Today's Papers

The Beirut of Evil 

The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with the car-bombing assassination of prominent Lebanese journalist cum politician Samir Kassir, who was known for his anti-Syrian stance. The Washington Postleads with Iraq’s interior minister saying, apparently, that 12,000 civilians have been killed by insurgents since the war began. The minister said 10,500 of them were Shiites. Though the Post doesn’t get curious about it, the Iraqi government has been generally tight-fisted with casualty info, and the provenance of these figures was less than clear. USA Todayleads with a couple of communities deciding that it might not be a great idea for police at schools to use Taser guns.

The killing in Lebanon comes just days before the kick-off of a second round of parliamentary elections. The NYT says that, in an attempt to keep things from spinning out of control, opposition leaders decided not to call for a mass protest, but they did call a general strike for Friday. They’re demanding the resignation of the country’s pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud. Though the two Timeses don’t raise the issue, newspapers in Lebanon have said there’s been serious infighting recently among opposition groups, with some pointing the finger at others for Kassir’s murder.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the news that three-dozen Iraqis were killed in insurgent attacks; there were three car bombings within an hour of one another in Baghdad. Gunmen also opened fire on shoppers at a market in Baghdad, killing nine. Two GIs were killed in fighting near Ramadi.

The Post’s decision to headline the Iraqi interior minister’s claims on civilian casualties is … interesting. Again, it doesn’t look like the minister gave reporters a look at actual data. Meanwhile, though the WP doesn’t mention it, last year Knight Ridder got hold of some Iraqi government stats showing that during a six-month period more Iraqis had been killed by U.S. forces than by insurgents. The Post isn’t exactly clear on whether the purported 12,000 civilians cited by the minister were killed by insurgents or just during the course of the insurgency. Thankfully, the Post’s reporters weren’t the only ones in on the chat; the Associated Press and NYT were also there. They say he was referring to total casualties. Not that either outlet sees the claims as particularly credible anyway. Both wisely decide that the casualty claim isn’t fit to headline. The LAT also met with the minister, but there’s no mention of his casualty figure.  

The Post goes inside with Iraq’s foreign minister pleading with the United States to be more engaged in Iraq. He told White House officials that they should push Iraqi politicians to come up with a constitution, and he asked for more training of Iraqi forces. “There is something between too much and not enough,” he said, while asking the administration to be “more focused and more engaged” and not to say “this is yours, hands off.” A few weeks ago the LAT had what TP dubbed a “somewhat vague” piece saying that the U.S. was actually taking a more hands-on approach.

The end of the NYT’s Iraq wrap-up has this intriguing but not surprising bit:

Satellite imagery experts have determined that material that could be used to make biological or chemical weapons and banned long-range missiles has been removed from 109 sites in Iraq, United Nations weapons inspectors said in a report obtained Thursday.

Most of the papers front President Bush as expected nominating Rep. Christopher Cox to take over the SEC from Bill Donaldson, who the NYT said had come to be viewed by Republicans as a “disappointingly independent choice.” The Journal dubs Cox’s nomination a “victory for the business lobby.” Cox has a nearly untarnished record of fighting against stricter accounting rules.But the WSJ does find one exception: He once supported greater disclosure for mutual funds. Meanwhile, the other thing that got observers riled up had less to do with Cox than with his nomination. “I’m trying to go back in my memory to think about when the last time a sitting politician was nominated to lead the SEC,” one professor told the Post.

The WSJ says that the Army, in a desperate bid to keep manpower, has made it harder to for unit commanders to dismiss slacker soldiers. An Army memo told commanders that they need to go up the chain of command if they want to bounce GIs who are drug addicts, fat, or just loafers. Slate reported on the memo yesterday and also suggested alternatives for keeping retention rates up.

The WP notices inside that the government’s new counterterrorism clearinghouse, mandated by legislation to open in two weeks, still doesn’t have a director.

The WP’s off-leads word that some top Democrats have received campaign contributions from Indian tribes  that had apparently given money based on the recommendation of lobbyist bad-boy Jack Abramoff. Until now, only Republicans have been tarred by connections with Abramoff. Among the top Democratic recipients were former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and his replacement, Sen. Harry Reid. Overall, Democrats got about a third of the money funneled by Abramoff. Despite the big play, there’s nothing really unusual here. Lobbyists usually hedge their bets and donate to both sides of the aisle.

In fact, the Post never suggests that the Dems who took the money did anything wrong. Instead, the paper focuses on the potential political fallout from the guilty-by-association odor generated by the story itself. In other words, the Post effectively creates the impression of wrongdoing and then goes on to wonder what impact that will have: “DEMOCRATS ALSO GOT TRIBAL DONATIONS; Abramoff Issue May Affect Both Parties.” The question isn’t whether the Post should report the donations; it’s how the paper should do it and with what level of prominence.