The New York Times leads with yesterday’s gigantic 9/11 document dump, as New York City’s government complied with a court order and released a vast trove of information related to the terrorist attacks and the city’s response to the emergency. The Washington Post’s lead reveals that the federal agency charged with screening airline passengers is discussing whether to relax some of the tight restrictions it’s imposed since 2001 in order to ease waits at airports and to allow screeners to focus their attention on serious risks. The Los Angeles Times goes with a local story that has national implications: The California Supreme Court yesterday gave the go-ahead for a ballot initiative that proposes to change the way the state’s congressional districts are drawn.
Though some of the information contained in the 9/11 documents has leaked out over the years—much of it to the NYT itself—the paper, sounding slightly overwhelmed, emphasizes the sheer amount of material, “a digital avalanche of oral histories, dispatchers’ tapes and phone logs so vast that they took up 23 compact discs.” The city only released the documents after losing a freedom-of-information case to the Times and a group of victims’ families. Most reader-accessible are the voluminous oral histories compiled soon after the attacks on the orders of the city’s then-fire department commissioner, which are excerpted in a separate inside piece.
The lead story understandably chooses to focus on one small slice of the material: The stories of the paramedics who responded to the attacks. But everything’s posted online. The LAT also fronts a story based on the documents.
The WP’s lead, in a curious bit of juxtaposition, says that the new head of the Transportation Safety Administration wants to loosen up airport security checks in order to concentrate on “today’s threats.” The TSA is already struggling to screen the estimated 2 million passengers who pass through airports each day, even as congressional budget cuts mean fewer screeners. To ease the burden, the agency is now considering doing fewer pat-downs, ending the rule requiring passengers to remove their shoes, and removing restrictions prohibiting “carry-on items such as scissors, razor blades … ice picks, throwing stars and bows and arrows on flights.” Some terrorism analysts approved, saying that these days, the most serious threats to airlines are posed by suicide bombers with explosives strapped to their chests, not scissors-wielding hijackers, ninjas, or Ted Nugent.
Removing partisanship from the process of drawing congressional districts is a liberal hobbyhorse and also a pet issue of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Schwarzenegger is backing an initiative that would take redistricting power out of the hands of elected politicians, entrusting it to nonpartisan judges instead. Opponents of the measure tried to get it thrown off the ballot on technical grounds, but California’s Supreme Court rejected their arguments. The ruling sets the stage for a major battle as Democrats try to hold onto district-drawing power in one their stronghold states.
Gas prices, which are rising above $3 in some parts of the country, get big play in both the Times today. In car-crazy Los Angeles, there’s a story about commuters who stubbornly refuse to consider carpools or public transportation, even when faced with gas costs not seen since the days of the Iran-Iraq war. One motorist tells the paper that she recently sold one guzzler, but adds, “We still have our Cadillac Escalade.” In New York, where driving is a more exotic pastime, the story focuses on people who actually hunt around for cheaper gas stations. Where will this madness end?
The WP off-leads a big-picture analysis of Israel’s ongoing withdrawal from Gaza. For those still befuddled about why Ariel Sharon has suddenly decided to give Palestinians a big piece of the occupied territories, this is a good primer. The simple answer is: demographics. “According to population projections, the number of Arabs living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will surpass the number of Jewish residents, who now total roughly 5.2 million, by the end of the decade,” the paper writes. Israel’s leaders want a nation that’s smaller and more homogenous so Arabs don’t band together to vote them out of power. Meanwhile, the LAT has a piece on the uproar over the withdrawal within America’s Jewish community.
The LAT follows President Bush’s sorta-kinda vows to keep American troops in Iraq with an off-lead story examining whether a rift on war strategy has opened up between the White House and the Pentagon. (TP speculated on the same question yesterday.)
The NYT fronts word that Edgar Ray Killen, the former Klansman convicted of involvement in the killing of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, was released on bail pending an appeal yesterday. The 80-year-old convict served just six weeks for his crimes and may never return to jail, since his health is failing.
Inside, the NYT has a fascinating investigation of corruption in Russia. It’ll surprise no one that graft costs Russians billions a year—that’s why, TP suspects, the story didn’t make the front—but reading the piece, you realize that the everydayness of it is exactly the point. Reporter Steven Lee Myers collects a bevy of priceless anecdotes: to get into a university, prospective students must bribe a dean; even the local branch of Transparency International, an anticorruption advocacy group, was hit up for $300. “It used to be called bribery,” a jaded businessman tells the paper. “Now it is just called business.”
Back to the 9/11 documents for a moment. While NYT’s stories are admirably done under serious time constraints, it’s worth going to the source materials themselves, which are chilling. Even years after the fact, listening to the tapes of the confused distress calls from police and rescue workers first on the scene of the World Trade Center, some of whom were presumably soon to die, packs a sort of raw suspense. A moment from one tape, picked at random:
“We’re being told, a second plane—a second plane!—crashed into the building on the opposite end,” shouts a harried rescue worker.
“That’s not an accident,” a deadpan voice replies. “That’s on purpose.”