Today's Papers

Stonewall Action

In the latest leak on an upcoming report on intelligence officers’ role in the Abu Ghraib abuses, the Washington Post’s lead says the report has found that some GIs used dogs to scare teenage detainees. The report will also back up previous findings that the military kept some prisoners hidden. The New York Timespreviews a Rumsfeld-appointed outsider report on the abuses that will peg some of the blame on what the Times calls lax oversight at “the highest levels of the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff and military command.” The quickie 20-page report, which is due out today, apparently won’t “explicitly blame” Rummy. The Los Angeles Times leads with President Bush declining to denounce the misleading ads about Kerry’s service in Vietnam and instead calling for an end to all independently funded ads, the same position his aides have been taking for weeks. The paper points out right up there in the 22nd paragraph: “Military documentation that has been made public generally supports Kerry’s accounts of his action.”That’s the first spot the article gives any sense of the ads’ connection to, say, reality. USA Todayleads with a post-Charley poll showing President Bush and Sen. Kerry still essentially tied in Florida.

It’s worth knowing that the NYT’s lead on prisoner abuses is based a bit on a game of telephone: “The broad outlines of the panel’s work were described by two defense officials who had portions of it summarized for them by associates.” That leaves lots of space for spin. So it’s a bummer that the story is missing the same thing that coverage of a similar leaked report skipped last week: What are the leakers’ apparent motivations? In other words, isn’t the article itself, or at least its sources, part of the story?

The LAT doesn’t headline Bush’s declining to denounce the Vietnam ads. Instead it emphasizes his call for an end to all independently funded ads. The NYT has similar play in its off-lead, as does the Wall Street Journal up high in its worldwide news box. Which is weird because Bush did not break new ground. Again, he essentially reiterated what White House spokespeople have been saying for weeks. By going Page One with Bush’s comments anyway, aren’t the papers helping to mislead readers? Only the Post doesn’t play along: “KERRY TEAM LINES UP VIETNAM WITNESSES; Bush Again Declines to Condemn Attack Ad.”

The LAT editors—and most journos—might want to flip to the back of their paper. “The technique President Bush is using against John F. Kerry was perfected by his father against Michael Dukakis in 1988,” says an editorial. “Bring a charge, however bogus. Make the charge simple. But make sure the supporting details are complicated and blurry enough to prevent easy refutation. Then sit back and let the media do your work for you. Journalists have to report the charges, usually feel obliged to report the rebuttal, and often even attempt an analysis or assessment. But the canons of the profession prevent most journalists from saying outright: These charges are false. As a result, the voters are left with a general sense that there is some controversy over Kerry’s service in Vietnam. And they have been distracted from thinking about real issues (like the war going on now).”

As the NYT puts it, guerrillas “appeared to be on the verge of collapse” in Najaf with U.S. forces making a major armored push. “We have many killed and wounded and we cannot count them because of this situation,” a Muqtada Sadr aide “who appeared tired” told the Post. Meanwhile, Knight Ridder, which continues its impressive reporting from the city, has a dispatch from inside the Imam Ali shrine and counts about 500 “exhausted” guerrillas, including some young teenagers. Meanwhile, the LAT says residents of the holy city are increasingly fed up with Sadr’s men.

According to early morning news caught by the LAT, two bombs exploded in Baghdad in attempted assassinations of two Iraqi ministers, neither of whom was wounded. But five other people were killed.

A front-page piece in the Post says “evidence is mounting daily” that the Iraqi government really is driving decisions on the Najaf offensive: “On the order of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, night raids bolt forward or are halted, [and] bombs fall from the sky or remain snuggled beneath the wings of F-15s.” The WP also briefly mentions that the U.S. bombed … something in Fallujah yesterday. As with previous airstrikes in the rebel-held town, there aren’t any more details.

Citing three unnamed Western diplomats, the NYT says jihadi-types training in Pakistan’s border area are planning major strikes to thwart the upcoming Afghan elections—and Pakistan isn’t doing squat about it. “Our process is being attacked from the territory of Pakistan,” said one diplomat. “That is the responsibility of Pakistan.” The paper says the jihadi presence “appeared to be so extensive that Pakistan’s military intelligence service, which has a sprawling network along the Afghan border and across Pakistan, must be aware of it.” A Pakistani spokesperson said that’s “absurd.” The Times only teases the story on Page One, perhaps bumped by: “ONCE ELUSIVE, ORCHIDS FLOURISH ON TAIWANESE PRODUCTION LINE.”

A small stuffed NYT piece airs criticism of the little-noticed, ongoing tribunals at Gitmo that are deciding whether detainees are in fact enemy combatants. According to an American Bar Association expert paraphrased by the Times, the tribunals “do not come close” to meeting the standards set by the Supreme Court’s recent rulings. Clocking in at 590 words, the piece doesn’t have space to quote the ABA man. Slate’s Phillip Carter recently detailed the tribunal’s failings.

Continuing its grand tradition of taking bold stances on important topics, the NYT editorial page considers the theft of an original version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream: “How many versions will have to be taken before security becomes tight enough to stop theft? The only hope is to make stealing art hard enough that police have a chance to respond before the getaway. Merely wiring a painting to the wall is clearly inadequate.” How true.