Today's Papers

Trust, the Numbers

The Washington Postleads with a poll showing President Bush with a 39 percent approval rating and a 60 percent disapproval mark—both a record for Bush in the Post’s polling. The president had his biggest dip on “issues of personal trust, honesty and values.” The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and New York Times lead with former presidential aide Scooter Libby pleading not guilty to perjury and other charges against him. Libby waived his right to a quick trial, suggesting, as the Journal puts it, “his intention to mount a vigorous defense.”

USA Todayleads with FEMA sending Louisiana a bill for $3.7 billion. Which sounds outrageous—and obviously lead-worthy—until one reads a few paragraphs down and sees that Congress long ago mandated that states pay a portion of disaster-relief costs. (No word on how small that portion can be.) The only way the bill can be avoided, apparently, is for Congress to forgive the debt. In the meantime, the charge amounts to half of Louisiana’s annual budget. And the state is already facing a billion-dollar deficit this year. The Los Angeles Times’ lead says drug companies have given “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to politicians and civil rights groups—including the California branch of the NAACP—that have supported a state proposition that just happens to benefit, and be basically sponsored by, the industry.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the Post’s poll said they do not think the president is “honest and trustworthy.” Sixty-eight percent said the country is heading in the wrong direction. The reason most-often cited for feeling that way: the economy. The one semi-bright spot: Nearly 50 percent said they support the nomination of Judge Alito; only 30 percent said they’re against him.

The Post, of course,follows that grand newspaper tradition of pretending there are no other polls in the world. CBS, meanwhile, had one this week clocking the president’s approval rating at 35 percent.

Libby’s arraignment lasted all of 10 minutes but did yield a few suggestive nuggets: As the NYT and LAT emphasize, Libby’s (new) lawyers said they’ll raise First Amendment issues by demanding to see involved reporters’ notes. The next hearing is set for February.

The Post alone fronts the Senate passing $35 billion in domestic cuts over the next five years; the bill also says the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge can be opened for drilling. The House, though, isn’t likely to agree to open ANWR. The Post calls the cuts part of an effort by Republican leaders to “demonstrate fiscal discipline.” Among the areas taking small hits: prescription drugs, farm subsidies, and student loans. A similar bill in the House would, among other things, pinch health-care spending for children. One research outfit said about 6 million kids will be, according the Post’s paraphrase,“affected” by the change.

Everybody mentions that the Senate Judiciary Committee said it will begin hearings on Judge Alito Jan. 9. The White House had been pushing for a quicker start. Meanwhile, the Journal flags some moderate Republican senators expressing a wee bit of concern about Alito. Nominal Republican Lincoln Chafee cited “caution flags,” adding, “I have a primary and a general election to worry about.”

As the WSJ says up high, the European Union said it will look into reports that Poland and Romania are hosting secret CIA prisons. Both countries issued what seem to be denials

The NYT teases word that House Republican leaders have held up a vote to endorse the Senate’s recent amendment reinforcing restrictions against mistreatment of detainees. “HOUSE DELAYS VOTE ON U.S. TREATMENT OF TERRORISM SUSPECTS,”says the Times. Ten paragraphs later we learn,Republican and Democratic aides said there were other possible reasons” for the delay.The detainee language is attached to the defense budget bill, and one Democratic aide “said there were still knotty substantive issues” to work out in it.

A quick moment to ponder the Times’ above story: The paper didn’t pull the “delay” out of thin air: Democratic legislators made a stink about it. That the Times played along isn’t necessarily evidence of liberal bias. It’s just as likely evidence of something more annoying: a lazy habit of falling into a “partisan conflict” story line regardless of the underlying reality.

With rioting in some of Paris’ immigrant-dominated suburbs going on for an eighth night, the LAT is the first major to put it on Page One. There were new outbreaks last night in a half-dozen neighborhoods, but the LAT says the “violence seemed less intense” than previously.

The WP notices a sliver of success in Iraq: The highway to the airport isn’t the world’s most dangerous road anymore. With access now limited and heavy patrolling only one person has been killed on it in the last two months. “It’s pretty much one of the safest roads in Baghdad now,” said one officer, who added, “The enemy’s just gone up the road.” Meanwhile, the military announced the death of three more soldiers. The GIs’ deaths, as usual, don’t get headlines. (The NYT though does have a daily box with the names of soldiers killed.)

A NYT piece teased on Page One picks up on some e-mails showing that now-former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay pushed now-former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to have Abramoff’s “charity” donate a couple hundred thousand dollars to DeLay. Abramoff in turn hit up his Indian tribe clients for the cash. The paper doesn’t explain where any of this might land in terms of the law or ethics rules. 

The Post fronts a story about a former D.C. city worker who was sentenced to 21 years in jail for having unprotected sex with some women while he knew he was HIV positive. But that’s not what caught TP’s eye. This is: “One in 20 [D.C.] residents is infected with the AIDS virus, the highest rate of any major U.S. city.”