The Los Angeles Times leads with the news that Charles Graner, the reservist convicted of leading the abuse at Abu Ghraib, has been sentenced to 10 years in military prison. The Washington Post leads with the results of a 35-minute interview with President Bush. The New York Times leads with news that despite objections from employees, the Social Security Administration is preparing for a major PR initiative to persuade people that private accounts are necessary to save the system.
The LAT and WP front and the NYT teases news about Charles Graner’s trial, the first full-scale court-martial of an Abu Ghraib prison guard. In addition to the 10 years, the sentence also busts Graner to private (the lowest possible rank) and orders him dishonorably discharged. Graner said he was just following orders but did not deny committing the abuse. The NYT notes that Graner’s story is contradicted by those of previous witnesses, who testified that soldiers were told not to take photographs and would have known that orders to beat or humiliate prisoners were wrong. The NYT reports that during his trial, Graner “swiveled his chair nervously, occasionally smiling, laughing and gesturing,” and the LAT adds that he flirted with female reporters during court breaks.
The WP leads with an exclusive Bush interview conducted on Air Force One. The most striking moment of the conversation is Bush’s implication that his re-election is a ratification of his Iraq policy and that there is no reason to hold the administration responsible for mistakes in Iraq. As Bush put it, “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.” Other highlights: Bush wouldn’t confirm that U.S. troops would begin leaving Iraq this year, but did say he would not expand the size of the Army or National Guard. When asked why Osama Bin Laden has not yet been caught, Bush responded simply, “Because he’s hiding.” TP thinks this might be the first newspaper interview Bush has done since his interview with the NYT before the election.
The NYT leads with word that Social Security is gearing up to publicize the system’s allegedly dire finances. The agency has a tactical plan to promote the notion that without immediate action, Social Security will go bankrupt. Agency officials say that educating the public is part of their job, but some employees believe President Bush is using scare tactics to push the idea of private accounts. “Trust fund dollars should not be used to promote a political agenda,” said one employee representative.
The WP fronts, the NYT teases, and the LAT stuffs news that Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as president of the Palestinian Authority on Saturday. Striking a conciliatory note, Abbas urged a cease-fire and called for Israel to return to negotiations. The papers emphasize that Abbas was buried in problems even before assuming office: Israel cut off official contacts with the Palestinians because of continuing attacks, and 46 Palestinian election officials resigned, citing voting irregularities.
Everyone reports that with mounting violence by Iraqi insurgents hoping to derail the election, Iraqi candidates are afraid to identify themselves publicly. “Instead of holding rallies, they meet voters in secret,” writes the NYT. The LAT’s story focuses on female candidates, mentioning one hopeful who joked that she was afraid her husband would find out she was a candidate. The WP predicts that the election will favor candidates who can afford to pay guards, particularly returning exiles.
The NYT and WP preview the events of next week’s inauguration. The NYT has a rundown of wartime inaugurations, pointing out that most wartime presidents didn’t cancel their inaugural festivities. But despite the administration’s plan to strike a “somber” tone, critics charge that spending so much during a time of war and natural disaster is inappropriate. The NYT predicts that in his speech, Bush will praise America, ask for God’s help, and make “absolutely no jokes.”
The LAT fronts a blow-by-blow of “How CBS’ Big Story Fell Apart,” placing most of the blame on producer Mary Mapes. Excited to have coaxed the documents out of her source and rushing to bring them to light before USA Today, Mapes ignored the warnings of experts who questioned the documents’ validity.
The WP fronts a long feature by David Finkel about the man who, informed by Marines that his son had been killed in Iraq, smashed their van and set it on fire, nearly burning himself to death in the process. The man set the fire “perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally, perhaps suicidally.” That his actions defy explanation is the whole point: for the many grief-stricken survivors of Iraq’s casualties, recovery is a long, confounding process.
She Stoops to Cover … The New York Times finally breaks its long silence and mentions the Pitt-Aniston breakup in its Week in Review. How do you report on the news that’s not real news? By dissecting “the narrative constructed by magazines like People, Us Weekly and In Touch.” The magazines showed Ms. Aniston shopping and Mr. Pitt holding African orphans. The message: that Mr. Pitt desperately wants a child and is interested in humanitarian causes. “One is left to assume,” writes Ginia Bellafante, “That his wife remained committed merely to herself.”