The Washington Postleads with Yasser Arafat’s plummeting health. Details are sketchy but Arafat, who has been ill for a week, reportedly collapsed and lost consciousness yesterday and may be in a coma. The Los Angeles Timesleads with in-house polls showing essentially a draw in the Big Three swingers: According to the LAT, Bush has an eight-point lead in Florida, Kerry is up six points in Ohio, and it’s dead even in Pennsylvania. The New York Timesleads with the campaign yesterday turning on the tons of high explosives missing from the al-Qaqaa weapons depot. Kerry called it a “growing scandal.” President Bush, speaking about it for the first time, said Kerry was making “wild charges” and was “denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts.”
Arafat has always refused to name a successor or create a clear legal line for one. The LAT says a three-person panel, including the current and former Palestinian prime ministers, has been empowered to run things “in case Arafat becomes incapacitated.” But the NYT says it’s not even clear a panel has been appointed. “Everyone is afraid of a leadership vacuum,” a Palestinian analyst told the LAT. “So no matter how many official statements are issued saying his life is not in any danger, there is concern and anxiety, even among his enemies—it can’t be otherwise.”
The NYT’s lead treats the explosives as pure political theater. Nothing wrong with focusing on the campaign angle. But shouldn’t it be sprinkled with a wee bit of, say, pertinent facts?
The NYT leaves those to a teased—and impressive—secondary story, where Iraqi employees of the compound said they witnessed the site being picked clean by looters soon after U.S. troops swept through.
The Bush campaign has continued to assert that it is likely or at least possible the explosives were moved while Saddam was in power. As the Wall Street Journal flags, former weapons searcher David Kay said he finds that “hard to believe.” Wire service AFP quoted a named Iraqi scientist, whose work involved the depot, saying it’s “impossible” that anything was removed before Baghdad fell, because Saddam ordered that “not even a shred of paper” leave the site.
Slate’s Jack Shafer wonders why international inspectors waited until just before the elections to publicize the missing stockpile.
The NYT’s Maureen Dowd flags an op-ed in yesterday’s Boston Globe by Peter Galbraith who said he saw looters in Baghdad taking off with vials of HIV and black plague virus. Galbraith, who supported the war, says he told the Deputy SecDef Wolfowitz about the looting, but the sites still didn’t get secured.
A front-page NYT piece says the U.S. and Iraqi allies are “quickly losing control” of the provincial capitol Ramadi, which the Times says is larger and “strategically more important” than its sister city, Fallujah. (Really?) “The city is chaotic,” said one sheik. “There’s no presence of the Allawi government.” Allies of the U.S. are regularly murdered, Iraqi security forces are suspected of collaborating with guerrillas, and there’s little reconstruction since no contractors are willing to work with the U.S. At one point, Marines walked toward some Iraqi national guardsmen, who muttered, “Here come the sons of dogs.”
“It’s difficult to describe ‘sense of control’ in terms of insurgent activity,” one Marine captain told the NYT. “The insurgent activity is everywhere. It’s at our firm bases here. It’s among women and children, those cowards.”
One GI was killed yesterday. Among the Iraqis murdered: a top foreign ministry official, a politician, and an anchorwoman who had worked at a U.S.-funded station.
The Post fronts the Bush administration proposing to allow only dam owners to appeal Interior Department rulings on the use of dams. Everybody else—including states, Indian tribes, and environmental groups—would be locked out. The Post says some lawyers in Interior itself have argued that the proposed change is unconstitutional. “It is not legal because one party is being treated very differently than another,” said “one senior Interior Department official.”
The Post fronts a federal judge effectively ending a Republican attempt to challenge the eligibility of tens of thousands of voters in Ohio.
The NYT discovers that Web loggers—sometimes called bloggers—occasionally get huffy and complain about journalists.
Got Shorty … Everybody reports that researchers have evidence of … dwarf human ancestors who lived on an Indonesian island just 18,000 years ago. The sensitive scientists have nicknamed the key skeleton “Hobbit.”