Today's Papers

Beirut for the Home Team

The Los Angeles Timesleads and USA Today fronts a trial court judge’s ruling that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a decision that stems from the San Francisco gay-marriage-fest last year. The The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with news * that the Bush administration will signal its willingness to sell F-16s (subscription required) to both Pakistan and India when Condoleezza Rice visits the South Asian rivals later this week; Islamabad has been pushing to buy the jets for years. The New York Times leads with the precipitous retirement of Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, who was under investigation for alleged shady dealings as the “autocratic and irascible” boss of insurance giant AIG. The Washington Postleads its own poll showing that only 35 percent of Americans support President Bush’s handling of Social Security, down slightly from January. But there’s some good news for Dubya, too: Seventy-one percent of Americans agree that the program is headed for a “crisis,” and of those doomsayers, two-thirds (or about 48 percent of all Americans) think the system needs a major overhaul. USAT leads with near-“record” gasoline prices. Per usual, the paper makes a lot of the fact that the record could be shattered this week, before noting, toward the bottom, that the inflation-adjusted record is actually more than 90 cents above the current average. Question: Why not lead the story with an eye-catching fact like, say, gas prices rose 12 cents in the last two weeks, and avoid the misleading historical comparison?

The papers say the California decision was more sweeping than even gay rights activists had hoped, leaving few arguments against gay marriage untouched. “No rational basis exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners,” the judge wrote. “Same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited solely because California has always done so before.” Everyone notes, of course, that the decision won’t go into effect until it is appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court, which is not expected to rule until next year at least.

The nut of the Times’ AIG story is that Greenberg was a boss from a bygone era, unable to recognize that certain practices weren’t exactly kosher anymore. But the WSJ’s tick-tock (subscription required, sadly) makes much more fascinating reading, describing, for example, how investigators trawled eBay for an obscure device that could play tapes of “candid and blunt” phone calls recorded on an obsolete Irish device, and how Greenberg kept “his wishes for a successor in a secret letter, which he revised periodically like a will.”

The LAT fronts a great piece of reporting on corruption in Iraqi reconstruction projects. The paper uncovered a series of e-mails in which a U.S. contractor repeatedly warned a top U.S. general overseeing a reconstruction project for the Iraqi army that a Lebanese middleman might be funneling kickbacks to the Iraqi defense ministry. “If we proceed down the road we are currently on, there will be serious legal issues that will land us all in jail,” the contractor wrote in November—eight days before he was shot dead in an ambush near Baghdad. The FBI is investigating the killing. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is still working with the middleman in question and some $24 million is still missing.

USAT and the LAT both front the same cinematic photo of yesterday’s counter-counter protest in Beirut—a teeming ocean of Lebanese flags flowing all the way from Martyrs’ Square to the Mediterranean, under the gaze of a pretty, young opposition supporter waving her own flag. The NYT says the crowd “easily rivaled” that bused in last week by Hezbollah, and the WP says that it “likely surpass[ed]” it. (Lebanese police officials and television said close to 1 million people attended, but only the LAT takes the estimate seriously, noting that it represents a quarter of the entire Lebanese population.) “This will counterbalance last Tuesday, and now we can sit and talk,” said an opposition leader in the NYT.

The WP has the best details from the ground, describing the throngs as a mishmash of “women with Louis Vuitton backpacks,” “college students in Che Guevara T-shirts,” and “men in pinstriped suits [who] draped themselves with lengths of red-and-white cloth.” And: Hezbollah’s satellite channel, apparently put off by opposition signs reading “100% Lebanese” focused its coverage on South Asian maids who attended the rally with their employers, in what the channel claims was an illegitimate attempt to boost the turnout.

Confusingly, the NYT mentions in passing that the red-and-white-clad protesters—who the Week in Review told us on Sunday were members of the supposedly green-coded “cedar revolution”—have apparently adopted, um, “light blue as the color demanding the truth from the investigation into” the former prime minister’s assassination.

The Journal says that the decision to sell fighter jets to both India and Pakistan is a “tacit acceptance” of the countries’ nuclear status, something the paper warns could be seen as a double standard. Especially since, in a “news analysis,” the NYT’s David Sanger argues that the Bush administration wants to ban Iran and other countries from enriching any uranium at all, even for peaceful purposes, in effect rewriting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which currently permits such activity.

Federal authorities announced yesterday that they have arrested 103 members of the ultraviolent Mara Salvatrucha gang, which USAT says is known for using machetes to sever the limbs of its enemies and also goes by the scarily futuristic moniker MS-13, which none of the papers explains. (Knight-Ridder says its biggest rival is called Mara-18.) The nationwide crackdown used immigration laws to round up gang members in several cities, a new technique that “critics” say could cause immigrant communities to stop cooperating with local investigations for fear of deportation. But in Los Angeles, the police say it’s a necessary technique. ”MS is not a gang, it’s an army,” said an LAPD gang expert in the NYT. “Within the United States, these guys pose as much a threat to the well being of ordinary citizens as any foreign terrorist group.”

Pot, kettle, et cetera … The NYT fronts a story on the growing library of CIA tell-all books written by former spooks. Money quote, from the author of 2002’s best-seller See No Evil, which has been adapted as a film starring George Clooney: “At the risk of 100 percent hypocrisy, I think it’s a bad trend,” he said. “For an intelligence agency to operate, it really has to operate in the dark. It has to have that mystique. Three or four books a year saying the emperor has no clothes could do real damage.”

Correction, March 16, 2005: This article originally and incorrectly called the WSJ’s announcement that the Bush administration had decided to sell Pakistan some F-16 fighters a “scoop.” The story appeared on March 12 in the Dallas Morning News, after which it was picked up by many other outlets. (Return to the corrected sentence.)