Today's Papers

Racked With Indecision

The New York Timesand USA Todaylead with an FDA advisory panel voting 7-2 to approve one company’s application to sell silicone breast implants, one day after they rejected another firm’s request to do the same. The Washington Postleads with video of American hostage Jeffrey Ake pleading for his life and for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. Ake, kidnapped Monday, had been working on a water-purification plant. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the House, as it usually does, voting to permanently repeal the estate tax. The Journal sees a chance that the Senate finally will go along or do something close to it. The NYT doesn’t, saying Senate passage “stands little chance.” If a repeal does become permanent, it will cost the U.S. an estimated $290 billion over the first 10 years. A Democratic proposal that would have taxed only the fattest three-tenths of one percent of estates was rejected by House Republicans. Following a NYT report that Tom DeLay’s political action committees have been cutting checks for his wife and daughter (in return for work), the Los Angeles Timeslead say it’s common practice. The paper found 39 members of Congress who have kin on their campaign payrolls. And a reminder on the nepotism: It’s not illegal and it’s not government money.

The FDA-appointed independent panelists explained that they haven’t gone crazy and just thought that the latest company had more solid data to back up its claims. “They’re not the same device,” said one panel member who switched his vote. “We didn’t have nearly the questions on this application that we did on the last application.” The NYT, which has lots of good probing of the decision, gives the impression that the FDA’s office to approve the devices didn’t buy the panelists’ argument. In any case, the Times figures the split decision makes it “all but impossible” to guess how the FDA is going to finally come down on silicone.

Four American contractors were wounded and five Iraqis killed by a car bomb in Baghdad. Nine policemen were killed near Kirkuk as they were trying to defuse a bomb. The Post also mentions heavy fighting near the Syrian border. Two insurgent groups said they joined forces for an offensive in the town of Qaim and said 23 of their men died. Meanwhile, the Iraqi forces seem to have disappeared. “I saw two police cars driven by masked men,” said one resident. “The policemen left the city, and the armed men took their weapons and cars.”

The WP fronts Connecticut’s House voting to allow civil unions for gay and lesbians, which would make it only the second state to do so. The bill also has language labeling “marriage” breeders-only.

The NYT and LAT both front but take different tacks on a mini press conference from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The LAT goes with DeLay apologizing for his “inartful” criticism of the judges around the Terri Schiavo case. (DeLay had said, “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today.”) The NYT plays down the apology and plays up DeLay saying he’s told the Judiciary Committee to start brainstorming on ways to curb “judicial activism.”

The NYTimes also notices that White House spokesman Scott McClellan didn’t exactly extend the love to DeLay. Asked whether the president considers the Hammer a friend, McClellan said sure, adding, “I think there are different levels of friendship.”

The NYT announces inside that U.N. ambassador nominee John Bolton has, by his own account, “used his position as a senior State Department official to obtain details about intercepted communications involving other American officials that were monitored by the National Security Agency.” It’s not as bad as it sounds. As the paper explains a few paragraphs down: The NSA picks up all sorts of intercepts some of which inevitably include U.S. citizens. As a matter of policy, those names are blacked out, unless they are administration officials, in which case policymakers can ask to read the names. That’s what Bolton did. A Senate Democrat has asked for more detail, namely whom he requested intercepts of. 

Meanwhile, Democrats, racing to get more testimony on Bolton, forced a delay on his confirmation until next week.

The NYT, alone, fronts a cocky Eric Rudolph pleading guilty to three bombings that killed two people and wounded about 120. Asked whether he bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Rudolph told the judge, “I certainly did, your honor.” He’s expected to get four consecutive life terms and has promised to tell investigators where he hid a couple hundred pounds of explosives.

The WP and NYT both mention a top State Dept. official who visited Fallujah. He was given a rosy picture pre-briefing, sped through town in an armored Humvee, and finally stopped at a Marine base where he got an earful from residents themselves. There’s sewage in the water, the electric grid is still largely out of commission, and the schools consist of tents. Any good news, asked the diplomat asked. Yes, only a third of residents have returned, so “traffic is OK.”

In Praise of Asymmetry … An early headline in theLAT: “ONE SILICONE IMPLANT GETS PANEL’S OK.” (It was, sadly, changed for the final edition.)