Today's Papers

Empty Gas Lines

The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with President Bush urging Americans to cut back on tooling around in their cars. “People just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption,” said the president, adding that if Americans would skip trips that are “not essential, that would be helpful.” USA Today’s lead focuses on the massive damage from Rita on Louisiana’s rural coast. “You have entire communities demolished,” said Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the feds’ main man on Katrina. Allen compared Rita’s damage to what Katrina wrought on Mississippi. (It’d be nice to know how many people live in the affected parishes.) The Washington Post also leads with Rita’s aftermath, playing up evacuees from Louisiana frustrated that they’re not being allowed back in.

It’s a bit hard to understand why the LAT and NYT think the president’s comments are lead-worthy. As the NYT itself reminds, a few days after Katrina, the president said just about the same thing: “Don’t buy gas if you don’t need it.” And, rhetoric aside, on neither occasion did the president offer specific proposals for lowering oil consumption.

The Wall Street Journal has a more sensible approach, focusing on that thing called policy. The president is apparently getting behind legislation that the WSJ dubs “Energy Bill II.” It would consist largely of, as the Journal gently puts it, “regulatory relief for producers and refiners.”

The NYT notices above the fold that the bankruptcy bill, which is scheduled to take effect next month and will make it harder for consumers to get bankruptcy protection, could screw some Katrina survivors. The paper notes that House Republicans “fought off” a proposed amendment that would have given victims of natural disasters a bit more leeway. There have been calls to at least delay the law’s start date, a line of argument that the White House said it “doesn’t see a lot of merit in.” 

The LAT fronts a fine piece noting that many of the reports about rape, murder, and shootings in New Orleans were bogus, basically rumors driven by the lack of communications. It’s not that there wasn’t violence; there just doesn’t appear to have been nearly as much as was reported. The LAT doesn’t spare itself, flagging one its early overheated reports. The paper also raises the question of whether racism contributed. “If the dome and Convention Center had harbored large numbers of middle class white people,” the editor of the Times-Picayune told the LAT, “it would not have been a fertile ground for this kind of rumor mongering.” The Times-Picayune had a similar report yesterday.

The WP fronts FEMA’s decision to reimburse religious institutions for any emergency aid they’ve provided to survivors of Katrina and Rita. It’s the first time the agency has crossed that line. Some Republicans, as well as the Red Cross lobbied for the move.

The LAT fronts and others go inside with a Spanish court convicting 18 al-Qaida suspects of terrorism-related changes; one of the men was found guilty of helping to plan 9/11. The most serious charges, namely murder, were dismissed, and the longest sentence was 27 years.

The NYT fronts the violence in Iraq,where insurgents burst into a school and murdered five Shiite teachers. It’s one of the first known targeting of teachers. Until now at least, schools have gone largely unprotected. Three GIs were also killed in assorted attacks, as were another 11 Iraqis.

The Post off-leads Lynndie England, of Abu Ghraib leash fame, being sentenced to up to 10 years in the brig. The NYT and LAT both skip a bit of context offered by the Post, namely that what England did was darn similar to tactics that had been approved at Gitmo. Those tactics included, for example, using leashes on detainees.

The WP fronts and others go inside with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist defending himself against suspicions that he dabbled in insider trading when he sold his holdings in a family company right before the stock dipped 9 percent. The NYT highlights Frist’s key point of defense, while the Post inexplicably buries it: Frist said he started the paperwork with lawyers to sell the stock months before the sale went through, so early in fact that it was before the company’s bookkeepers even knew the company was facing trouble. Seems worth trying to confirm in a follow-up, no?

The NYT says federal investigators are “looking into” whether three years ago the Justice Department improperly put the kibosh on an investigation of shamed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A longtime federal prosecutor told superiors he was looking into Abramoff; three days later he was demoted and the investigation died. The LAT recently detailed the episode but doesn’t have the part about the current “looking into,” which actually is sourced to unnamed government buddies of the prosecutor. Missing from the piece: a comment from investigators—or at least an attempt to get one—about whether there’s really an investigation. 

The Post, sadly, stuffs word that al-Qaida types have launched a news program via the Internet:

The anchorman, who said the report would appear once a week, presented news about the Gaza Strip and Iraq. … A copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, was placed by his right hand and a rifle affixed to a tripod was pointed at the camera.

Then came the weather report:

“The whole Muslim world was filled with joy” [after Katrina], the anchorman said. He went on to say that President Bush was “completely humiliated by his obvious incapacity to face the wrath of God, who battered New Orleans, city of homosexuals.”

Now will you stop nudging us? Three weeks ago, NYT TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote that, while in New Orleans, Geraldo Rivera “nudged” an emergency worker out of the way to help a Katrina survivor. The only problem being that the tape didn’t show Rivera “nudging” anybody. Faced with beaucoup criticism, the Times hunkered down and refused to publish a correction. Then the ombudsman whacked away. And now, the NYT has published, well, an “editor’s note.” It acknowledges that Geraldo’s move was not a nudge but simply “a flamboyant intervention.”

What would we do without “U.S. officials”? From the Post: “The Americans had underestimated the problems with Iraq’s infrastructure, a U.S. official in Baghdad said on condition of anonymity.”