Today's Papers

Hazy Smoke Stats

The Washington Postleads with an analysis showing smoking in the U.S. dropping, per capita, to the lowest level since the 1930s. The New York Timesleads with gunmen in unmarked vehicles and Interior Ministry uniforms kidnapping 50 men from a Sunni-led security firm in Baghdad. There’s long been evidence that forces in the ministry have operated death squads. And the Los Angeles Timessays “sources in the ministry” confirmed the gunmen were indeed “commandos with the ministry’s major crimes division.” The LAT leads with the latest from the Enron trial, where one-time CFO and big-time prosecution witness Andrew Fastow said former Chairman Ken Lay knew about plenty of accounting problems when he publicly promised that Enron was in tip-top shape. USA Todayleads with the arrest of three college students for the burning of nine churches in Alabama. One of the students reportedly told an acquaintance the arson started as “a joke and it got out of hand.”

The stats showing a drop in smoking are based on cigarette sales taxes and were compiled by states’ attorneys general. The AGs, of course, hammered out a massive tobacco settlement in 1998 that, among other things, required cigarette companies to stop marketing to young’uns. The Post focuses on the settlement’s impact and says up high that cigarette sales dropped 20 percent since 1998. Much farther down it notes another factor that seems like it would have a solid impact: The average price of smokes has gone from $1.74 a pack in 1997 to $3.16 in 2004. Also, given that the story’s stats were based on tax receipts, what about bootlegged cigarettes (which apparently are all the rage)?

About 50 Iraqis were reported killed around the country.That includes the bodies of 18 men found stuffed in an abandoned minibus, handcuffed and most with strangle marks. The NYT, which has the most detail on the kidnappings and the executions, says at least four of the men were Sunni. Also, the military announced a solider and one Marine were killed in separate attacks.

Everybody mentions that the State Department’s just-released human-rights report said Iraqi police activities include “intimidation, beatings, and suspension by the arms or legs, as well as the reported use of electric drills and cords and the application of electric shocks.”

A front-page LAT piece on the trials and tribulations of training Iraqi police notes that weapons purchased for the cops aren’t exactly being well-tracked. Citing “trainers,” the paper says unaccounted equipment “could total $500 million in value.”

The WP goes Page One with an unnamed Health Ministry official saying an unnamed Shiite politician ordered government hospitals and morgues to exclude execution-style killings from its death counts. A mere 30 paragraphs down we learned that when “contacted a second time” the “ministry official refused to speak further, saying, ‘Forget what I told you.’ ” Queasy or questionable source aside, it’s worth knowing that, according to the Post, the Health Ministry is currently under the control of a party loyal to firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr.

The lengthy health ministry piece, by Bureau Chief Ellen Knickmeyer, amounts to a detailed defense of the paper’s report last week that 1,300 people had been killed in the recent sectarian violence, a far higher number than other outlets have reported. Summarizing its series of reports last week, today’s WP cites four sources: There’s the original one who’s now ID’d as a Baghdad “morgue worker” and then later three backups who all put the figure at about 1,000: a “Health Ministry official, an official with the Interior Ministry and an international official in Baghdad.” Last week, the Post actually cited a named source, a Gen. Ali Shamarri. Other papers haven’t been able to find him; Iraqi officials say they have no record of such a general. And curiously, he’s not mentioned in today’s Post

The WP off-leads an in-house poll concluding that Americans are increasingly wary about Islam. Forty-six percent of respondents had, in the Post’s words, a “negative view” of the religion, seven points higher than a few months after 9/11.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with and USAT fronts Congress taking its first formal steps to block the ports deal with a House committee voting against the sale. Meanwhile, the Financial Times says the Dubai-owned company that’s at the center of it all is hearing from buyers interested in taking over the purchase.

The Times takes a mulligan … Yesterday,the NYT reported: “G.O.P. SENATORS SAY ACCORD IS SET ON WIRETAPPING.” The niggling details the Times buried: The GOP blocked an investigation of the program while, as TP noted, the “accord” would let the no-warrant-needed poking around to continue. Or as the NYT puts it this morning, “PLAN WOULD ALLOW LONG-TERM SPYING WITHOUT WARRANTS.”