Today's Papers

Dust Bowl II

The Washington Post leads with a headline that would have been a bit more useful in 2002: “Hussein’s Prewar Ties to Al-Qaeda Discounted.” The New York Times leads with a story on a federal official who held a financial stake in a student loan company that he was overseeing as a member of the Department of Education—notably, the story disagrees factually with the Wall Street Journal’s report. USA Today has a story on airport safety in its lead spot. The top story in the Wall Street Journal is Kirk Kerkorian’s offer to pay $4.5 billion for Chrysler Group. The Los Angeles Times leads with the possibility of permanent drought in the Southwest as a result of global warming.

The NYT lead story was first reported by New America Foundation, a Washington policy institute, which the piece notes. The Times has quite the gotcha lede: “A senior official at the federal Education Department sold more than $100,000 in shares in a student loan company even as he was helping oversee lenders in the federal student loan program.”

What we’re told later down is that the official, Matteo Fontana, started with the department in 2002 and sold the stock in 2003, when he was in a more junior position. The Times says he sold it when it was valued at about $10 a share.

WSJ has a much more sober take on the story, putting it on Page A3 and reporting only that the department is “reviewing” the stock holding. The Journal isn’t even sure he sold his stake: “The document indicates he intended to sell the shares at the time. It is unclear when he acquired the shares and whether he sold them.”

So, did he sell or not? TP is inclined to trust the Journal over the Times when it comes to reading financial documents, but this one (search for “Fontana”) seems pretty straight forward—or “not unclear” if we want to keep the journo-speak going. The document has Fontana owning 10,500 shares prior to his offer of sale in September 2003 and owning zero after that offer. Looks to TP like someone took him up on the offer—though how that makes for a lead story “remains unclear.”

Because of a technological loophole, reports USAT, some small vehicles that drive on runways don’t appear on air traffic controllers’ radar screens. Because they can’t see them, says the report, there have been 26 near-misses since January 2003, representing 22 percent of all major incidents at airports over that time. The incidents are described in a jump to A3.

The Washington Post story on the lack of Iraqi ties to al-Qaida will likely prompt an indignant and eloquent rebuttal later today by Slate’s Christopher Hitchens. The same day that the inspector-general report that the story is based on was released, Vice President Cheney repeated on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program that al-Qaida was operating in Iraq “before we ever launched” the war. Cheney cited the presence of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in northern Iraq as evidence of this connection; Zarqawi was not a member of al-Qaida and was not operating in an area of Iraq under the control of Hussein.

The IG report faults an analysis by Pentagon official Douglas Feith that described the Iraq/al-Qaida relationship as “mature” and “symbiotic.” The IG report finds no “conclusive evidence” to support this claim and in fact finds that the intelligence community reached the exact opposite conclusion, which was later borne out.

An  LAT lead story tells us that the Southwest may be in the middle of a drought that could become the norm, based on a rare conformity among 18 of 19 climate models. A study published in Science “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest—one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation.” The extended droughts would lead to conditions similar to the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains and northern Rockies in the 1930s, which led to dust storms that reached Washington, D.C.

WSJ starts its top story: “Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian raised the prospect of a more intense bidding war for DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group with an unexpected offer to buy the ailing auto maker for $4.5 billion in cash.” TP thinks an editor could have trimmed the label “billionaire investor” from a man trying to invest billions. TP’s favorite part is that Kerkorian’s offering to pay cash.

The LAT goes above the fold with a profile of blogger David Brody of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network—though Brody considers it “a dig” to call the network Robertson’s, we learn in the lede. (No dig intended, Mr. Brody.) The blogger’s commentary is widely read among political junkies of all political and religious persuasions. Some Democrats see him as a way to reach the Christian right community, and some Christians see his blog as a way to bring nonbelievers into the flock.

The Next Vietnam … The Journal’s editorial page has for the last four years hammered analysts who would compare Iraq to Vietnam. But, it seems, there is one similarity the page finds worth noting—Democrats should get the blame for both: “[B]y reverting to their Vietnam message of retreat and by blaming Mr. Bush for all the world’s ills, Democrats on Capitol Hill may once again convince voters that they can’t be trusted with the White House in a dangerous world.”