Today's Papers

Al-Qaida Video Gains?

Citing “Western diplomats,” the New York Timesunveils a grand bargain that European negotiators are set to offer Iran: Give up the fishy nukes development and in return get plenty of economic links, including help with civilian nuclear plants. The deal apparently has U.S. backing; it hews closely to the administration’s position that Iran renounce any nuclear intentions and outright dismantle its uranium-enrichment program. USA Todayleads with NASA wondering whether the workers who originally applied the foam to the shuttle’s external fuel tank pranced around too much and thus loosened up the foam. The Washington Postleads, weirdly, with the video of al-Qaida pooh-bah Ayman Zawahiri issuing new threats against Britain; he claimed that the attacks in London were revenge for Britain sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (at least online) with four more U.S. troops killed in Iraq, including a Marine who was in the same town where the two big attacks happened earlier this week. The Los Angeles Times’ top nonlocal spot goes to the emerging famine in Niger. Aid officials said about 200,000 children are “at risk.”

Obviously, the papers were digging for leads. But why put Zawahiri’s press release in the top spot? After all, his chat was spin that may well have no basis in fact. There’s no known evidence that Zawahiri or anybody else from AQ HQ were even involved in the attacks. Heck, a terror analyst says just that in the Post story: “I tend to think it’s not al Qaeda-linked, but it’s al Qaeda-inspired.”

The Financial Times also gives the video prominent play. But the FT also has the smarter take, parsing the video as propaganda (and speculating it was an effort by Zawahri and OBL to keep street cred and convince supporters they’re still in the picture).

The Post says on Page One that the administration is trying to transfer nearly 70 percent of Gitmo detainees back to prisons in their home countries. The U.S. said it has already agreed to give Afghanistan “exclusive” control of most Afghan prisoners. And a similar deal is reportedly in the works with Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Citing seemingly second-hand sources—American and European intel officials who’ve spoken with Brit counterparts—the NYT teases wordthat British officials have “picked up information that another team might be planning a synchronized bombing in London or elsewhere in Britain.”

The papers all note that British police yesterday—exactly four weeks after the attacks—had a massive presence on the Underground. Only the NYT plays up the apparent intel—”BRITAIN GOES ON HIGH ALERT, SPURRED BY HINT OF ATTACK.” It’s not hard to figure out the other papers’ hesitance. Read deep into the Times piece and things suddenly get murky. “I think the immediacy of [the threat info] has been toned down,” said one American official. It’s worth noting that the Times’ London-bombings coverage, particularly in the early days, has shown a tendency to 1) rely on secondary sources and 2) jump to conclusions.

The NYT and WP front two former employees of a pro-Israel lobbyist group, AIPAC, being indicted for passing along classified info to a foreign government. The Pentagon employee who gave them the info, Larry Franklin, has apparently been flipped by prosecutors. It’s nearly unheard of for nongovernment employees to be hit with such charges, but prosecutors seem to have a case thanks to the Espionage Act.

The LAT and WP front a right-wing Israeli settler—AWOL from the army—opening fire on a busload of Arabs in northern Israel, killing four people. A crowd overcame him and beat him to death. Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon strongly denounced the attacker, calling him a “blood-thirsty terrorist.”

The NYT also fronts the famine in the Niger. Though a recent drought has made things worse, the country has perennial problems—primitive farming, poor health care, etc. Perhaps that helps explain the international community’s response to the famine, which by May consisted of “7,000 tons of food and one $323,000 donation, from Luxembourg.”

Continuing its quixotic campaign in support of killing off the editorial page, today’s NYT devotes some of its precious space there to … an ode to blogs:

It’s natural enough to think of the growth of the blogosphere as a merely technical phenomenon. But it’s also a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in. Every day the blogosphere captures a little more of the strange immediacy of the life that is passing before us. Think of it as the global thought bubble of a single voluble species.

Remember, you read it in the Times first: Blogs are a “profoundly human phenomenon.”