Today's Papers

Debater Man Won

The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Timesall lead with the debate, where neither side broke significant new ground. Sen. Kerry insisted that the war in Iraq has been a diversion from the war against al-Qaida—”a colossal error of judgment”—while President Bush stuck to jujitsu and repeatedly charged Kerry with waffling. By the Post’s count, the president referred to “mixed message” or “mixed signals” nine times. USA Todayfronts the debate, teases Iraq, and leads with Merck pulling arthritis drug Vioxx off the market after a company study showed that users doubled their risk of heart attacks and stroke. It’s the largest drug recall in U.S. history. There have been concerns about Vioxx for a while, and some docs told the Post (far down)that the FDA dragged its feet. “When this question came up initially, the standard response from the FDA was to hope the company would do its own study to resolve it,” said one. “The FDA has not been brave enough in demanding that companies perform safety studies of this kind.”

Bush also suggested that because Kerry has criticized the war, he’s not fit to lead it. “I don’t see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place,” he said. “What message does that send our troops? What message does that send to our allies?”

The two also disagreed about North Korea, with Kerry saying he’d agreed to one-on-one talks, as Pyongyang has demanded and Bush has rejected. Kerry also suggested he’d be prepared to help with peacekeepers in Darfur.

If you watched the debate, go for a nice walk, because you (largely) don’t need to read the papers. They have two general genres: transcript-heavy lead stories and studiously non-partisan palaver (aka news analysis).

Now to the exceptions: The Post, LAT, and NYT all have fact-checks. The Post’ssuffers from a bit of on-the-one-handedness. The LAT, the only paper that puts the check on Page One, frets less about that. Its piece details Kerry’s fewer stretches (the subways were running during the convention, Mr. Senator) while focusing on Bush’s longer list, including his misleading and probably outright wrong claim of 100,000 Iraqi security forces trained. The article doesn’t go sissy-style and play it down the middle. The headline does: “CANDIDATES CALL FACTS AS THEY SEE THEM.”

The NYT goes into more detail about North Korea, noting for instance that President Bush’s assertion that bilateral talks would endanger larger ones made no sense. (“He never explained why.”) 

While the papers mostly, and mercifully, ignore Spin AlleySlate’s Chris Suellentrop offers a meta-look. (In other Slate coverage, Will Saletan urges Kerry to be honest and acknowledge that just like in Vietnam, “Americans are dying in Iraq for a mistake.”)

For what it’s worth, the general feeling seems to be that Kerry came out ahead. “I think Kerry got in the game,” one conservative analyst told the LAT.

The Wall Street Journal goes high with about 3,000 GIs going on the offensive to retake the town of Samarra, the first major attempt to retake a “no-go” city. In early morning reports, the military said 92 guerrillas have been killed; hospital officials put the civilian death toll at 23.

With the exception of USAT, everybody fronts the five car bombings in Iraq, including two that killed 41, mostly children who had been taking candy from GIs during the opening of a sewage treatment plant. Another car bomb in Tal Afar killed four Iraqis and wounded 60. In total, 50 Iraqis and two GIs were killed and about 230 Iraqis and 20 GIs wounded. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group claimed responsibility for the attacks. There was also footage of 10 new hostages: six Iraqis, two Lebanese, and two Indonesian women, all from the same company.

The Post mentions that the Iraqi National Guard had been responsible for securing the plant opening and overlooked the parked bomb-laden truck. The WP adds that anger at the attacks—typically directed at the U.S.—was instead focused on the terrorists. “I am one of those who hate the Americans and reject the idea that they are here,” said one man. “But attacking them while they were among innocent people is considered a big crime.” (The NYT heard the opposite sentiment.)

The WP and NYT front Russia’s cabinet endorsing the long-delayed Kyoto Protocol on global warming. If, as expected, Russia’s parliament agrees, the treaty will finally go into effect—despite the U.S.’s rejection of it. As the NYT emphasizes, the Kyoto’s goals are actually modest. Combine that with China also declining to sign on, and the treaty represents “just the tiniest initial step” against global warming.

Nobody fronts about 25 Palestinians, including some civilians, killed in an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip prompted by rocket attacks. Three Israelis were also killed, including a teacher murdered by gunmen. It was the worst death toll in Gaza in two years.

The NYT and Post fronts the House ethics committee concluding that House majority leader Tom DeLay did in fact offer a favor in return for a colleague’s vote on the Medicare bill. That’s a violation of congressional rules. And the penalty is … basically nothing.

The NYT says inside that the Army is loosening its requirements a bit in order to meet recruiting goals. 

The WP and NYT notice inside that new CIA chief Porter Goss—who has promised to be non-partisan—has hired four top staffers from the House intel committee, which he led and is widely considered to have been ineffective and partisan. “These people will have no credibility in the agency,” said one former spook.

The NYT and Journal goes inside with the EPA inspector general concluding that the administration has “exaggerated the nation’s air quality” and that suits against polluters have been “seriously hampered” by revised Bush rules.

In other inspector general news, the Journal goes Page One with the Homeland Security Dept.’s IG saying the government is still dilly-dallying in its attempt to create a comprehensive terror-watch list. The IG said its Homeland Security’s responsibility to make the list. But a spokesman there told the Journal, “It’s the FBI that is charged with the lead role, not us.” And what do the G-men say? “The FBI declined to comment.”

The Post’s Al Kamen says the U.S.’s military HQ in Baghdad has penned a memo acknowledging that “recent polls suggest support for the Coalition is falling and more and more Iraqis are questioning Coalition resolve, intentions and effectiveness.” But don’t worry, because help is on the way: The memo asks for bids for an “aggressive” P.R. campaign to get out the U.S.’s “core themes and messages.”