Today's Papers

Bush on a Wire

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times lead with President Bush acknowledging that he ordered the National Security Agency to forgo warrants and eavesdrop on some U.S. citizens making calls to overseas. Bush, who made the admission during his “unusually long” weekly radio address, also forcefully criticized senators who voted to block the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Presidential advisers told the Post that “Bush decided to confirm the program’s existence—and combine that with a demand for reauthorization of the Patriot Act—to put critics on the defensive by framing it as a matter of national security, not civil liberties.”

The NYT and LAT point out that Bush did not explain why he felt it necessary to go around the usually compliant court that oversees intelligence operations. As a matter of fact, the president and his advisers refused to answer any questions regarding the debatable legality of the wiretaps. Bush justified the policy by citing his powers as commander in chief as well as the 2001 congressional resolution authorizing him to use force in the war on terrorism.

The WP says Congress has been “caught by surprise” by several of the president’s tactics in the war on terror and is now “reconsidering its relatively lenient oversight” of the administration. In one measure of Congress’ deference to executive authority, the Bush administration has received only three subpoenas from the House Government Reform Committee. By contrast, the panel issued 1,052 subpoenas to the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, according to Democrats.

The NYT and LAT run dueling front-page studies of Hurricane Katrina’s death toll. With the help of 17 staffers who contributed research and reporting, the NYT examines the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 268 Katrina victims. The exhaustive study, which the Times concedes is by no means scientific, found that most of the victims survived the actual storm, but died in the chaos and flooding that followed. The most interesting/depressing fact: “Of those who failed to heed evacuation orders, many were offered a ride or could have driven themselves out of danger.”

While the NYT does the leg work, the LAT offers a rather lazy analysis of body-recovery sites and concludes that “Katrina killed across class lines.” The Times seems pretty confident in assuming that where a victim was found is indicative of their socioeconomic status. On top of this dubious assertion, the Times spends several paragraphs explaining why the information they used is incomplete and, as state officials put it, “still riddled with errors.”

In a more thorough LAT report, former employees of Lincoln Group say that U.S. military officials were fully aware of their program to pay Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories and told the contractor to hide the stories’ true source. Pentagon officials had told Congress that “all of the reports were supposed to be identified as originating with the U.S. military but that identification was occasionally omitted by accident.” Lincoln Group workers also described the campaign as “unnecessarily costly, poorly run and largely ineffective at improving America’s image in Iraq.”

The WP stuffs, and the NYT misses, Colin Powell telling the BBC that European governments were aware of the U.S. rendition policy before the media broke the story. He also said Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld cut him out of key decisions and went behind his back directly to the president in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Election officials in Iraq have received over 200 complaints of voting irregularities, but U.S. officials are downplaying the reports, and so are the papers. The WP places the story on Page A28, and the NYT doesn’t cover it.

In other international election news, Bolivians go to the polls on Sunday to select a new president. The leading candidate is an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and hardly America’s first choice to run the country. In Colombia, the U.S. ambassador was rebuked by President Álvaro Uribe after expressing concern that paramilitary groups might interfere in coming elections.

Anti-globalization protesters clashed with riot police in Hong Kong yesterday. About 900 people were detained, many of them South Korean farmers who tried to break through a police cordon to reach the site of world trade talks.

In a style section piece with a great opening paragraph, the NYT reports that  there really are gay cowboys in Wyoming and, as in “Brokeback Mountain,” they have struggled to find acceptance.

And, in a piece that TP just couldn’t pass up, the LAT has the story (and their Web site has pictures) of how Tom Cruise became the public face of Scientology.

Before there was Woodward and Bernstein … there was Jack Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who died yesterday, at the age of 83, from Parkinson’s disease. Anderson was responsible for breaking countless stories, including the Iran-Contra scandal, the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Castro, and the Keating Five congressional ethics scandal. His influence trailed off toward the end of his career, but during his prime he was the bane of Washington’s political elite. As the WP notes, “President Richard Nixon tried to smear him as a homosexual, the CIA was ordered to spy on him, and a Nixon aide ordered two cohorts to try to kill the journalist by poisoning.” In other words, he was damn good at what he did.