Today's Papers

Duke Out

The Washington Post leads with another day of Capitol Hill hearings, in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace took more questions on President Bush’s plans for Iraq. The New York Times leads with Condoleezza Rice’s acknowledgement that Bush authorized raids against Iranians in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, gives its top spot to the spat over the Iraqi prime minister’s pick for the No. 1 military job in Baghdad, and the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition leads with a update on the brutal decline of executive perks. Everyone gives front-page placement to prosecutor Michael Nifong’s  request to step aside in the Duke lacrosse team’s controversial sexual assault case.

The Post lead plays stenographer at yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, in which Secretary Gates offered details on Bush’s plans for Iraq and said that the potential success or failure of the big Baghdad surge would be evident in a few months. Gates was quick to emphasize that if it is successful, we can begin drawing down troop levels—perhaps by the end of the year. Pace, meanwhile, assured the senators that the United States has no immediate plans to invade Iran, a notion also dismissed by Press Secretary Tony Snow, who called it “urban legend.”

But the Times, which likewise mentions the hearings in its lead, has the bigger Iran news. The paper’s interview with Rice—which most of the other dailies tip their hats to—is vague on details but says the secretary of state confirmed that the recent raids on Iranians were “authorized under an order President Bush decided to issue several months ago to undertake a broad military offensive against Iranian operatives in the country.” And the paper is quick to put Rice’s comments, which by themselves are not necessarily surprising, in the context of a broader shift: Administration officials now call Iran America’s biggest Mideast threat; Bush “decisively rejected” the Iraq Study Group’s suggestion that he reach out to Tehran; and an additional aircraft carrier was recently deployed off Iran’s coast.

According to the LAT, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has given the top military position in Baghdad to a “virtually unknown Iraqi officer chosen over the objections of top U.S. and Iraqi military commanders.” The appointment, which was also made without consulting other Iraqi factions, is significant because it is Maliki’s “first public move after President Bush’s announcement that he is sending more troops to Iraq.” It’s also significant because, as this morning’s Post reminds us, many of the soldiers in Iraq’s army are outright supporters of the Mahdi Army, the massive militia that the United States blames for much of the violence in Baghdad.

The Journal lead makes for nice, leisurely weekend reading. In response to growing public anger over executive compensation packages, companies are now trimming back many of the perquisites once thought essential to a decent corporate lifestyle, such as being able to zip around in a company jet and have someone else pay your country club dues.

Everyone notes that the district attorney prosecuting three members of the Duke lacrosse team for sexual assault has now asked the state attorney general to take over the case, or appoint a special prosecutor. The D.A. in question, the much-criticized Michael Nifong, cited conflict of interest in making the request, since he faces ethics charges from the state bar for his wacky behavior in the case. According to the Times, defense lawyers were “jubilant” at the announcement, “openly predicting that no prosecutor in the state would continue with a case that hangs almost entirely on the shifting accounts of the alleged victim.” The consensus seems to be that for Nifong, who has made an art of destroying his own career, this is just too little, too late.

Nifong doesn’t seem to have talked to any of the papers, but his attorney assured the Associated Press that the D.A. isn’t wussing out in the face of criticism: “He still believes in the case. He just believes his continued presence would hurt [the accuser].” Yeah, sure. The recusal announcement follows hot on the heels of yesterday’s news that the accuser contradicted herself in an interview with Nifong just last month—claiming that only two men attacked her, not three.

The Post fronts a fifth-anniversary update on No Child Left Behind, and takes a look at how the law has affected teacher quality. The paper finds that it hasn’t: The law’s mandate that all teachers be “highly qualified” is vague enough to make a strict constructionist blush, and states have taken more than a few liberties with it.

Everyone mentions that the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring that the secretary of Health and Human Services—as opposed to private insurers—negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. The new law, which passed by a vote of 255 to 170 but faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, would overturn part of a Republican-supported 2003 law that left price-setting up to competing (if government-subsidized) private plans. Dems think the new plan will save cash; Republicans are skeptical. And President Bush has no doubts in his mind: The administration says he will veto the bill if it lands on his desk.

And the public? The Wasington Post finds something close to schizophrenia: While polls “found that the overwhelming majority of seniors were satisfied with their drug plans,” there is, we learn later in the story, “considerable pressure” for lawmakers to act, because “85 percent of adults surveyed … favor allowing the government to negotiate drug prices.” 

It’s time to celebrate at the Times: A federal judge dismissed a defamation suit filed against the paper by a former government scientist, who was suing over several Nicholas Kristof columns that linked him to the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The NYT also has a front-page piece explaining that the recent conflict in Somalia—where American-supported Ethiopian troops battled Islamists and U.S. special forces exercised small, tactical strikes—are “a blueprint that Pentagon strategists say they hope to use more frequently in counterterrorism missions around the globe.” You can call it the Nixon Doctrine.

Them’s fightin’ words
A second story in the Times has a somewhat different angle on the Rice interview: The quarrel between the secretary of state and Sen. Barbara Boxer, who supposedly took a shot at Rice’s lack of children during Thursday’s Senate hearings. Sayeth Rice to the NYT: “I thought it was O.K. to be single. I thought it was O.K. to not have children, and I thought you could still make good decisions on behalf of the country if you were single and didn’t have children.” Is Rice’s umbrage understandable? Here is Boxer’s original comment: “Who pays the price [in Iraq]? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families. And I just want to bring us back to that fact.”

We report, you decide.