Today's Papers

Show Me Showdown

Everybody leads with the debate, a “town hall forum” where the candidates heatedly paced around a St. Louis stage for 90 minutes, sparring over Iraq, stem cells, healthcare, taxes, and Iran. Much of the substance was ground covered in last week’s debate. Responding to (and often deviating from) pointed questions posed by previously selected undecided voters, Sen. Kerry branded President Bush’s campaign a “weapon of mass deception,” and the president characterized his opponent as an inconsistent liberal.

Early-morning wire stories report that all 15 candidates running against interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai boycotted Afghanistan’s election Saturday, citing fraud. In what election officials are claiming is a mistake, the ink provided for marking ballots can be easily erased and the vote just as easily changed or not counted. As of early Saturday morning (American time), Afghan election officials were still deciding how to proceed.

Back to the debate: The papers predictably bend over backward to offer Objective Analysis. A Los Angeles Times fact-check has the headline (online, anyway) “Kerry, Bush beat around the truth in debate.” But while that headline emphasizes both the candidates’ inaccuracies, the actual story outlines twice as many falsehoods committed by Bush. And while Kerry’s distortions were more in the neighborhood of misestimates (“some analysts say he is underestimating the cost of his healthcare plan”), more of Bush’s inaccuracies fell into the category of just plain wrong (Bush saying the Duelfer report said U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq weren’t working, when in fact the report said years of inspections worked extremely well). If Bush uttered more outright fibs, why not say that?

Despite a general agreement among analysts that the debate showcased the stark differences between the candidates’ governing priorities and views of the state of the world (“Differences Sharpened in Debate” is the LAT’s lead headline), audience members pre-selected for their indecision walked away largely unconvinced by either man.

For what it’s worth, pundits claimed no clear winner, unlike in last week’s match. Most agree that Bush’s demeanor improved.

In what appears to be the first major newspapers to cover the whisper flying around the Internet for a week, the New York Times and Washington Post dissect the question of the rectangular-shaped bulge between Bush’s shoulder blades at the last debate. Was it a radio receiver that prompted Bush through an earpiece? A bullet proof vest? Neither, says a campaign spokeswoman: “It was most likely a rumpling of that portion of his suit jacket, or a wrinkle in the fabric.”

The LAT fronts word that the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast group is ordering its stations (many in swing states) to cancel other programming days before the election to instead air a film attacking Kerry’s activism against the Vietnam War. The movie is funded by Pennsylvania veterans and produced by a former Washington Times reporter. Sinclair also raised eyebrows in April when it made seven of its stations not air Ted Koppel’s Nightline that featured a reading of military dead in Iraq.

In a front page story, the Post reveals that Britain told American health officials in September that there would likely be a flu vaccine shortage. British health records show that the British plant responsible for the scarcity told the US FDA that there were problems at the plant.

The NYT and LAT front the latest job growth report from the Labor Department, which shows that the economy gained a disappointing 96,000 jobs last month—far fewer than economists anticipated. While Kerry used the report in Friday’s debate to underscore the weakness of the administration’s economic policies, Bush insisted it was evidence of a growing economy.

The WP runs a Page One story on Israeli and Egyptian officials’ belief that Thursday’s deadly blast at the Taba Hilton bore the signs of an al-Qaida operation. An SUV stuffed with explosives likely caused the devastation, officials say,

Everybody fronts the announcement that a Kenyan woman, Wangari Maathai, will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work planting 30 million trees and campaigning for women’s rights and democracy.

The NYT fronts a report by Charles Duelfer that reveals how several American corporations and a few individuals received vouchers to purchase oil from Iraq under the UN’s oil-for-food program. While it is so far unclear if the companies and individuals violated any laws, the LAT notes that an individual receiving an oil grant appears to violate the sanctions since oil was meant to be sold to corporate end users. 

The papers note the House’s 282 to 134 vote yesterday to overhaul the nation’s intelligence structure in response to recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission. The bill creates the position of national intelligence director, but gives that job far less authority in personnel and budgets than the commission suggested. The bill also decreases the ease with which immigrants can obtain political asylum and enables the speedy deportation of immigrants without judicial review. The Republican-sponsored House version differs so considerably from the bipartisan Senate bill that many legislators think it will be difficult to reconcile the two.

Everybody mentions the release of a video yesterday showing a militant group beheading Kenneth Bigley, a British engineer kidnapped in Baghdad last month. Bigley had pleaded with the British government to meet the stipulations of his captors. The group, One God and Jihad, is led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and has demanded the release all female prisoners in Iraq. While one of Bigley’s brothers read a televised message in defense of the Prime Minister, another brother sent a statement to an antiwar group saying that Blair had “blood on his hands.”

Also in Iraq Friday, two soldiers died in separate attacks. A U.S. airstrike in Fallujah reportedly killed 11 Iraqis and wounded 17, among them members of a wedding party. According to Reuters, Iraq’s interim government struck a deal with civic leaders of Fallujah that will allow Iraqi forces to enter that city. The agreement mandates the surrender of heavy weapons by the insurgents and a three-day stop of U.S. airstrikes.

Holy Dough … The LAT reports that $3.9 billion is being held in government coffers in California as unclaimed property. The list of “lost” residents who qualify for their share of the stash includes Mick Jagger ($919), Frank Sinatra ($92) and Jesus Christ ($28).