Today's Papers

Binge and Surge

Three Washington Post reporters sat down with President Bush and the nation’s papers wring much of their front-page ink from the 25-minute chat. The Post leads big with President Bush’s admission that the United States is “not winning” the war in Iraq. The L.A. Timesand New York Times lead space goes to a write-up of the Post’s interview with Bush; both papers highlight his plan to increase the size of the military rather than his admission. The story also tops the Wall Street Journal’s World-Wide news box. USA Today leads with an FDA proposal for warning labels on over-the-counter pain relievers but has the Bush talk above the fold.

For the first five grafs, The LAT sources its story to an anonymous senior administration official who may have simply read a transcript of the Bush interview on the Post’s Web site. The paper does eventually give credit where it’s due; the NYT acknowledges the Post much higher.

The Post points out quickly that Bush’s admission is a “striking reversal” from his pre-election declaration: “Absolutely, we’re winning.” Bush also confirms to the Post in the “wide-ranging” Oval Office discussion that he is considering the “surge” option in Iraq—sending thousands more troops for a short period—and that he interpreted the midterm elections not as a call to withdraw troops from Iraq but rather to do something different there. (The piece doesn’t specify what the mission of the extra troops would be.) Bush concedes, as the other papers highlight, that he’s heard people say the military is “stressed.” He calls for increasing its size. That’s another reversal, points out the Post.

Below the Iraq piece, the Post reports that Bush sees “opportunities” to work with Democrats on Social Security and immigration, but he stops short of saying that the midterm elections were a repudiation of his leadership. Instead, he says, voters were upset about Iraq, Jack Abramoff, and Mark Foley: “Look, you’ve got a guy using earmarks to enrich himself; there was sex and all kinds of issues that sent the signal that perhaps it was time to give another group a chance to lead.”

The L.A. Times fronts the news that the general who is not winning the war in Iraq has filed retirement papers and will be gone by March.

Remember Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani? He makes an above-the-fold comeback today in the NYT, reportedly expressing support for the formation of a governing coalition of moderate Shiite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish parties. The plan would isolate Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who would probably be felled by the power shift, expressed skepticism but will meet with Sistani to discuss it. The Times notes that the split would increase tensions between clashing Shiite militias; that’ll make Sen. Trent Lott’s job of telling the warring parties apart all the harder.

The Post fronts  a report by the National Arbor Day Foundation finding that Washington’s warm winter weather is now more similar to a Southern climate. “You could say D.C. is the new North Carolina,” said Bill McLaughlin, a curator at the U.S. Botanic Garden on the Mall.

The NYT has a long narrative that begins below the fold about life as a Mexican immigrant “sin papeles“—without papers—for one woman and her family in Texas.

A front-page WSJ piece details the straits electronics retailers find themselves in, as competition has led to a 40-percent drop in flat-screen-TV prices. Some retailers are selling them for less than cost.

The paper goes inside with the record-breaking year for Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’ CEO, who raked in about $54 million in 2006. His Wall Street firm saw $9.54 billion in profits this year, which would make for an average quarter at ExxonMobil. TP wonders if that means Exxon’s CEO is worth $216 million.

WSJ also fronts a long piece on the conflict in Swaziland between traditional values—such as the one that says condoms are “un-Swazi”—and the fight against HIV/AIDS. The “values” appear to be winning: One in three Swazis between 15 and 49 are infected.

The Post wraps up its Oval Office conversation coverage with an A14 analysis of a president who “bluntly dismissed the suggestion” that Americans have signaled they have tired of the Iraq war. “There’s not a lot of people saying, ‘Get out now.’ Most Americans are saying, ‘We want to achieve the objective,’ ” says Bush.

“The comments were another strong indication of the president’s determination to chart his own way forward on Iraq, no matter the election results nor any amount of free advice from senior statesmen of past administrations,” analyzes Michael Abramowitz, who quotes incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer as “pointedly” saying Democrats have no plan to allow him a free hand to indulge his firm resolution.

Ya don’t say … USA Today has two head-slapping polls on its front page: The top one says that “almost all” Americans have premarital sex, despite millions of federal dollars spent to prevent the act. Below it, a poll shows people are wary of Taco Bell after the recent E. coli outbreak.