Today's Papers

Goodnight, Johnny

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal world-wide news box all cover the final week before the Iraqi election. The NYT pushes an agreement among prominent Shiite leaders to keep it secular if they win: “There will be no turbans in the government,” said one bigwig. “Everyone agrees on that.” Another Iraqi Shiite leader said Iran, which has funded several of the Shiite parties, actually counseled against putting clerics in power: “They said it caused too many problems.” The WP highlights a supervillainous turn by Abu Musab Zarqawi, who purportedly threatened everyone who participates in the election during a speech posted to a Web site yesterday: “We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.” The LAT goes with an aggressive wave of American raids that have caused the detainee population in Iraq to balloon beyond 8,000. “We want to eliminate as many of these guys as possible to stabilize things for the election,” explained a Marine intel officer stationed in still-restive Ramadi. Meanwhile, USA Today stuffs the election and leads with the Navy and Air Force far outpacing their recruiting goals this year, in stark contrast to the struggling Army and Marine Corps. One explanation: Out of the approximately 1,370 troops killed so far during the Iraq war, only 41 have come from the Air Force or Navy.

The NYT off-leads its follow-up on yesterday’s big WP story on the existence of a shadowy new military spy unit, which Sen. John McCain has announced he wants to investigate. The story’s mostly a rehash, but the Times deserves credit for ignoring the artfully worded sentences in a Pentagon statement that appear to contradict the Post: “There is no unit that is directly reportable to the Secretary of Defense for clandestine operations as is described in the Washington Post,” the statement claims, but later concedes, “[i]t is accurate and should not be surprising that the Department of Defense is attempting to improve its long-standing human intelligence capability.” USAT nevertheless takes the bait: “PENTAGON DENIES REPORT OF NEW SPY UNIT.”

A rare, fragile peace has settled over Gaza in the last few days as newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has deployed security forces to discourage rocket attacks, and leaders of militant groups say they are coming closer to an agreement that would trade a long-term suspension of attacks for a power-sharing arrangement that could last until July’s legislative elections. “There is now calm,” Ariel Sharon said. “We don’t know if this is a genuine change yet. We hope so.”

Meanwhile, the WP says that Israel has been quietly seizing Jerusalem land owned by Palestinians who live on the other side of the new security wall. The move, first reported last week by Haaretz, could affect thousands of Palestinians and amount to half of all property in East Jerusalem.

Germany announced yesterday that it has arrested two suspected al-Qaida members who prosecuters say were planning suicide attacks in Iraq. One suspect, an Iraqi, allegedly fought in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, tried unsuccessfully to buy 48 grams of uranium from a Luxembourg dealer in 2002, and later enlisted the other suspect, a Palestinian, to attack American troops in Iraq. Oddly, there’s no word at all on who the uranium dealer was, whether he has been arrested, or how easy it actually is to buy 48 grams of the big U.

Even as the Bush administration tries to invoke (or, some might say, twist) the words of Bill Clinton and Daniel Patrick Moyinhan to support its partial privatization of Social Security, USAT fronts (and the WP and NYT mention) some breaks in the Republican phalanx. On the Sunday talk shows, Sen. Olympia Snowe and Rep. Bill Thomas both expressed some misgivings about Bush’s focus on privatizing part of the system. “I don’t think we want to erode the principles of that system,” Snowe said, adding, “I’m certainly not going to support diverting $2 trillion from Social Security into creating personal savings accounts.”

The WSJ mentions that the Department of Labor has suspended the only detailed survey of migrant farm workers (subscription required). Potential motives for the cancellation include dissatisfaction with one of its key findings: More than half of all crop workers in the United States are illegal immigrants, up from only 12 percent in 1990.

The Journal also polled a group of economists, some of whom project that China’s economy may overtake the U.S.’s within 20 years to 40 years  (sub. req.). If its GDP is calculated at purchasing-power parity, China is already No. 2. It wouldn’t be the first time: Around the turn of the second millennium, technological advances propelled China into the economic pole position for most of the subsequent 700 years. The development of early-ripening rice and use of New World crops like maize and sweet potatoes created food surpluses, allowing the growth of the porcelain and silk industries, which dominated global trade.

Today, after more than 3,000 columns, the NYT’s Op-Ed page publishes a grand finale by its self-described “twice-weekly vituperative right-wing scandalmonger,” William Safire. In four (yes, four) final columns marked above all by self-aggrandizing gestures toward humility, Safire explains his plans, lampoons his style, and pats himself on the back for, among other things, championing Ariel Sharon and knowing a lot of former first ladies.

And everyone but the WSJ unfurls an elaborate front-page obituary of Johnny Carson, who died yesterday of emphysema at the age of 79. “Virtually every American with a television set saw and heard a Carson monologue at some point,” the NYT writes, echoing all the papers’ reverence for his vast pop culture influence. “At his height, between 10 million and 15 million Americans slept better weeknights because of him.” According to the LAT and WP, The Tonight Show hosted some 22,000 guests during his tenure, enough to fill a couch eight miles long.

Everyone mentions the new revelation that Carson had kept writing monologue bits until close to the end, passing some of them on to David Letterman over the last year. “He was like a little kid when Dave would do one of his jokes,” Peter Lassally, a longtime friend and producer, told reporters last week. “He was not blasé about any of it.”

And both of the Timeses close with the same anecdote, culled from a 1979 interview on 60 Minutes. Mike Wallace asked Johnny, “What would you like your epitaph to be?” Ever the talk-show host, Carson answered: “I’ll be right back.”