Today's Papers

Hard Cell

Biologists announced that they have developed a method of gathering stem cells without killing an embryo, which they say removes the primary ethical objection to medical research using the cells. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the story, and the Washington Post fronts it. The Post leads with advance word that the morning-after pill soon will be approved for over-the-counter use. The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox leads with a catchall from Lebanon; European countries are still not offering up enough troops for the proposed peacekeeping force. USA Today leads with air travelers checking 20 percent more baggage since liquids were banned in carry-on luggage; the extra bags are overtaxing security systems.

The new stem-cell technique was designed to be as unobjectionable as possible by piggybacking on an existing method of diagnostic testing of embryos in the in vitro fertilization process. The embryo then keeps developing, apparently unharmed (though scientists aren’t 100 percent sure of this yet).

“There is no rational reason left to oppose this research,” one of the scientists involved told the NYT. But the White House said they’ll be deciding what’s rational, thank you. A Bush spokeswoman said the scientists had the right idea, but that in the end, “any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical questions. This technique does not resolve those concerns.” The Catholic Church also was not won over, objecting as it does to in vitro fertilization in general as well as this particular diagnostic test.

The Journal, which puts the stem-cell story on the front page of its Marketplace section, has both the clearest and most detailed explanation of the science involved.

The Post and NYT both front a congressional report that accuses U.S. intelligence agencies of underplaying the potential threat from Iran. Both papers frame the issue in partisan terms. The House report was written by a hard-line Republican staffer, and while Democrats are lukewarm on it, they’re not doing anything to block it, according to the Post. The NYT says the report represents an increasing frustration among top Republicans, including in the administration, who believe U.S. intelligence agencies underestimate the Iranian menace. “The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world possible,” said Newt Gingrich.

The Post fronts a good evergreen from Iraq on the movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr, which is pursuing a Hezbollah-esque strategy of building up a strong network of social services, participating in the national government and biding its time until it thinks military action is needed.

Also on the Post front page is an analysis of Bush’s recent press conference (the one Slate’s Fred Kaplan called “moronic“) that parses the increasingly pessimistic rhetoric on Iraq coming from the White House. The new message: It could be worse. One scholar calls the rhetorical shift “last-ditch.”

The NYT fronts, and the other papers stuff, the video of two Fox News journalists who were kidnapped in Gaza. Along with the video, the kidnappers issued a statement calling for the release of all Muslim prisoners in the U.S. Both the Times and the Post note that this suggests a disturbing shift: While kidnappings are not unheard of in Palestinian territories, they are generally resolved quickly and involve local, moderate demands. “They may be emulating the groups in Iraq. We are worried this is a global trend,” Reporters Without Borders told the Post.

The Post goes inside with an investigation into one of the “least understood and most tragic” episodes of the Lebanon war, an Israeli attack on a convoy of Lebanese soldiers and civilians that killed seven and wounded 36. U.N. monitors said they got permission from the Israeli military to escort the 1,300-vehicle convoy; Israel said it told the U.N. not to let the convoy go and attacked because it thought the vehicles were Hezbollah.

Illegal crossings of the Mexican border are down 25 percent from last year, the LAT reports on the front page. All the other papers stuff the story. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and some Mexican officials say the drop is because of increased enforcement efforts; skeptics say the three-month period the government is touting is too short to make any sweeping conclusions.

Also in the papers … Lawyers for Saddam Hussein argue that using chemical weapons on Kurdish villages was a legitimate military tactic. Dutch police detained 12 men who were acting strangely on an Amsterdam-Mumbai flight. China’s desire to develop Tibet industrially is running up against local resistance in an economic conflict that parallels the cultural one Tibet is famous for, the Journal says on its front page. The Post fronts news that Virginia Sen. George Allen called a rival campaign worker to apologize for calling the young man “macaca” last week. States are beginning to adopt laws protecting pets from domestic violence, USA Today reports. Money is now more important than celebrity in Hollywood, the LAT reports on the front page.

Amazing is one word for it: The Post offers a dispatch from one of the White House’s lamer photo ops. President Bush had coffee with Katrina survivor Rockey Vaccarella, who then gushed to the waiting cameras, “You know, it’s really amazing when a small man like me from St. Bernard Parish can meet the President of the United States.” Of course, it’s somewhat less amazing when you consider that Vaccarella is a Republican activist in Louisiana, who repeated several times during his few moments in the spotlight that America needed a third Bush term. “You know, I wish you had another four years, man,” Vaccarella said. “If we had this president for another four years, I think we’d be great.”