Today's Papers

Band of Botherers

The Washington Post leads with an exhaustive examination of the actions for which John Kerry was awarded his Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. The article attempts to sort through the different accounts of the events offered by Kerry and a right-wing veterans’ group. However, the bigger news in the ongoing dispute over Kerry’s service is that a fellow vet who is now an editor at the Chicago Tribune published an article in his paper that supports the Democratic nominee’s account of the actions for which he won his Silver Star. The Los Angeles Times, part of the Tribune media chain, fronts a copy of that article but leads with an analysis of President Bush’s shifting electoral strategy, which increasingly focuses on his party’s base rather than swing voters. The New York Times runs an article on the Tribune editor’s account as its off-lead but puts health insurers’ objection to a key provision of Bush’s Medicare plan in the top spot. The NYT writes that insurers’ desire to stick to the current state-by-state Medicare coverage system, rather than form multistate coverage areas, reflects an effort to avoid competition.

With Kerry’s push-back against critics of his Vietnam service so far succeeding only in prolonging the discussion over whether he earned his medals, the wisdom of his response seems increasingly questionable. The Post’s lead illustrates the dangers for Kerry: Before the Democratic nominee acknowledged the attacks on his record, the big papers didn’t have much to report. Now that he’s responded, however, papers like the Post are presenting both sides of the argument and leaving it to readers to decide what’s true and what isn’t. Reporters’ dogged commitment to “balance” makes them unwilling to say which side is being truthful and which is not. The Post lead takes this route; the paper says Kerry’s critics have failed to prove he’s lying but adds that neither side is being totally honest. This answer, although unclear and unhelpful, is where the issue is likely to remain. The article by Swift boat veteran and Tribune editor William B. Rood may push the debate in Kerry’s favor, however. Rood strongly supports Kerry’s side of the Silver Star story and undercuts a leading Kerry critic by noting that the man praised Kerry during the war.

The LAT’s article on Bush’s new electoral strategy summarizes the response to the president’s shift in focus. The GOP sees turning out its base as the key to carrying the election, but Democrats read the move as an acknowledgement that swing voters are likely to break against the incumbent by a significant margin. The other papers front their own reviews of the days ahead for the Republicans. The NYT writes that Bush will finally outline a second-term agenda at the convention in New York while the Post examines how New Yorkers, a famously liberal bunch, are preparing for the GOP’s arrival.

Strangely, the Post is the only paper to front  the ongoing standoff in Najaf. Rebel cleric Muqtada Sadr has taken the first steps toward peace by withdrawing his militiamen from the Imam Ali shrine, although they remain entrenched around it. The LAT reports on U.S. operations against the cleric’s loyalists in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City and notes that the Najaf conflict has increased his standing. As for threats to the homeland, the LAT files an excellent piece on the danger of agroterrorism, which could destroy the country’s farm economy and damage its food supply.

The Post features an article on a devastating effect of the war in Sudan: Stressed and malnourished mothers are unable to produce breast milk for their children, which public health experts say may exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

Only the Post and the LAT front Olympics articles, and both papers focus on the controversy surrounding American Paul Hamm’s gold medal in the men’s gymnastics all-around. The event’s judges scored one of Hamm’s South Korean competitors incorrectly, thus allowing Hamm to take the gold by a slim margin. The Post predicts the case will now head to the Court for Arbitration of Sport. The LAT has better info, however; the paper reports that the CAS is unlikely to hear a challenge and that U.S. officials may support a compromise that would award a second gold medal to the wronged South Korean gymnast.

The NYT fronts a report on the new operator of a troubled New York state home for the mentally ill. The state picked a man who is facing charges of mismanagement at a home he operates in Albany and who has had the two homes he operated in Connecticut seized. The article is by Clifford J. Levy, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles on the same topic  last year.

A local story in the Post raises questions that should reverberate beyond the District. The paper analyzes terrorism-related street closings in Washington but raises broader questions about how to make a city safe without destroying its street-level environment.

The LAT continues to have the best coverage of Central and South America; an article on rising vigilantism in Mexico is no exception.

The NYT runs the latest article in a series on experimental medical treatments; the paper examines a heart pump for infants that is not yet approved in the United States.

Another article in the NYT reports that rising newsprint costs and a weak advertising market have forced newspapers around the country to trim their comics sections, much to readers’ disappointment.