Today's Papers

In the Shrine of Fire

The WPand LAT, at least online, lead with the news that the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched a new ad, attacking the Democrat for making allegations, before a Senate committee in 1971, that American soldiers had committed war crimes in Vietnam—news the NYT reefers. It leads instead with a report on a Justice Department investigation into whether the medical-supply industry has been fraudulently overcharging federal and state government health programs for medical supplies. 

The Kerry campaign countered the Swift Boat offensive with an ad of its own, featuring a retired Air Force general who voted for Bush in 2000 attesting to Kerry’s “strength and common sense,” according to the WP. The Kerry camp also filed a legal challenge to the Swift Boat Veterans, saying the group is illegally colluding with the Bush campaign, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll succeed in getting the ad pulled. 

All three papers seem to think the Swift Boat flap could seriously damage Kerry’s candidacy, and the NYT in particular gives major play to the notion that Kerry’s people mishandled the controversy by failing to fight back immediately. The NYT attributes the staying power of the Swift Boat controversy to the fact that the campaign has been featured on TV news shows. But the paper, oddly, singles out blogs and talk radio—two forms of media that have been peripheral to the Swift Boat story—as the reason why “unsubstantiated or even false information can reach the public” while declining to say whether it puts the Swift Boat Veterans’ claims in that category.

The medical-supply industry probe centers around a Texas-based company, Novation, which negotiates contracts with the industry to provide a range of products for hospitals and other care centers—and is itself owned by the 2,200 hospitals and care centers that use its services. The use of incentives like rebates, discounts, and refunds in these transactions, says the NYT, may mean that Medicare and Medicaid are being charged unfairly high prices for the goods. 

The WP off-leads, the LAT fronts, and the NYT reefers the apparent weakening of Muqtada Sadr’s grip on the sacred Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. There’s confusion over the current state of play at the shrine: The NYT and LAT report that the fire-brand cleric and his militia still control the mosque. The Iraqi government’s claim that it had kicked Sadr’s men out of the shrine is erroneous, according to both papers. But the online version of a WP story had a Sadr spokesman saying the keys have been turned over to representatives of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and that Sadr’s forces would soon quit the shrine. The WP’s print story, though, now says only that Sadr promised to turn over the keys Thursday night but makes no mention of the claim that he’d already done so. 

The WP also reports that the interior of the main building has been cleared of arms, though Sadr’s men are still using the walled area around it as a fire base. But there’s little dispute that the number of militiamen still holed up in the shrine is dwindling. The LAT says 50 were captured by Iraqi police as they tried to escape. The NYT reports, though, that late Friday, Sadr publicly called on his forces to gather and fight the Americans, a report that the WP casts doubt on. The U.S. suspended offensive operations for much of Friday, a Muslim holiday. They then began an aggressive attack before abruptly halting it. A U.S. commander confesses to the WP: “We don’t really know what the situation is.”

The LAT fronts and the NYT stuffs fears that the rising price of oil—it reached $49 a barrel yesterday—could further complicate the already halting economic recovery. The price seems to have been going up this week in response to renewed violence and instability in Iraq. Some experts think the worst may not be over, says the LAT, and believe that crossing the $50 barrier, as may soon happen, could be hazardous. There’s even talk of “stagflation”—slow growth and high inflation—of the type that hobbled the economy in the ‘70s. But the NYT takes a more optimistic view, saying that this time things will be different since inflation isn’t a problem. The high prices could even act as an economic stimulus by slowing the rise of interest rates.

The NYT and LAT both stuff other news from the Justice Department: Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictments of three suspected members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas on charges that they helped finance and recruit for the group, including providing money for the purchase of weapons, from within the U.S. The NYT calls this a “major move,” and Ashcroft, unsurprisingly, touts the case as “a milestone” (in the words of the LAT) in the department’s efforts to choke off funding to terrorists. But it’s hard to tell what connection the indicted men had to any actual terror attacks or their level of importance within the group’s operations. And a lawyer for one of the men charged accuses the Bush administration of “cater[ing] to the Jewish vote.”

The NYT fronts a report from China, which details how the 100th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s birth is being used by influential party elders as an opportunity to call on China’s current leaders to implement political reforms. Various retired elders have recently made unusually outspoken public statements urging President Hu Jintao to make at least modest attempts to increase freedom of the press, fight corruption, and introduce greater accountability.

And the WP reefers a heavyweight battle in the Windy City: Mayor Daley vs. the Chicago Tribune. Some say the feud began over a series of articles in the paper about corruption at City Hall. Others trace it to Daley’s accusation that the Tribune, which is owned by the same parent company that owns the Chicago Cubs, covered up an incident in which a piece of concrete fell from the upper deck of Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ home. Whatever the case, it doesn’t sound like the mayor and editors of the Tribune will be sitting down for bratwurst together any time soon.