Today's Papers

Explosive Developments

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times lead with the killing of 10 Marines on patrol just outside Fallujah by an improvised bomb. Eleven Marines were also wounded in yesterday’s attack, in addition to two members of the same unit who were killed by small-arms fire on Wednesday. It was the deadliest week for U.S. forces since early August. The Wall Street Journal’s news box leads with the attack, but the paper doesn’t have a story. Its top story  details the political and environmental fallout from a chemical-plant explosion in China.

The papers struggle to put the attack in context. The LAT focuses on the type of explosive used and reports that while makeshift bombings declined in November, the military is frustrated by the continuing evolution of the insurgency’s bombs and will be convening panels of academics and other experts to figure out some solutions. The WP looks at how Fallujah has fared since the major offensive there last November: An Iraqi police unit now patrols the city, and voting turnout was among the highest in the Anbar province, but residents are frustrated with the pace of rebuilding and are sympathetic to insurgents. The NYT has a different view, reporting that residents are angry at insurgents who have trickled back into the city for stifling progress and killing some clerics.

The NYT fronts a thorough update on Najaf, where sources say the Iraqi police have effectively quashed insurgent attacks. (The WP chooses to go inside with a similar story.) But the police are mostly members of Shiite militias, and a U.S. commander there still doesn’t think local forces are ready to operate totally independently. Meanwhile, the WP fronts U.S. military commanders’ admission that government contractors were paying Iraqi media to print friendly news stories. *

Yesterday’s employment report—more than 200,000 new jobs—gets an unusual amount of discussion. The LAT fronts a straight story looking at the economy’s strengths. But the WSJ’s front-pager reports that opinion polls show Bush getting little credit, a development that has frustrated the White House. The NYT stuffs a story arguing that Bush ignored the Marine deaths  during yesterday’s Rose Garden speech in an attempt to shift attention to the economy—an effort whose failure can be judged by the the paper’s own story placement.

The LAT fronts, above the fold, an exclusive report that the FBI is reopening an investigation into the uses and abuses of prewar intelligence. The FBI’s two-year inquiry had previously argued that the phony Niger documents were part of a moneymaking plot and not evidence of political manipulation, but under Senate pressure the bureau decided to return to the investigation and interview new sources.

The WP reefers—with a big above-the-fold photo—China’s toxic chemical spill. An internal debate among China’s Communist leadership has produced an admission of a poor response to the explosion at a petrochemical plant that has shut down nearby water supplies and threatens towns as far away as Russia. The WSJ’s front-pager focuses on the U.S. backlash—like California’s divestment from PetroChina—to China’s poor preparation for environmental disaster. The WP and NYT also mention on a U.N. report with evidence that the torture of prisoners is still common in China despite reforms.

Two good stories highlight must-watch developments leading up to next year’s midterm elections. The NYT says that Ohio might be ripe for Democratic incursion into former GOP strongholds, and the WP reports that congressional Republicans are likely to replace Tom DeLay officially as House majority leader in the face of continuing ethics scandals.

The NYT and LAT front news of delays and complications in delivering post-Katrina aid to New Orleans but miss the most striking news, which the WP goes inside with: FEMA is pulling out of the Ninth Ward altogether. The LAT, in its signature style, also fronts a well-written narrative featuring a FEMA-relocated family that’s been waiting for permanent housing—since 1998, following Tropical Storm Charley. Will today’s hurricane victims suffer the same fate?

The WSJ reports that a top White House official is meeting with John McCain to discuss a compromise on the senator’s aggressive anti-torture bill. Unfortunately, Dick Cheney—the bill’s main opponent—isn’t mentioned in the story.

Supreme Court nominee Alito’s attempt to play down the importance of several 1980s documents in which he argued that Roe should be overturned gets fronted in the WP and inside coverage in other papers. The NYT reports that while Sen. Arlen Specter asks for patience in judging Alito, conservatives are upset that Alito is distancing himself from his opinions.

Saving face. Off-lead, the NYT follows the anxiety of the world’s first face transplant. Beyond the medical difficulties of removing a patch of face from an organ donor and grafting it onto the patient’s disfigured face, there were psychological concerns. The same doctor also performed the world’s first hand transplant, which was later removed after the patient became depressed and refused to follow a recovery regimen. So far, so good this time. “It was marvelous,” one doctor says. He should keep in mind, however, that success is in the eye of the beholder.

Correction, Dec. 5, 2005: This article originally and incorrectly claimed that the Washington Post was the only paper to report that military commanders admitted that government contractors were paying Iraqi media. In fact, the New York Times reported this, too. Click here  to return to the corrected sentence.