Today's Papers

That’s the Ticket

The papers all lead with Sen. John Kerry’s announcement early yesterday that Sen. John Edwards will join him as the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket in November. The papers lead Pittsburgh-datelined regurgitations of the official announcement over servings of articles that rarely deviate from the standard menu: stock news analyses, up-from-bootstraps Edwards profiles, John vs. John comparisons, and rapid Republican reaction pieces. The Wall Street Journal does the best job summoning a mood with its Page-One head: “BEHIND KERRY CHOICE OF EDWARDS: CLEAR BET ON MIDDLE-CLASS ANGST” (subscription required).

When the papers began posting their final copy, almost 15 hours after the news first broke, there were few original analyses left; not surprisingly, the papers’ stories are sprinkled with phrases like “not surprisingly” in coverage that feels more rote than revelatory. In a front-page analysis, the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney tries to keep it interesting by trotting out former veeps like Walter Mondale and Dan Quayle—but to no avail. “It’s a very logical choice if you stand back and think about it,” Quayle snoozed about the lil’ John. “It’s a safe choice.”

The stories, if anything, reflect the dissemination of a uniform meme in what seems like record time: Edwards is the “charismatic” but “inexperienced” counterpart to Kerry’s formidable but lackluster candidacy. The question, the papers then ask, is will opposites attract voters? On one hand, the selection shows that Kerry is “secure enough to have picked a running mate widely judged to be the more effective campaigner,” the Washington Post writes in its analysis. But the choice could backfire if Kerry’s shortcomings appear in higher relief beside his running mate. (Yesterday, Slate’s Will Saletan played with this idea, too, casting Kerry as the solid product and Edwards as its deal-clinching salesman.)

There were a few stories that veered off on slightly more original angles. USA Today and the NYT both actually go to North Carolina to check the pulse and find out that most think Edwards is a wise choice, even if they don’t plan on voting for him. More interestingly, while the papers all parrot the contention that Edwards makes the Democrats more competitive in the South, both Ron Brownstein’s front-page analysis in the Los Angeles Times and John Harwood’s column inside the WSJ note that Edwards might actually help Bush in that regard. Some Democrats say Edwards’ presence on the ticket might force Kerry to symbolically siphon real money away from states that are legitimately competitive.

Of course, the papers all include details of the tightly organized announcement, and for good measure the LAT runs a piece on the secrecy surrounding the selection, while the NYT goes with a separate tick-tock story on the whole process. Everyone mentions, for example, that the second person Kerry told of his decision, after his wife, was the man who was to change the decals on the campaign plane; Kerry called him at 6:30 p.m. Monday, supposedly more than three hours before his campaign manager heard over fish soup. (Yet another NYT piece points out that news of a decal change leaked out on an aviation blog at 9:44 p.m. that evening, but no one noticed.) Another tidbit: The campaign had sign and T-shirt printers make five versions of each to maintain secrecy, according to the WSJ.

In a complex and fascinating investigative report, the LAT alleges that a Pentagon deputy undersecretary used his influence to push for—and in one case help win—no-bid Iraqi reconstruction contracts for companies with ties to his friends. At one point, the official mounted an unauthorized probe of an Iraqi port facility to which the military had denied him access and then issued a report suggesting problems he’d found could be remedied by hiring other companies with which he had relationships. “I get this call from [the U.S. military command in Iraq] that said: ‘We have an undersecretary of Defense roaming the countryside. We need to locate and secure him,’ ” a former CPA official told the Times. “He’s in the country illegally, but we can’t arrest him, so we let him finish the tour.”

The WP off-leads and the NYT, USAT, and LAT reefer news that a record 4.8 million people were infected with HIV last year, according to a U.N. report. Nearly a quarter of the new infections took place in Asia, a proportion that surprised U.N. health officials who performed the study, according to the NYT. “Overall, the world is failing in its response to AIDS and the commitments that were made,” the UNAIDS chief said in the LAT. “The virus is running faster than all of us.”

The WSJ teases in its worldwide news box—and the LAT and WP bury—the next installment in a story Knight-Ridder broke in March: An internal Health and Human Services investigation said Medicare’s former boss, a political appointee, broke no laws in repeatedly blocking, sometimes with threats, the organization’s chief actuary from telling Congress that Bush’s prescription drug bill would cost $100 billion more than advertised, a revelation that almost certainly would have sunk the proposal in the House. Congress’ General Accounting Office will make its own determination on the legality of what happened in the next few weeks.

Three days after the U.S. Marine who had been taken hostage in Iraq was reportedly beheaded, USAT fronts, and others mention, that he sent “a sign” to his family indicating that he was released. “We have received reliable information that they guy is free,” his brother told the AP. “The sign is something that came directly from him. There is something that nobody else could possibly know. It’s a certain clue. He is alive and he is released,” the brother told the NYT. The military said it had no way to confirm the information.

Elsewhere in Iraq, clashes killed four U.S. Marines and at least 13 Iraqis, and—in a development the NYT fronts—Prime Minister Iyad Allawi signed a law giving himself the power to declare martial law anywhere in the country. With the consent of the president, the two vice presidents and a majority of the Cabinet, Allawi will be able to impose curfews and ban groups he considers seditious. “Whenever and wherever it’s going to be necessary, we will apply this law,” he said in what the Times described as a low, gruff voice.

Post haste … You can taste the schadenfreude as USAT, the WSJ, and the LAT pile on the New York Post for getting the Kerry Veep story first, but completely wrong, on yesterday’s front page (as already noted by Slate’s Mickey Kaus and many, many, many others). “It is as good as it gets,” Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman crowed in the Journal. “By which I mean it is as bad as it gets.” Still, the NYP sold out, and, later yesterday, some vendors were hawking it well above the 25-cent cover price. As TP filed this morning, one Post copy listed on eBay had climbed to $71.