Today's Papers

Grand Old Protest

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the massive but largely peaceful anti-Bush protest in New York on the eve of the Republican Convention. The Washington Post fronts an enormous photo of the protest (as do the Timeses), but leads instead with its pre-convention regurgitation of assorted prognostications and leaked speeches for tonight. The Wall Street Journal world-wide news box and USA Today split the difference: “PRAISE AND PROTESTS GREET GOP,” reads USAT’s top headline.

While the Post says the mood at the protest yesterday was often “celebratory,” the NYT’s lead alternates between harsh and florid language: At one point, the paper says the march was “tense, shrill, and largely choreographed”; later, it waxes that “multitudes were packed as dense as broccoli florets, and they filled the entire two-mile route.” The NYT cites organizers’ claim that 500,000 people participated, but adds archly that “it was, at best, a rough estimate.” (The LAT hedges with “more than 100,000,” while the WP settles on “more than 200,000” and the WSJ goes with 120,000.) Although there were some 200 arrests for minor skirmishes, the police commissioner said organizers “should be commended,” and that the march “by and large was peaceful and orderly.” The WSJ doesn’t run an overall protest piece, but its short collection of dispatches provides the best team coverage of media darlings Billionaires for Bush, who at one point eagerly joined a genuine pro-Bush heckler and started chanting, “Four more wars!” Later, playing badminton and croquet in Central Park’s Great Lawn, the group displayed placards declaring, “We paid for eight years” and “Privatize Central Park.” (Read Slate’s dispatch from the protest.)

Dick Cheney arrived on Ellis Island yesterday to give a speech in front of downtown Manhattan’s broken skyline, leading both the WP and NYT to hype what they think will be the GOP strategy for the convention: focus on 9/11. Ignoring 9/11, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie agreed in the WP, would be like “a convention in 1864 that didn’t take into account the Civil War.” The NYT even runs a separate piece on the networks’ varying policies on running footage of the days following the Sept. 11 attacks—especially that of Bush’s Ground Zero speech.

The preview stories also give prominent placement to the Bush campaign’s pre-release of what’s tonight’s convention speakers plan to say. Sen. John McCain is apparently going to make nice by touting Bush’s security cred, while Rudolph Giuliani plans to liken the president to both Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan, hopefully not at the same time. For some reason, the party didn’t release advance text for tonight’s speech by former West Wing guest star Ron Silver.

The papers largely parrot the conventional wisdom that the GOP is using moderate speakers to tack toward the political center in pursuit of swing voters, but the WSJ bucks that trend with a front-page piece hewing to the older conventional wisdom: Bush is relying on a “mobilization election,” placing more emphasis on Christian conservatives, whom Karl Rove thinks can overcome demographic obstacles, like a fast-growing Latino population. The strategy’s not without danger: A group of Republicans has taken out a full-page ad in today’s NYT, asking their party to “Come Back to the Mainstream,” and the Log Cabin Republicans, who have thus far withheld their endorsement of the president, are also planning a “major announcement” about GOP’s platform, which supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

The papers note—the LAT,NYT, and WP on their front pages—that a powerful car bomb exploded outside the Kabul, Afghanistan, office of an American security firm responsible for guarding Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At least seven people died in the blast, which shattered windows for three blocks in every direction. A group called the Taliban Islamic Militia called two news agencies to claim responsibility.

The WP fronts a follow-up on last Wednesday’s Army report on torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib. Beneath the mushy headline (“DOCUMENTS HELPED SOW ABUSE, ARMY REPORT FINDS“), the paper exposes some new evidence and inconsistencies. For example, while the report lets senior Army commanders off the hook for what happened at the prison, the paper describes a cable from the senior U.S. military commander in Iraq at the time—Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez—describing interrogation techniques he planned to authorize. Although Sanchez later told investigators that he “never approved use of dogs,” his cable included the following item: “Exploit Arab fear of dogs while maintaining security during interrogations.” Now if only the Post would make the whole cable available online for readers.

The strange saga of midlevel Pentagon employee Larry Franklin, who passed classified information about Iran to Israel via a lobbying group, is still in the papers, although the NYT reports that last week’s publicity may now render it impossible impossible to follow the leaks and find out whether Israeli intelligence agents had been “tasked” with getting specific info from Franklin, or whether they had passively accepted whatever he gave them. The Washington Monthly digs into the whole affair and likens it to Iran-Contra, dangling the possibility that “a rogue faction at the Pentagon was trying to work outside normal U.S. foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime change’ agenda not approved by the president’s foreign policy principals or even the president himself.”

According to a story inside the WP, Ralph Reed—founder of the Christian Coalition and southeast regional chairman of Bush-Cheney ‘04—confirmed yesterday that he did indeed receive more than $1 million to mobilize grass-roots opposition to new Native American casinos. Which is all fine and consistent, except that a story has been bouncing around lately that the money actually came from established tribal casinos that feared new competition could cost them billions of dollars. Reed’s payoff was funneled through lobbyists who are now under federal investigation for their connection to the tribes, but Reed maintains he never worked on behalf of any casinos and is “proud” of his anti-gambling work.

Poll dancing … USA Today reefers its own poll showing that Bush is gaining on or leading Kerry in two key battleground states that Al Gore won in 2000. Although within the margin of error, Bush leads Kerry 48 percent to 45 percent in Wisconsin and has pulled even with Kerry at 47 percent in Pennsylvania. But there’s good news for Kerry, too: a Columbus Dispatch poll, shows that he’s tied with the president at 46 percent in Ohio, a state that went red last time around. And Knight-Ridder has an “exclusive” on a Zogby Poll profiling that tiny but crucial demographic of undecided voters, who are more likely to be Libras, Virgos, and Capricorns, and only 13% of whom, it turns out, are actually NASCAR fans. Pollsters also asked, “Who would you more likely vote for for president—the Tin Man, who is all brains and no heart, or the Scarecrow, who is all heart and no brain?” It was a landslide: Tin Man 49 percent to Scarecrow 13 percent.