Today's Papers

Do Two Johns Make a Right?

The Kerry campaign’s elaborate weeklong roll-out of the choice of John Edwards as running mate culminates today. Just in time for their joint 60 Minutes appearance tonight, the Johns on Friday gave formal interviews, embargoed until this morning, aboard their campaign plane. The Washington Post leads with a report on the sit-down, focusing on Kerry’s claim that President Bush has governed dishonestly and that his administration’s “values system is distorted and not based on truth.” The New York Times goes above the fold with its own Kerry-Edwards interview but leads with a secondary conclusion from the scathing Senate report on prewar intelligence: Saddam’s army was in decline and posed little threat to regional stability. And the Los Angeles Times leads, at least online, with other news related to the Senate report, revealing that President Bush does not favor creating a single national intelligence czar, as some experts have advocated, but likely will support centralizing authority, in some form, within the 14 intelligence agencies. 

The WP gives prominent, before-the-jump play to Kerry and Edwards’ attempt to frame their critique of the president as a question of “values.” But it treats skeptically Kerry’s assertion that, “we have not … attacked our opponents in personal ways,” pointing out a number of recent occasions on which he’s done exactly that. And it devotes 10 paragraphs to weighing the charge, pushed by the GOP, that Edwards lacks the experience to take over the top job. The NYT,meanwhile, highlights another of Kerry’s lines of attack: that the president sacrificed U.S. lives, dollars, and prestige by launching a war in Iraq based on faulty intelligence. As so often in its campaign coverage, the NYT dwells on observational details that may or may not reveal larger truths about the candidates’ styles and gives shorter shrift than the WP to substantive issues. The NYT notes, for instance, that when Kerry bemoaned “a new level of cynicism and lack of credibility towards government in our country,” Edwards picked up on the theme but added a more optimistic twist: “I think equally important, we can change that. … The damage is not irreparable with a new administration.”

The LAT lead story on the president’s likely response to the intelligence failures defines the central political question as whether the White House can ensure that the debate comes to center on how to improve the intelligence system. Democrats want the spotlight to remain on flaws in the intelligence used to justify the Iraq war. But John Kerry will likely leave that critique to others within the party, says the LAT, and attempt to remain above the fray by focusing on his own strategy for improving the intelligence system and winning the war on terror.

The NYT has had time to digest the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Friday and seems to have found new evidence to shoot down another of the Bush administration’s justifications for the Iraq war: Although top administration officials, both before and after the war, described Saddam as a threat to regional stability—on Friday, the president insisted that “the world is better off without Saddam in power”—the Senate report found that the Iraqi army had been dramatically weakened in the decade before the war and posed little immediate threat to U.S. interests in the region. The report faults the CIA for failing to provide policy-makers with a unified and comprehensive sense of the threat level. But when taken together, the various intelligence assessments, as summarized in the report, appear to paint a clear picture of an Iraqi military in decline, at least from the late 1990s on. 

There’s better news for the administration in the NYT’s off-lead story: reports of rising tension between Iraqi resistance fighters and foreign Islamic militants, which could help explain why there have been relatively few major attacks since the transfer of formal sovereignty to Iraqis almost two weeks ago. Much of the indigenous resistance seems not to support the indiscriminate killing of civilians, which is being carried out largely by foreigners, many with suspected ties to the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In a sign of the growing rift, two separate groups of resistance fighters this week threatened to kill Zarqawi, though the NYT doesn’t say why. And a statement allegedly signed by Zarqawi attacked a Sunni resistance group for attempting negotiation to prevent the beheading of Nicholas Berg in May. One young member of the Fallujah resistance tells the NYT: “Iraqis do not need Zarqawi or al Qaeda members to help them.”

Perhaps some of the Islamic militants are getting that message and turning to other battles: The WP off-leads news that a growing number of Saudis who had been fighting in Iraq are returning home to plan attacks against their own government and Western targets inside Saudi Arabia. One Western diplomat sees the Iraqi insurgency as providing a training ground for young Islamic radicals, much as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did in the 1980s. These younger fighters, says the WP, are motivated in large part by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they may be replacing the more established, Afghanistan-trained generation of jihadists, many of whom have by now been killed or captured. 

You can’t blame the NYT for going high with its investigation into attempts by railroads to avoid responsibility for grade-crossing fatalities: The piece, which is the first in a series that took seven months to put together, runs to 6,978 words. It’s also a genuinely sobering tale of corporate malfeasance, which details how railroads frequently destroy and mishandle evidence after crossing accidents, thwarting attempts by victims and their families to seek recompense. On one occasion, Union Pacific—which stands out as the worst offender—attempted to avoid blame for a fatal crash caused by a malfunctioning warning signal by covertly swapping the faulty parts before plaintiff’s lawyers could inspect them. And although one person a day dies at a crossing in the United States, federal authorities fully investigated just four out of 3,000 accidents last year. 

And the NYT also gets in some quality time with Elvis Costello, previewing three upcoming appearances by the Irish-born pop/punk/rock singer-songwriter, each with different ensembles, at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. In one show, he’ll be accompanied by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, which will provide full orchestral arrangements of his songs. The NYT notes Costello’s penchant for collaboration—with Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Brian Eno, George Jones, and the Charles Mingus Orchestra, among others—and touts his forthcoming, “The Delivery Man,” recorded with two longtime bandmates. Says Elvis: “It’s the kind of rock and roll music that a man of my years can play without embarrassment.”