Today's Papers

No Straight Shooters

The New York Timesleads with “Israeli officials and Western diplomats” saying the U.S. and Israel are considering trying to quash Hamas’ incoming government by threatening to cut all aid to the Palestinian government and shut the borders down unless Hamas agrees to lay down its arms, recognize Israel, and abide by previous peace agreements—conditions nobody thinks Hamas will agree to. The idea, which the Times says is being “discussed at the highest level of the State Department” is to “starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections” so that President Abbas would call for new elections. The Los Angeles Timestop nonlocal story is a follow-up to Vice President Cheney’s shooting faux pas. As everybody emphasizes, the White House kept silent about the accident for 18 hours and only commented after the ranch owner where it happened rang up the local paper. 

The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and Washington Postlead with the administration launching a Katrina “lessons learned” offensive in the face of congressional hammering.Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, who has faced a particularly strong beating, defended the government’s response but promised to clean up FEMA and clear up lines of responsibility. The Journal says five candidates have been offered FEMA’s directorship with each declining it “amid concerns the agency as currently organized isn’t equipped to do its job.” USA Todayleads with the U.S. giving more and more Iraqi forces responsibility for securing territory. About 40 Iraqi battalions, out of 102, are considered reasonably capable and have been given swaths of territory to control. USAT’s story includes a bit of skepticism, but it’s not exactly an in-depth investigation and there are no details on how the handovers are working out.

The White House press corps—in a fun-filled briefing—all but revolted at having been left out of the loop on the shooting. Spokesman Scott McClellan seemed a bit revolted himself and suggested he would have told the press sooner if he had been, yes, calling the shots.

Cheney’s people rang the president’s people roughly an hour after the “peppering” late Saturday afternoon. But as the Post emphasizes, Bush decided to let Cheney deal with the public angle. Cheney didn’t, or at least not well. The ranch owner, who witnessed the action, called her local paper the next morning. “It was my family’s own volition, and the vice president agreed,” she told the Post. “It was our idea.”(The NYT has a handy timeline.)

The Post dubs it “highly unusual, if not unprecedented” for the White House to use a private citizen as its “de facto spokesperson.”

Cheney has yet to make a public comment but his office eventually put out a statement admitting … he hadn’t paid for a $7 hunting stamp. The LAT sniffs scandal and gives the missing stamp lead headline status.

Slate’s John Dickerson looks at Cheney’s genius PR strategy.

The line from the White House and allies has been that the hunter Cheney shot was, well, OK, not asking for it but in the line of fire. But papers quote hunting types suggesting it’s the shooter who’s ultimately responsible. One hunter is the Post’s own Stephen Hunter (!) who writes, “It shouldn’t have happened; the bottom line is that the vice president should not have whirled, tracked a flying bird and fired. I speak of these matters as a man who has violated that principle himself.”

The NYT fronts “one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, an estimated $7 billion over five years.” The “giveaways” come in the form of royalty relief for drilling on public land and were mandated by Congress in the mid-1990s to encourage drilling. The paper quotes the administration defending itself, saying its hands are tied. But though the paper never says straight up, doesn’t the administration happen to be right? If the “giveaway” is going to go away, doesn’t Congress have to change the law?

The NYT fronts Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak postponing local elections for two years. During the recent not-very-democratic national elections, Mubarak promised—cross his heart hope to die—to democratize. The State Department said it is “concerned” and is “in touch with the Egyptian government to ascertain the facts.”

Nobody fronts four GIs killed in Afghanistanby a roadside bomb, which destroyed their armored Humvee.

USAT fronts judges in New Orleans considering releasing 4,000 criminal defendants because the public defenders office is fresh out of cash and can’t defend them. “We have one staff person,” said a city official. “We have one investigator. We have no capital case defense lawyers, no office, no telephones, no computers.” The office had 42 lawyers before Katrina; it now has six.

Everybody offers the jokes trotted out on the late-night programs. TP isn’t impressed. He prefers the experts, such as “vice-presidential firearms mishap analyst” Rob Corddry, who noted, “everyone believed there were quail in the brush,” and “while the quail turned out to be a 78-year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he would still have shot Mr. Whittington in the face.”