Today's Papers

Et Tu, Boehner?

The Mark Foley sex scandal once again dominates the news, occupying the lead spot in the New York Timesand Los Angeles Times, as well as large chunks of above-the-fold real estate in the Wall Street Journal (where it tops the world-wide newsbox and merits a second front-page piece) and the Washington Post. In a day of rapid developments on multiple fronts, each paper fixes on a different facet of the story. The NYT stresses House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s maneuvers to keep his job amid criticism from both Democrats and conservative activists, as well as rumblings of high-level dissention within the Republican caucus. The WSJ lands what appears to be an exclusive interview in which Hastert hints that he might consider quitting. The WP has interviews with a number of former congressional pages about Foley’s apparently not-so-secret misbehavior. USA Today, across the bottom of its front page, goes with a “disclosure” from the Foley camp: At a press conference yesterday, the disgraced former congressman’s lawyer claimed that his client was molested by a clergyman when he was a boy.

The whole sordid business overwhelms the other big stories of the day: The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all-time high (USAT’s lead), while North Korea announced that it was planning to test a nuclear weapon (the top story in the WP).

Six days after ABC News first reported on an overly familiar exchange of e-mails between Foley and a teenaged former page, the growing scandal seems poised to destroy the man who’s second in line for the presidency. Yesterday, Hastert hewed to his story that he knew nothing about Foley’s conduct, even as House Majority Leader John Boehner stuck in a shiv, telling a radio station in home state of Ohio that he informed Hastert of the matter last spring. “In my position, it is in his corner, it is his responsibility,” the Republican second-in-command said, according to the NYT.

Hastert called Rush Limbaugh’s radio show to say he would not resign. He accused Democrats of having “put this thing forward to try to … put us on defense.” However, in his interview with the WSJ, the speaker seemed to leave the emergency exit door slightly ajar. “If I thought it would help the party, I would consider [resigning], but I think just the opposite,” he told the paper, which goes on to cite polls that suggest that in fact, news “over the past few weeks” has made respondents more inclined to throw the Republicans out of congressional control.

The LAT’s lead, which largely focuses on the midterm election implications, says President Bush, appearing before a group of flag-waving children at the George W. Bush Elementary School in Stockton, Calif.—tough audience there, no doubt—said he was “disgusted” and “dismayed” by the scandal and voiced confidence in Hastert’s leadership.

The NYT reports that the FBI is now investigating whether Foley broke any federal laws, and says the case is virtually certain to sent to a grand jury. Foley, meanwhile, appeared to be trying to McGreevey himself out of his predicament. A day after going into rehab for alcoholism and unspecified “behavioral problems,” he announced, through his lawyer, that he was the victim of sexual abuse by an unnamed clergyman—presumably a priest, since Foley is Roman Catholic—when he was a teenager.

Sympathy may be in short supply, however, as more sleazy details about Foley’s behavior as an adult continue to seep out. Everyone mentions that ABC News printed the transcript of an online chat that seems to suggest Foley engaged in explicit online sexual banter with a teenager before running off to vote on a bill in April 2003. One concern: If you look at the bill in question, it appears that the roll-call vote took place several hours after the purported instant message exchange. TP has no reason to doubt that ABC News has established that the messages are genuine, but since its methods of doing so are left vague, presumably out of privacy concerns, it seems like USAT’s cautious disclaimer—”None of the messages have been independently authenticated”—is a wise call.

Inside, the WSJ has an interesting interview with Brian Ross, the ABC investigative reporter who is driving the coverage, who discloses that the chat transcripts are coming from former pages—not Democratic operatives, as Hastert suggests.

In other, far less momentous, news: Nuclear war looms in Asia. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but only barely. North Korea announced that it is preparing to test a nuke, most likely at an underground site in the country’s mountainous northeast. In a communiqué, the government said its aim is to create a “reliable war deterrent for protecting the supreme interests of the state and the security of the Korean nation from the U.S. threat of aggression,” according to the WP’s lead story.

There’s a possibility that North Korea is just rattling sabers, the papers all say. But a successful test would disastrous for the current (stalled) talks involving the United States, China, and the two Koreas, and might ignite a nuclear arms race in East Asia. One anonymous “administration hawk” quoted in the NYT cheerily suggests, however, that “it wouldn’t be an all-bad thing,” explaining: “It would finally unify the Chinese, and the Russians and the South Koreans” against North Korea.

The Dow closed at 11,727.34 yesterday, besting its previous high set on Jan. 14, 2000. (The WP points out, however, that once inflation is figured in, the index is still 2,150 points short of the record.) The coverage is notably lacking in exuberance, irrational or otherwise. The LAT points out that the average home price has risen 64 percent and the price of gold has doubled in the six years it has taken the stock market to recover its value, while WSJ sees signs of a bear market coming on. Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange didn’t even applaud when the final bell rang.

The NYT, WP, and USAT all give front-page play to more disturbing disclosures about Monday’s shooting spree at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Shortly before killing five girls and himself, Charles Carl Roberts IV told his wife that he’d sexually assaulted two female relatives when he was 12, and it appears as if he was planning to torture and molest his hostages before police arrived and disrupted his plan. Though no one mentions it, the obvious parallels to a similar incident in Colorado last week suggest Roberts may have been a copycat. Also, the WP has an intriguing and potentially troubling tidbit. Though Roberts is said to have fired 17 or 18 shots, some bodies were riddled with bullet holes—at least two dozen in the case of one girl. The state police “could not immediately explain the discrepancy” the WP says, but the obvious implication is that some of the victims were accidentally hit when police stormed the classroom.

The NYT fronts an interesting piece on a crackdown on corruption in China, which really represents a move by President Hu Jintao against party officials loyal to his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

The LAT reports that the 300 millionth resident of the United States is about to be born.

And finally, the NYT (at least in its national edition) fronts a very short item reporting that buried deep within an military appropriations bill is a measure setting aside $20 million “for commemoration of success” in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money was first appropriated last year but, sadly, never got spent. Congress is betting there’ll more to celebrate in 2007. Here’s hoping.