Today's Papers

Bin There, Done That

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and New York Times all lead with the first words from Osama Bin Laden in about a year. In the audio tape, which the CIA said appeared to be authentic and was first broadcast on Al Jazeera, Bin Laden warned of attacks coming against the U.S. and “offered” a vague “long truce.” He made a similar gesture to Europe in 2004. The Los Angeles Timesfronts Bin Laden but leads with Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL responding to government subpoenas and coughing up (in aggregated and not personally identifiable form) data on millions of users’ search terms. The government wants the records—including all search terms used over the course of a week—as part of a suit to revive the anti-porn and constitutionally shaky Child Online Protection Act. Everybody else fronts the case but focuses on Google’s decision to fight the subpoena. The search-term subpoenas and Google’s opposition against them were first reported in the San Jose Mercury News.

USA Todayreefers the tape andleads with the government announcing it will begin its “trusted travelers” program in June: Air passengers who undergo background checks and fork over about $100 annually will get access to express lines and might not have to do things like remove their jackets or shoes. The ACLU is pissed about the program, saying the lines faced by lumpen travelers are “going to be longer.”

Bin Laden appears to have made the tape in the last month or so. He referenced reports—first aired in late November—that Bush had talked about bombing Al Jazeera’s headquarters. 

Amid all the speculation about Bin Laden’s motives and objectives only the Journal seems to make the following obvious yet crucial point right up high: “Mr. bin Laden’s ability to follow through on the threat is unclear.”

Now moving on to that copious conjecture: With his “truce” offer—which was predicated on the U.S. pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan and ending support for Israel—Bin Laden was probably trying to look like a statesmen and shore up support among moderate Muslims disenchanted with the carnage jihadists have brought particularly against other Muslims. He was also probably hoping to take some spotlight from, and create some distance from, Musab al-Zarqawi, who seems keen on attacking Shiites. And then there’s the fact that the tape was released just a few days after the U.S. airstrike that purportedly killed some key AQ men.

The more intriguing speculation: Analysts told the NYT Bin Laden’s voice sounded “more labored, lacking the energetic quality typical of earlier recordings.” Others told the LAT the same thing.

The WP and NYT front the Justice Department releasing a white paper asserting that the warrantless spying program is plenty legal. The analysis argues that the president simply has the constitutional power to do so. And moreover, the argument goes, the resolution Congress passed after 9/11 authorizing force against Afghanistan and al-Qaida “places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the N.S.A. activities.”

The president’s snooping order was not obviously unconstitutional. But, as the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has suggested, it does appear to have skirted the law. “It’s a pretty straightforward case where the president is acting illegally,” one law prof told the NYT. “This is domestic surveillance over American citizens for whom there is no evidence or proof that they are involved in any illegal activity, and it is in contravention of a statute of Congress specifically designed to prevent this.”

Everybody mentions yesterday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed only the bomber and wounded about 20. Islamic Jihad, which, unlike Hamas, is not taking part in the coming Palestinian elections, claimed responsibility. And two near-simultaneous bombings on one of Baghdad’s most popular streets killed about 20 people.

The LAT fronts the Republican National Committee voting on a resolution to condemn President Bush’s proposed guest worker program. The RNC is usually not so big on opposing the president’s plans.

Along with Slate’s John Dickerson, NYT-man Paul Krugman wonders about the administration’s insistence on keeping mum about fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Co.’s contacts with the White House. Then Krugman throws a follow-up flame:

So I have a question for my colleagues in the news media: Why isn’t the decision by the White House to stonewall on the largest corruption scandal since Warren Harding considered major news?

Don’t know about that Harding reference, but Krugman has a point: Apart from the wires, TP has seen two stories on the silence—and they weren’t in the LAT, NYT, Journal, or Post.