Today's Papers

The Return of the King

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today cannot resist the siren call of Bill Clinton. Even though the former president didn’t take the stage at the opening night of the Democratic National Convention until almost 10:40 p.m. yesterday, details of his speech still top all their national lead stories, as well as the Wall Street Journal’s worldwide news box. The NYT went so far as to keep adding more Clinton to its convention lead until well after midnight. Only the Washington Post was able to resist, leading instead with its own poll that shows Sen. John Kerry losing ground to President Bush on every top voting issue as he gears up for his big acceptance speech on Thursday.

The papers’ convention wrap-ups read like book reports on last night’s main speakers—Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton, whose speech the LAT notes was the only one carried live by the major networks. According to a short piece inside the NYT, Dems stayed mostly on message yesterday, with speakers uttering “some version of ‘optimism’$2 6 times, ‘hope’$2 13 times, ‘values’$2 22 times and ‘strength’$2 58 times.” But despite promises of a forward-looking, kinder, gentler tone, the papers generally cant the oratory as an exercise in drawing stark contrasts, sometimes caustically. Carter, for example, said Bush has squandered the world’s goodwill through “a virtually unbroken series of mistakes and miscalculations.” And Clinton won some of the night’s biggest applause with a subtle jab: “Strength and wisdom are not opposing values.”

Everyone also quotes Al Gore’s opening quip. “I had hoped to be back here this week under different circumstances, running for re-election,” he said. “But you know the old saying: you win some, you lose some. And then there’s that little-known third category.” (Tangentially related: The NYT explores the biology of why revenge feels so good.)

The WP’s lead provides a welcome escape from the convention bubble, painting a bleak picture for Kerry, who now trails Bush 48-46 in a poll that showed him tied two weeks ago and ahead in June. The paper also says that 54 percent of voters don’t know where Kerry stands on key issues, and two-thirds say this is one of the most important elections of their lifetimes.

In a mirror image of the WP’s story last week on the major parties’ massive voter databases, the WSJ fronts an in-depth portrait of liberal groups’ unofficial but surprisingly disciplined get-out-the-vote operation.

USAT fronts—and the other papers all stuff—continued violence in Iraq. A suicide car bombing in Mosul killed three while a drive-by in Baghdad killed a senior Interior Ministry official along with two bodyguards. Although the Egyptian diplomat kidnapped on Sunday was released yesterday, the papers mention that two Jordanian truck drivers were taken by a group that threatened to kill them within 72 hours if their employer does not pull out of the country.

In Kabul yesterday, President Hamid Karzai made a surprise announcement that he is ditching his warlord running mate in October’s presidential election, according to stories in the WP, NYT, and LAT. Karzai is running instead with the younger brother of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance commander who was killed in an Al-Qaida attack on Sept. 9, 2001. There are fears that the spurned warlord might orchestrate a backlash—NATO peacekeepers are on heightened alert, and bodyguards warned journalists not to move as Karzai made his announcement—but an official close to the negotiations said it didn’t seem likely. “Fahim did not look like someone ready to go to war,” the official said in the NYT.

The NYT reports that the U.S. has decided not to prosecute some 3,800 members of an Iranian opposition group it has in custody in Iraq, despite the fact that the group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, remains on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. “A member of a terrorist organization is not necessarily a terrorist,” a senior American official said. “To take action against somebody, you have to demonstrate that they have done something.”

The NYT stuffs a scary report on the heightened vulnerability of American seaports to terror attacks, as a backlog of cargo containers builds up in the port of Los Angeles. According to the president of the local L.A. longshoremen’s union, “The specific regulations for checking seals to ensure integrity of containers and cargo in them are presently not being enforced.”

Inside, the WP’s Dana Milbank uses his long memory to make an insightful point about President Bush’s rush to implement some of the reforms recommended by the 9/11 commission—the subject of the NYT’s off-lead. It’s highly unlikely, Milbank says, that Bush will allow two Senate-confirmed officials (the national intelligence czar and the director of the national counterterrorism center) to be housed within his executive office, as the commission has proposed. In 2002, when lawmakers last tried to install a Senate-confirmed counterterror director in the White House, Bush threatened a veto.

The WP and NYT go inside with stories on the high-tech war room the Bush campaign and Republican National Committee have set up in a bare-bones office just a couple blocks from the FleetCenter in Boston. “We know we’re swimming upstream and that our quotes are going to be on the jump page,” RNC honcho Ed Gillespie told the NYT. “But we don’t want to let charges go unanswered.”

Gillespie got the kind of news he’s especially happy to spin late Sunday when Teresa Heinz-Kerry told a conservative reporter to “shove it.” The papers, which have been chomping for anything unscripted to report, jumped, too: USAT even uses the anecdote to lead its cover story on Heinz-Kerry, which is pegged to her big speech tonight. The papers also give Hillary Clinton a soapbox for her take on the outburst. “A lot of Americans are going to say, ’Good for you, you go, girl,’ and that’s certainly how I feel about it,” she said on CNN.

USAT notes inside that it decided to spike Ann Coulter’s “Crashing the Party” convention column after she handed in her first installment. The paper’s editorial page editor says the column had “basic weaknesses in clarity and readability that we found unacceptable.” But Coulter counters in an interview with Editor & Publisher that the paper simply couldn’t stomach her ” ’tone,’ humor, sarcasm, etc.” Since Coulter also posted the piece in question on her Web site, TP thinks readers should decide. Here’s a passage describing how easy it is to distinguish Democratic and Republican women in Boston these days: “My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call ‘women’ at the Democratic National Convention.”

Post dated … Atop the convention-only press run of its special section on Monday, the WP ran an enormous banner headline: “Election 2000.” According to a good-humored piece by Howard Kurtz, the paper used 4-year-old templates in building the page and didn’t catch the error until the Boston edition had been sent to press. Post Editor Len Downie put on the best spin he could, comparing the goof favorably to the one perpetrated earlier this month by his paper’s northerly namesake, the New York Post. “At least we weren’t wrong on the news,” he said. “We were wrong in labeling the news.”