Today's Papers

Not Boltin’

The Washington Post’s top nonlocal spot and the New York Times’ leadgo to the confirmation hearings for John Bolton, who took heat from Democratic senators—for his U.N. tough talk, general throaty rhetoric, and the possibility he tried to pressure intel analysts who disagreed with him. Bolton insisted he has been terribly misunderstood and wants to “forge a stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations.” The papers all see the odds favoring Bolton, with key Republican swinger Senator Lincoln Chafee saying he’s going to vote aye unless, wink, “something surprising shows up.”

The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and Los Angeles Timeslead with President Bush hosting Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, whom he repeatedly praised for his Gaza withdrawal plan but also said Israel should drop its plans to expand its largest West Bank settlement. “Israel has obligations under the road map,” said the president. “The road map clearly says no expansion of settlements.” USA Todayteases the hearing and summit and leads with a prefab leak: The AARP will release a study today concluding that wholesale drug prices increased an average of 7.1 percent last year, just a tick higher than a year before. An industry lobbyist shot back that the study is “exaggerated and misleading” since it doesn’t includes things like rebates often included in retail prices. The paper leaves it at that, and readers hanging. There are no details about trends in retail prices, nor an explanation for why wholesale prices are the preferred measure.

The LAT and NYT both play the Sharon-Bush ranch confab on Page One and completely differently. The NYT emphasizes the love: “BUSH SUPPORTS PLAN BY SHARON FOR A WITHDRAWAL FROM GAZA.” The left-coast Times—”BUSH SHARON CLASH OPENLY”—sees the president’s comments as an early warning. “It’s important that Bush lay down this marker now because the turmoil in Israel will get much worse in the coming months,” one analyst told the LAT.

The Post says the summit was the Kabuki theatre—and tosses it onto A17. Sharon blew off the call to halt construction in the West Bank, and Bush in turn didn’t mention any particulars to back up his rhetoric. The WP figures the two were just talking a big talk to “deflect criticism of their respective approaches at home and abroad.”

Bolton acknowledged that he tried to get two intel officers reassigned who had disagreed with what they saw as his fakakta theory about Cuba and biological weapons. Bolton argued that it wasn’t their position that bothered him, it was that they went behind his back to try to change one of his speeches. Slate’s Fred Kaplan says that’s bogus, arguing that the intel officers didn’t report to Bolton and do share their criticisms as a matter of SOP (standard operating procedure). The LAT has the most detailed back story, but none of the papers really report it out and put it in context: What do other analysts say? Did the intel officers do anything outside their job description?

There’s another round of Bolton testimony slated today, including from a senior State Department official who backed his underling when he thought Bolton was exaggerating intel.

Everybody highlights different developments in Iraq. As the LAT headlines, an unnamed U.S. contractor was kidnapped in Baghdad. The Post says insurgents launched their second large-scale attack in two weeks. Using a mix of gunmen and suicide car bombs, they tried to overrun a Marine base near the Syrian border. Apparently, the attack failed: Just three Marines were wounded. The NYT devotes a sentence to that attack and instead goes official(s): “MILITARY RAID IN BAGHDAD CAPTURES 65, OFFICIALS SAY.”

Also, as others have noted, there’s an intriguing line plopped in the middle of the NYT’s Iraq piece: The largest Sunni umbrella organization said yesterday it “would not join the government in any capacity.” Follow-up worthy?

The LAT fronts the story of Khaled el-Masri, a naturalized German who seems to have been kinda kidnapped by U.S. intel agents, imprisoned in Afghanistan, and then freed on a mountain road in Albania. He was never charged. The NYT reported on el-Masri in January. About the same time, Der Spiegel said that the U.S. informally apologized. If so, el-Masri hasn’t heard about it. “No one said, ‘Sorry, we made a mistake,’ ” he told the LAT. “I just want to find out what happened and why it happened. I want those responsible to be punished.”

The NYT covers the “booming markets” for armored cars. Yes, it’s about Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. But the business doesn’t end there. “One-third of the people who buy these cars are under threat,” said the head of one refurbishing company, “one-third think they are under threat, and one-third want to be in the first two categories.”