Today's Papers

Crocker Peril

The Washington Post leads with the request by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq that all Iraqi employees of his mission be issued visas that would allow them to emigrate to this country in the event of an American withdrawal. The Los Angeles Times leads with allegations that American corporations have been paying millions in protection money to Colombian paramilitaries that are considered to be terrorist groups. The New York Times probes a previously underreported cause of the recent oil crunch: Refineries in the United States have endured “a record number of fires, power failures, leaks, spills and breakdowns” this year, cutting domestic production.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker proposed issuing the visas in a two-page cable to State Department higher-ups, which was apparently leaked to the Post. In it, the ambassador describes the grim state of existence of Iraqis who help the U.S., including constant death threats. (The plight of these people was the subject of a heartbreaking New Yorker story by George Packer in March.) Though the Bush administration has previously promised to speed up the visa approval process for endangered Iraqis, only 133 have been admitted to the United States since October because of bureaucratic lethargy and terrorism concerns. Crocker is arguing that he won’t be able to retain his local employees if he can’t offer them the promise of safe passage.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Iraq, assailants stabbed to death a top aide to Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

According to the LAT, only one American corporation, Chiquita Bananas, has been charged with violating U.S. laws against providing material support to terrorist organizations. According to a reported plea agreement, Chiquita paid a right-wing paramilitary with ties to drug traffickers at least $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004. The company said the money was intended to assure the safety of its workers, but a Colombian prosecutor alleges that it financed the “bloody pacification” of a region of the country where Chiquita owned plantations at the time. Other American companies have been implicated in similar payoffs, and one is accused of using the same paramilitary to intimidate and kill union organizers. Congress is now investigating.

While Iraqi insurgents and Nigerian rebels keep getting the blame for the high price of gas, the NYT’s lead story reveals that American oil refineries are running about 5 percent below normal capacity right now, and that a third of them have reported some sort of disruption in their production since the beginning of the year. Some of the refineries have been knocked out by freak occurrences such as floods or fires caused by lightning. But the story makes it clear that God is not solely to blame. Refineries have been running hard to keep up with demand and to take advantage of high prices, and they “are now paying a price for deferring repairs.”

The WP off-leads a lengthy dispatch from Congo, about the tragic “execution style” killing … of a mountain gorilla. Poachers have killed three of the endangered primates this year inside the war-torn country’s Virunga National Park. Which is unfortunate—though this reader wonders why, given all the newsworthy things that are happening to human beings in Congo, the untimely death of an ape rates such splashy front-page play.

The NYT, by contrast, off-leads another story from Africa, about the hidden civil war in the Ethiopian province of Ogaden. The Ethiopian government—a major American ally—has been keeping journalists from operating in Ogaden, going so far as to imprison NYT reporter Jeffrey Gettleman and photographer Vanessa Vick when they attempted to travel through the region earlier this year. Gettleman has continued to pursue the story, however, and today he reports that the Ethiopian government is blocking emergency food aid from entering the region. “It’s a starve-out-the-population strategy,” one Western humanitarian official tells the paper. Chillingly, the story also passes along reports that three young men who talked to the Times in May had been tortured and executed, adding that the army might have been able to discover their identities from “notebooks, cameras and computers” confiscated from the journalists during their imprisonment. So far, the NYT has been pretty much alone among the major papers in pushing the Ogaden story. If only there were some photogenic animals at risk.

Rounding out a big day all around for Africa coverage in the Sunday papers, the LAT fronts a piece on how climate change is increasing the prevalence of the continent’s “biggest killer”—malaria. The species of mosquito that carries the disease traditionally thrives only in hot lowlands, but as the globe warms, the bugs are buzzing up into elevations that were once climatologically inhospitable to them.

The WP fronts a story that suggests that after years of decline, the rate of sexual activity among teenagers has leveled off. * Experts say that better sex education and the fear of AIDS began to drive down the rates of teen sexual activity in 1991, just in time to frustrate this TPer’s adolescence. The decline seems to have ended around 10 years later—right when the Bush Administration started its push for abstinence promotion in schools, critics note.

The NYT, in what is promised to be the first in a series of profiles of the 2008 presidential contenders, fronts a long look at Rudy Giuliani today, focusing on his difficult relationship with African-American leaders in the city during his mayoralty. The story is by Michael Powell, who covered the early Giuliani administration for Newsday and the New York Observer, and it’s written with eyewitness authority. It’s a great read—even for those who think they already know everything about the cantankerous Republican frontrunner.

The LAT reefers a macabre profile of an Iraqi who once lived in Los Angeles and worked in the movie business—his credits include bits roles in 24 and the film Three Kings—who now oversees the hangings of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen. An engineer by training, he proudly tells the paper that after Saddam’s botched execution, he had a new gallows built, and since then the hangings have gone off “without a hitch.”

In the NYT’s “Week in Review”section, new Public Editor Clark Hoyt tackles a sensitive question. What effect will Rupert Murdoch’s expected purchase of Dow Jones have on another family-owned newspaper business: The New York Times? Needless to say, it’s not a subject the paper has broached in its pages so far.

The WP has a lurid investigation of an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter where teenage female addicts were allegedly encouraged to sleep with their older, male sponsors.

That giant underground lake that geologists discovered beneath Darfur may not solve all its problems, the NYT suggests.

Former PTL dragon lady Tammy Faye Messner died at the age of 65, everyone reports inside.

Barry Bonds went 0-2 with two walks.

Correction, July 23, 2007: The article originally and incorrectly questioned the Washington Post’s use of the word plateau to describe a declining trend. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)