Today's Papers

Classification Problem

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with military judges dismissing the charges against two Guantanamo detainees. In separate rulings, the judges determined that the detainees could not be tried by the military tribunals because they were not classified as “unlawful alien enemy combatants,” which was a requirement spelled out by the 2006 Military Commissions Act. No one is going to be set free as a result of these rulings, but this latest development is likely to, once again, bring the trials to a halt since all of the Guantanamo detainees have been designated simply as “enemy combatants.”

The Washington Postleads with the indictment of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., by a federal grand jury that charged him with a slew of corruption-related offenses. Jefferson is accused of accepting more than $400,000 in bribes and then using his position in Congress to promote the businesses that gave him the money. Jefferson was also accused of trying to bribe a Nigerian official, and thus became the first U.S. lawmaker to be charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. USA Today leads with word that more domestic flights arrived late in the first four months of this year than in any other year since the Department of Transportation began keeping track in 1995. From January through April, only 72 percent of domestic flights by the country’s largest airlines arrived on time. The worst airport was Newark Liberty, and the airline with the least amount of on-time arrivals was US Airways.

Pentagon officials said the rulings were based on a technicality and vowed to appeal. But as the LAT notes, the panel that would hear this sort of appeal still hasn’t been created. If the appeal  fails, the Pentagon could then start the process of redesignating the detainees so the military tribunals can move forward, but that whole process could take months. As everyone notes, the first attempt at military tribunals was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Opponents of the system said the rulings yesterday showed the military tribunals were put together quickly, and there were calls to lawmakers to review the whole system. For its part, the Pentagon remained undeterred and said the “public should make no assumptions about the future of the military commissions.”

Jefferson’s lawyer insists his client is innocent and said that despite the extensive investigation into “every aspect of Mr. Jefferson’s public and private life” there is no evidence in the indictment that the lawmaker “promised anybody any legislation.” If he is convicted on all 16 counts, Jefferson could face up to 235 years in prison, although any sentence is likely to be much shorter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately said the charges “are extremely serious” and if “proven true, they constitute an egregious and unacceptable abuse of public trust and power.” In a move that raised tensions between Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus, Jefferson was removed from his seat on the ways and means committee last year. Now Democratic leaders will consider whether they should remove Jefferson from his last remaining assignment on the small business committee, a move that could further divide Democrats.

The Post fronts a new poll that reveals Americans are increasingly frustrated with the Iraq war and are taking out these feelings on Democrats in Congress as well as President Bush. Only 39 percent of Americans said they approve of Congress’ performance, which is a decrease from April when the figure was 44 percent. Bush’s overall approval rating is still 35 percent, and 73 percent of Americans believe the “country is pretty seriously on the wrong track.”

Meanwhile, everyone reports that an insurgent group in Iraq released a video that showed what appeared to be the identification cards of the two missing soldiers and said they were dead. Military officials vowed to continue the search. In an interesting piece, the WP’s Philip Kennicott examines the latest video and says it illustrates how “the advance of professionalism continues, now to the level of tone, drama and pacing.”

The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, the first day of the war crimes trial of  former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who refused to appear in court and fired his lawyer. “I choose not to be a fig leaf of legitimacy for this court,” Taylor wrote in a letter. The judges ordered the trial to continue and began hearing evidence that prosecutors say proves Taylor’s role in supporting rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor’s letter brought to mind tactics that were used by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during his own war crimes trial.

The WP and NYT front news that a federal appeals court determined the Federal Communications Commission can’t penalize broadcasters for what are known as “fleeting expletives,” which are basically unplanned obscenities such as what might be heard during a live event. The court said the FCC hadn’t properly explained why it decided to begin regulating this type of obscenity and even put in doubt whether the agency has the power to regulate language.

But figuring out what the case was about could be quite difficult for readers as the papers dance around actually writing the words that were at the heart of the matter. The NYT gets into ridiculous territory with this avoidance when it mentions a part of the decision that cites examples of how President Bush and Vice President Cheney have used the same language that could be fined by the FCC. But the paper doesn’t give much clue as to what these statements actually were, describing how Bush uttered “a common vulgarity” and Cheney “muttered an angry obscene version of ‘get lost’.”  The Post doesn’t mention the presidential angle butat least gives readers the best idea of what the case was about when it describes how during an awards show Cher talked back to her critics and said, “[f-word] ‘em.” (Interestingly enough, in 2004, when the WP actually printed the words “fuck yourself” in reporting Cheney’s comments, the paper’s editor defended the decision by saying: “readers need to judge for themselves what the word is because we don’t play games at The Washington Post and use dashes.”) TP is well aware that journalists are constricted by their style guides, but shouldn’t there be some sort of exception when the offensive language is the news?