Today's Papers

Broken Cheney?

The Washington Postleads with, and Los Angeles Timesfronts, Iraqi officials in Ramadi saying a U.S. airstrike killed about 25 civilians, including 18 children. U.S. military officials said the airstrike hit insurgents planting a bomb. The Wall Street Journal’s business boxand New York Times lead with GM announcing a tentative deal with the United Auto Workers to cut health care benefits for retirees by about $1 billion annually. The UAW has repeatedly said it wouldn’t make such a deal but was purportedly swayed by GM’s impressive hemorrhaging—the company announced a $1.6 billion third-quarter loss yesterday. There were few details on the actual cutbacks but the NYT says it won’t hurt that much: The remaining benefits will “likely still be the envy of many other retired Americans.” The LAT’s lead takes a wider angle on GM’s cuts, looking at the “reduced leverage” of today’s U.S. workers. USA Todayleads with government investigators agreeing to check into the Small Business Administration’s quick-as-molasses response to applications for emergency loans for Katrina-affected businesses. After Hurricane Charley last year, the SBA approved $200 million in loans in six weeks. In the six weeks since Katrina, just $67 million has been approved.

“An American aircraft yesterday bombed a crowd of people that were gathering around a U.S. military vehicle that was destroyed by gunmen earlier in the clashes,” a local police commander told the LAT. The WP says that at Ramadi’s hospital, “distraught and grieving families fought over body parts severed by the airstrikes, staking rival claims to what they believed to be pieces of their loved ones.” The Associated Press—which the papers appear to be relying on for Ramadi reporting—has video of at least two dead children.

Both USAT and NYT emphasize the military’s position. “U.S. Hits Suspected Militants in Western Iraq,” announces USAT. But what’s interesting is that the Times, while weighting its story toward the military, is also the only paper with a Ramadi dateline. Given that the NYT quotes only a U.S. commander—and no Iraqis—TP suspects the reporter was traveling or embedded with the military. Nothing wrong with that. But if it’s the case, the reporter should tell readers.

The NYT fronts and the Journal’s world-wide newsbox leads with election officials in Iraq double-checking ballots in 12 Shiite and Kurdish-dominated provinces where at least 90 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the draft constitution. As the NYT mentions, there wouldn’t be much reason to rig the vote in those provinces. After all, the constitution would only have been defeated if two-thirds of voters in any three provinces vote against it. Padding a province where the referendum was a sure thing wouldn’t do squat. So despite the papers’ big play, this might be one of the instances where the official explanation—that is a technical recount and there’s no overwhelming suspicion of fraud—just might hold up.

USAT and the NYT front pieces on Saddam’s coming trial, which starts tomorrow and is expected to adjourn hours later for at least a few weeks. The NYT’s John Burns highlights complaints about “the fairness and competence of the court.” The judges aren’t experienced, and more importantly, they’re being pushed around by politicians eager to get the trial on.

The NYT’s Marc Lacey offers a dispatch from Darfur, where militia groups have multiplied creating what one aid worker called “a cocktail of armed actors.” Last month, militia who once were supported by Sudan attacked a Sudanese police station.

Citing “lawyers familiar with the case and government officials,” the Post’s off-lead says the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case investigation has “zeroed in” on Vice President Cheney’s office and that the tension between that office and the CIA “contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame.” It sounds saucy, but the speculation isn’t particularly new. Still, there might be an important puzzle piece buried at the end of the Post’s story, namely a hint about how the White House might have seen a State Department memo that identified Plame. In any case, the special prosecutor’s office hinted about the possibility of an announcement soon. In a rare public statement, the office said an announcement on the case will happen in D.C. rather than Chicago, where the prosecutor is based.

While we’re on the Plame case, it’s worth noting that while it’s obvious Judith Miller left questions unanswered, it’s unclear whether the NYT’s leaders plan on trying to do anything about it. To take just one example, according to the NYT’s big takeout, Miller would not “allow reporters to review her notes.” Those are the same notes that ID’d Plame—or “Flame”—and that Miller shared with the prosecutor. Doesn’t the NYT’s publisher think Miller needs to also give her colleagues a peek? What’s Bill Keller’s position? There is of course another option: By staying silent, the Times’ leaders can implicitly condone Miller stonewalling her own paper.