Today's Papers

Mission: Indefinite

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal’sworld-wide newsbox all lead with Bush’s White House news conference, during which the president indicated that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq until at least 2009. Acknowledging the damage the conflict has had on his presidency, Bush said he was spending his political capital on the war. But the president denied that Iraq is in a state of civil war, despite statements to the contrary by the likes of former interim Prime Minister Allawi and the growing sectarian violence. USA Today leads with a study revealing a drop in homeownership rates among working families. Growing housing costs, big health-care bills, and an increasing number of single parents all contribute to a rate of working-family homeownership that’s lower than in 1978.

Everybody mentions the exchange between the president and longtime White House correspondent and Hearst columnist Helen Thomas, but it doesn’t appear that anyone runs a transcript of their remarks. Thomas asked what the president’s “real reason” was for going to war—and prefaced her question by noting that every reason publicly given by the administration has been proved false. Bush responded: “To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.”

For the most part, the papers concentrate on Bush’s “punchy” performance; largely absent from the coverage is a substantial fact-check of Bush’s contentions.

The Post fronts its investigation into organizations receiving large federal grants under the Bush administration. The paper found that $157 million in taxpayer funds has been farmed out to organizations that promote abstinence and anti-abortion messages and are run by big Bush boosters. Hundreds of once-small anti-abortion and crisis-pregnancy centers have received federal grants that doubled or even tripled their budgets; overall, these groups have gotten more than $60 million for abstinence education and other programming. Rep. Chet Edwards, a Democrat from Texas, told the paper: “I believe ultimately this will be seen as one of the largest patronage programs in American history.”

The NYT fronts—and others stuff—Judgment Day for Sgt. Michael J. Smith, the Army dog-handler who was found guilty Tuesday of tormenting Abu Ghraib prisoners with his Belgian shepherd. He could be sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

The WP reports on a meeting between six senators and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari Tuesday. The American lawmakers urged the prime minister to make haste in forming a government, or else U.S. support could diminish. “There’s been too much dawdling while Baghdad is burning,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., after the meeting.

Reversing an earlier policy, the White House will ban evidence elicited by torture from its Gitmo military courts, according to the WSJ. The new rule, which the Defense Department plans to release later this week, could help the special military commissions survive Supreme Court review. The high court is hearing arguments next week over the legality of the special military courts.                                                        

The LAT fronts an examination of an extremely coordinated rebel attack in a city northeast of Baghdad Tuesday, an area U.S. and Iraqi officials said last year was no longer an insurgent stronghold. A dozen cars and trucks unloaded masked men outside a local courthouse, where they then killed 17 policemen, freed 33 prisoners, and set fire to the courthouse.

USAT reports on a Pentagon investigation of two incidents in which U.S. troops are accused of killing 26 Iraqi civilians. The first incident was reported first in Time magazine and centers around Marines who allegedly killed 15 civilians in Hadithah in November after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine. Separately, Iraqi police claim that U.S. troops killed 11 civilians, including children, during a raid last week at a house 60 miles north of Baghdad; these allegations were first reported by Knight Ridder.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that Iran is willing to meet with Americans to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq. At the same time, progress on the country’s uranium-enrichment program was reported, and Khamenei said that the United States must treated Iran with respect.

In sickness and in health … A Page One WSJ article looks at online daters who are looking for that one special quality in a mate: health insurance. One man wrote in his personal ad that he’s looking for a woman “with a nice smile and a healthy attitude, that can be open and honest … a flat stomach and a health insurance plan wouldn’t hurt, either.” The 50-year-old pays $350 a month for insurance, and he told the paper he “was kind of halfway joking—but not really.”