Today's Papers

Wead It And Veep

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday’s suicide bombings in Iraq, which claimed the lives of at least 30 people—casualty counts differ—on the occasion of an important Shiite holiday. The New York Times goes with an audit of the federal government’s grants to upgrade port security, which shows that less than a quarter of the $517 million allocated has actually been spent, and that much of the money has gone to nonessential projects.

The WP puts the number killed at 30, the NYT estimates 39, and the LAT says 54. Curiously, the papers’ degrees of concern seem to vary inversely with their death tolls. The WP’s lead accentuates the mayhem, as “suicide bombers in cars, on foot and on a bicycle launched at least seven attacks.” It fronts a huge photo of a school bus ripped apart by a bomb. The NYT, which reefers the story, is more analytical, emphasizing the Sunni-on-Shiite dynamic to the attacks, and picks up on an interesting nuance: Two of yesterday’s suicide bombers “had black skin” and were probably Sudanese. The LAT’s lead sees Iraqis triumphing over adversity, “defying” the attacks to make “emotional displays of faith” in commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. Everyone notes that the death toll was lower than on last year’s holiday, when more than 170 were killed in suicide attacks.

Nearly 80 percent of the United States’ international trade moves through only 10 ports, the NYT says, “with the biggest loads passing through Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland in California and New York.” A terrorist attack on any of them would have devastating economic consequences. But the Department of Homeland Security has been slow to address the threat, the paper says. And while the major ports received a large chunk of the government money, smaller grants went to such improbable terrorist targets as St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, Martha’s Vineyard, “and six locations in Arkansas, none of which appeared to meet the grant eligibility requirements.” Arkansas is landlocked. The NYT doesn’t mention it, but TP can’t help recalling that the department’s undersecretary for border and transportation security is Asa Hutchinson, who is resigning amid speculation that he is planning a 2006 run for governor of … Arkansas.

The NYT goes long with a scoop: An account of numerous taped telephone conversations between then-Gov. George Bush and an adviser, starting in 1998 as he was preparing to run for president and running through his nomination in 2000. In Bush’s candid talks with Doug Wead, a former aide to his father who was acting as an informal emissary to evangelical groups, Bush addresses his youthful “wild behavior,” and seems to admit to having smoked marijuana. When asked about cocaine, he replies, “I haven’t denied anything.” Bush suggests he’d like to make John Ashcroft vice president—or a Supreme Court justice. He professes a deep Christian faith, but says, “I’m not going to kick gays, because I’m a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?” Wead, who played the tapes for the paper, says he recorded the phone calls for posterity’s sake.

The LAT has a heart-rending narrative piece on modern medical quackery. It tells the story of a man with terminal ALS, who paid $10,000 to a company he discovered on the Internet for “experimental” stem-cell treatments. The purported miracle cure did nothing. The company, founded by a former runway model with no scientific background, is now under investigation. Its founders have fled the country. One gripe about an otherwise outstanding story: The headline is strangely sunny (“A Desperate Injection of Stem Cells and Hope”), and there’s little foreshadowing of its darker themes. The word “fraud” is not used until 2,800 words in.

Next week, President Bush tours Europe, where the agenda will include Iran’s nukes and the status of an arms embargo against China. He’ll also have dinner with Jacques Chirac. Everyone uses the occasion to check in on America’s relations with the bumptious continent. To summarize: 1) Europeans don’t much like Bush; 2) everyone would like to get along better; 3) it probably won’t happen. The NYT, which off-leads a pair of stories on the subject,cites the example of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s recent appearance at a conference in Germany, quoting one dignitary’s assessment: “The tone was different. The tune was the same.”

The WP’s fronter focuses more narrowly on Bush’s relationship with the increasingly autocratic Vladimir Putin. How Bush handles Putin “will be the first test of the grand promise laid out in the president’s inauguration address last month,” the story says, though it goes on to note his own national security council has recommended “no radical changes” in policy towards Russia.

A story inside the WP discerns one area of common ground: Syria. Both America and France want an end to its domination over Lebanon. The LAT reports from Beirut, and predicts that rousting Syria may be easier said than done. It’s seeded an entire ruling class with its sympathizers, “from the president of the country to university deans.”

The LAT off-leads a local story with national implications. Starting this year, a state computer will prepare tax returns for 50,000 residents who don’t have complicated deductions. Participants in the pilot project will receive a return that is already filled out, which they will simply sign and send back to the state. Some tax experts think the IRS should do the same thing. Not surprisingly, accounting firms like H&R Block are lobbying hard to kill the program.

Everyone stuffs word of massive pro-democracy rallies in the tiny West African nation of Togo. The NYT, the only paper with a correspondent on the ground, says 15,000 marched through the streets of the capital to demand President Faure Gnassingbé step down. Togo’s army installed Gnassingbé two weeks ago, after the sudden death of his father, a dictator who ruled the country for nearly 40 years.

Following the old journalist maxim, “if it bleats, it leads,” all three of the papers feature fluffy animal stories today. The NYT fronts a dispatch on the oft-chased subject of Britain’s fox hunting ban. The WP checks in on the inspirational comeback of the once-endangered gray whale. And the LAT has a heartwarming tale from Kenya of an “odd couple” friendship between a tortoise and a hippo.

And finally… Please, stop this man before he metaphors again!

“It’s got to be the beginning of a thaw. It’s like a family that got a divorce. You have to kiss before you go to sleep.”

—Tom Korologos, the American ambassador to Belgium, on American-European relations, as quoted in the NYT.