campaign ads—an angle the Washington Post fronts, and the other papers treat inside. The Los Angeles Times leads with growing pressure on Disney’s board to dismiss CEO Michael Eisner after a resounding vote of no confidence from shareholders at the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday. The Washington Post tops its front page with a package on the late Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun’s newly opened papers (documented extensively yesterday by the NYT and NPR, both of which were granted early peeks at the cache). Like everyone, the Post latches on to Blackmun’s most dramatic anecdote: 1992’s successful covert effort by Justices O’Connor and Souter to lure Justice Kennedy away from a conservative majority that would have struck down Roe v. Wade. USA Today leads with government warnings of possible gasoline shortages and price increases, as consumption rises for the summer “driving season” and refineries make the cumbersome shift to delicious-sounding “summer-blend” gas. The government may try to keep prices in check by tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but analysts say that move would only shave a penny or two off the record rates.

According to the NYT’s lead and stories in the WP and LAT, the five-judge German panel based its decision to retry Mounir el-Motassadeq primarily on the U.S. refusal to provide access to Ramzi Binalshibh, who is supposedly a key player in the attacks and still in secret military custody. “We cannot abandon the rule of law,” the presiding judge told the court. “That would be the beginning of a fatal development and ultimately a victory for the terrorists.” The NYT notes that the U.S. has gotten into trouble over Binalshibh before; its refusal to grant access to him led a federal appeals judge to dismiss much of the case against alleged 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui. That decision is currently under appeal.

The controversial shots in Bush’s new ads feature a charred World Trade Center facade and, in one case, firefighters carrying a flag-shrouded body. “For the most part 9/11 families are very sensitive to someone using images of our loved one’s death for their own ends,” the offended director of one victims group told the Post. Then, apparently without irony, her group announced that it would hold a news conference on the issue at ground zero. The NYT and LAT run somewhat more nuanced pieces inside, focusing on dueling theatrics. One Republican even had a pro-Bush spin: “Are we on the Democrats’ issue of health care or are we on the Republican issue of national security?” he said in the NYT. “We changed the tone fundamentally.”

The Post’s Dana Milbank, for his part, takes one of Bush’s ads to task for another reason. The ad leads with text reading, “January 2001. The challenge: an economy in recession.” The official arbiter of such things, however, still claims the recession began in March of that year.

In other election news, the WSJ reports that Kerry hopes to raise $100 million by the Democratic convention and the FEC yesterday set in motion a process to restrict fund raising and spending by political organizations known as “527” committees, according to pieces inside the NYT and WP. The practical effect of new rules would be to significantly curtail several pro-Democratic groups, but the Post notes that a key Democrat on the committee has indicated she probably won’t support the changes.

According to an above-the-fold exclusive in the NYT, Russian engineers aided Iraq’s long-range missile program as recently as 2001, in clear violation of U.N. sanctions. The story blindly sources “American officials” who say the Iraq Survey Group turned up evidence of the cooperation in their hunt for banned weapons. It’s unclear if the Russian government knew of the aid, and the NYT suggests the administration has soft-pedaled the story so as not to upset the love-fest between President Bush and Vladimir Putin.

The WP fronts the growing conflagration surrounding the potentially criminal pilfering of Senate Democrats’ computer files by GOP staffers, following a damning investigation by the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms. At a press conference, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the committee, expressed the necessary shock. “I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred,” he said in the NYT. Interestingly, the Times later mentions (without comment) that a central figure in the thievery actually worked for Hatch at one point.

The paper also quotes the White House counsel in a denial worthy of Catch-22: “I am not aware of any credible allegation of White House involvement in this matter. Consequently, there has been no White House investigation or effort to determine whether anyone at the White House was aware of or involved in these activities.”

Though the Disney board took away Eisner’s chairmanship, some detractors see that move as insufficient, and they may start a direct campaign to oust him, according to the LAT. The NYT’s off-lead and pieces inside the other papers don’t even mention such a possibility and the WSJ says, moreover, that the board would be very reluctant to destabilize the company while they are facing Comcast’s hostile takeover. But the LAT assures us that two former board members who pushed the original “no” vote are considering triggering an ouster through an obscure process called a consent solicitation. Shareholders would vote directly, perhaps within a couple of months, on whether to keep Eisner on as CEO, and the paper contends that the threat of an immediate dismissal could force the board to abandon him.

The two Christian groups that filed suit to stop same-sex marriages in San Francisco are part of a larger Christian legal strategy, according to an LAT fronter. The groups, funded by Christian ministries and born of frustration at the success of secular organizations such as the ACLU, are becoming a powerful force, with staff attorneys working alongside hundreds of evangelical Christian lawyers who volunteer their time.

A long Page One feature in the WP paints a stark picture of Iraqi hospitals, with premature babies dying for lack of respirators, sewage dripping into the ORs, and flies gathering around the wounded.

The NYT fronts Japan’s latest in automated care for old folks, with a large photo of a smiling 89-year-old woman sitting in what looks suspiciously like a prop from Woody Allen’s Sleeper. It’s actually a human washing machine called a HIRB, which is short for harmony in roll-lo bathing. “It automatically washes my body, so I am quite happy about it,” said another woman. “These bubbles are good for the massage effect.”