Today's Papers

Cherry Picking Season

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Postall lead with the Senate easily shooting down the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that President Bush had endorsed. The bill didn’t even make it to the floor, with six Republicans joining Democrats to defeat the measure 50 to 48 in a procedural vote; 12 short of the super-majority needed for it to move on. USA Today leads with the government killing the proposed air-passenger screening program, known as CAPS II, that would have ranked travelers according to their apparent risk of being a terrorist. There were, it turns out, privacy concerns.

The papers all at least tease a British inquiry’s conclusions that the U.K.’s intel on Iraq was bunk—”seriously flawed”—but that the Blair government didn’t purposely distort it. Those are the conclusions. Meanwhile, the meat of the report details how Prime Minister Blair’s office, particularly in its public dossier, ignored analysts’ caveats and qualifications and, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “left out intelligence that wasn’t consistent with its case for tough action against Iraq.”

A front-page LAT piece says State Department analysts objected to many of the allegations contained in drafts of Secretary Powell’s U.N. speech on Iraq but some of the assertions made it in anyway. As the Times puts it, analysts warned that Powell, who was handed the draft speech by Vice President Cheney’s office, “was being put in the position of drawing the most sinister conclusions from satellite images, communications intercepts and human intelligence reports that had alternative, less-incriminating explanations.” The outlines of this have been known for a while. (Powell reportedly threw drafts in the air and screamed, “This is bullshit!”) But the Times adds details, particularly on concerns about statements that made it into in the speech. Remember the satellite photo purportedly showing chemical decontamination trucks? The analysts said Iraq’s explanation—that they were just water trucks—was “plausible.” The Times notes that details of the original assertions are still sketchy since Republicans on the Senate committee blocked attempts to get the first drafts.

The LAT’s apparent exclusive on Powell’s speech is based on an appendix included in the (long) Senate Intel Committee’s report released last week. Did no other journos bother to leaf to the back of the report?

The Wall Street Journal goes high with attacks in Iraq, including yesterday’s bombing in Baghdad that killed 10 Iraqis as well as the assassination of a governor of one northern province. In Ramadi, Marines said they killed about 20 insurgents who attempted what one officer called a “failed complex attack.” 

A front-page piece in the Post notices that the already small coalition contingent in Iraq is shrinking, and it’s not just the Philippines. While South Korea is adding troops, at least four countries are on their way out, including the Netherlands and New Zealand, with more likely to follow. “Sovereignty was always a point at which countries look at how long they’ll stay,” said one pro-U.S. diplomat. “It becomes a segue for pulling out.”

Citing Iraqi and U.S. officials, the Christian Science Monitor says cleric Moqtada Sadr’s militia is regrouping, apparently with Iranian help. “They are preparing for something, gathering weapons; people are coming in buses from other parts of Iraq,” said the Iraqi security adviser for Najaf, Sadr’s stronghold.

A Post editorial notices that while the Pentagon has launched numerous (albeit limited) investigations into abuses of prisoners, there has been an “almost complete absence of scrutiny of the CIA’s activity.” The lack of investigations comes despite what the Post describes as the CIA’s “illegal behavior”: keeping some prisoners off the books and incommunicado, occasionally torturing them, and having at least two die while being interrogated. (A contractor has been charged in one of those cases.) This could easily be a worthy news piece, no?

The Post and LAT both front Senate investigators’ report about the shady practices of the venerable Riggs Bank. The WP highlights how Riggs helped one customer—former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet—to hide millions of dollars. The Times, which notes that its reporting prompted the inquiry, focuses on the report’s conclusion that U.S. oil companies used Riggs to grease the wheels in oil-rich but corrupt and authoritarian-run Equatorial Guinea.

Going tabloid—or maybe meta, or maybe meta-tabloid—the NYT’s Page One whispers: “HEAR THE RUMOR ON CHENEY? CAPITAL BUZZES, DENIALS ASIDE.” Following standard responsible journalism practice, the Times details the rumor, dismisses it, and then ponders its larger meaning.

Loser lead aside, the Times’ Cheney piece does have some good reporting (read: quotes) on Republican queasiness about the veep. “I don’t think you fix the problem by changing the No. 2 horse, but Bush is facing so much heavy baggage going into November, he’s going to have to throw some of that baggage off,” said one anon GOPer.

Back to the partially dismissed State Dept. analysts …  The LAT, as is its habit, posts the relevant document. In this case the analysts wrote a pages-long memo detailing their objections to the drafts of Powell’s speech. Here’s a taste:

—16, bullets four and five. WEAK. WMD personnel leaving Iraq under various circumstances to avoid interviews. Some details are highly questionable, and this reporting is arguably at odds with other claims in the draft.—16-17. WEAK. Experts at one facility being substituted by workers from other facilities. Plausibility open to question.—17, first full bullet. * Some officials reportedly [redacted]. We question report’s authenticity, but it is not implausible.—17, second bullet. WEAK. 12 experts reportedly under house arrest, 70 others in prison, to prevent contact with inspectors. Highly questionable.