Today's Papers

A Crude Awakening?

The Washington Post, alone,leads with the Senate’s less-than-surprising confirmation of now Justice Alito. The vote: 58-42. Four Democrats voted for Alito—Sens. Byrd, Conrad, Johnson, and Nelson. One Republican—Chafee—went against him. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times preview some of the cases Alito might tip. The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Journal world-wide newsbox, and NYT lead with President Bush’s State of the Union, which featured “no far-reaching proposals” and amounted to what the Post dubs “a pep talk from a president on the defensive.”

The spiciest bit in the speech—and it’s all relative—was the president’s pronouncement that “America is addicted to oil.” The president said he’s going to address the problem with a 22 percent increase in “clean-energy research.” Among the breakthrough technologies that will save us: creating ethanol from “wood chips and stalks or switch grass.

The papers, and in particular the NYT, do a solid job explaining why you won’t be cruising around in a wood-chip-burning Camry soon and why the president’s pitch doesn’t amount to much. The Journal says the new proposal is “far more modest” than what was in the energy bill passed last summer and would increase spending only “by about $300 million.” Bush also talked about cutting oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent. Which sounds good, but the Post notices cherry-picking:

Since Bush took office, net foreign imports have risen from 53 percent to 60 percent. By focusing on his goal of reducing use of Middle Eastern oil by 75 percent, he singled out the share that is not rising. Oil from the Persian Gulf region now represents 11 percent of U.S. oil consumption, less than when Bush was inaugurated.

The papers are filled with fact-checking like that—which make the papers’ deference-laden headlines all the screwier. “BUSH CALLS FOR CUTS IN OIL RELIANCE,” says the LAT. And TP “calls” for special time with Scarlett Johansson. The question is, does either have a realistic plan for making it happen?  

The NYT is worse, announcing on top of Page One: “BUSH, RESETTING AGENDA, SAYS U.S. MUST CUT RELIANCE ON OIL.”  Whoever wrote that might have benefited from reading one of the nation’s best papers, the New York Times. As the Times mentioned inside, the only thing the president is “resetting” is the clock: “Bush has called in each of his past four State of the Union addresses for a reduction in the dependence on foreign oil.”

In other SOTU highlights, the president proposed: expanding controversial health-care savings accounts, which allow people to save for medical expenses tax free so long as they have certain high-deductible insurance plans; tax cuts for companies engaged in basic R&D; hiring 70,000 math and science teachers; and oh, he insisted he hasn’t given up on tweaking Social Security. He’s going to appoint a commission.

The NYT tweaks the president on what wasn’t mentioned: He “offered no new ideas for rebuilding New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and made no proposal to clamp down on lobbying abuses in Congress.” Also MIA: Mars.

The LAT’s Ron Brownstein plays SOTU word association: “Chastened. Deferential. Modest.”

Slate’s John Dickerson notices that Bush suggested he was fine with being criticized; it’s just that he also sees those who “oppose him as lazy, retreating, and negative.”

The NYT previews a leaked U.N. nuclear inspectors’ report concluding that Iran is engaged in … some really fishy stuff. The report cites evidence that the uranium-enrichment program—which Iran insists is only for civilian purposes—is actually connected to the military’s development of high explosives and missiles warheads, all helpful stuff for nukes. “The obvious technical connection is that these are all central elements of a program to develop nuclear weapons and delivery capability,” said one nuclear engineering prof.

The Journal highlights another wrinkle from the inspectors, namely their “conclusion that a document Iran obtained on the nuclear black market serves no other purpose than to help make an atomic bomb.” It’s worth knowing that the Post seems to have seen the same inspectors’ report but plays down the purported revelations.

Everybody fronts the death of Coretta Scott King,who was 78 and had been in poor health since a stroke last year. King had long carved her own path advocating civil rights and women’s rights. (She was also sometimes criticized over the management of the King Center.) Though not an activist in her early years, she wasn’t exactly tradition-bound: “She stunned Dr. King’s father, who presided over [their] wedding, by demanding that the promise to obey her husband be removed from the wedding vows.”