Today's Papers

Adventures in Babysitting

The New York Times and the Washington Post lead and the Wall Street Journal (at least online) tops its world-wide news box with the State Department’s decision to drastically expand its oversight of controversial Iraq contractor Blackwater USA. Among other measures, the State Department plans to install cameras in Blackwater’s vehicles and have diplomatic security agents ride along on Blackwater’s convoys. The Los Angeles Times ignores Blackwater and leads with President Bush’s Friday afternoon defense of the CIA’s interrogation policies for terror suspects. Denying that his administration sanctioned torture, the president insisted that his administration was primarily concerned with protecting the American people.

“This puts diplomatic security into the role of a chaperone,” one expert said of the State Department’s announcement. Although Blackwater has been under fire regarding its operatives’ roles in the deaths of several Iraqi civilians in September, the State Department is spinning these new regulations as precautionary rather than punitive measures. None of the papers seems to be buying this explanation—especially not the NYT, which spends more than half of its story recapitulating previous coverage of Blackwater’s alleged misdeeds.

The Post reports how these specific regulations partially derive from a recent Pentagon report that noted the stark communications gap between military personnel in Iraq and the “arrogant” contractors who operate in a murky extralegal realm. An anonymous Defense Department source in the Post neatly summarizes the problem, noting that the contractors are mostly combat-hardened Special Forces veterans who aren’t likely to take orders from “some 20-year-old corporal.” None of the papers asks why these contractors should be expected to respond better to State Department babysitters.

President Bush’s remarks came as a response to a Thursday NYT story that described two classified Justice Department memos, written in 2005, that seemed to sanction the use of interrogational torture. “This government does not torture people,” Bush said before claiming that members of Congress had been aware of the disputed interrogation methods. The LAT does a good job putting the remarks in the context of the years-old debate over the prosecution of the war on terror. The NYT, somewhat self-righteously, quotes a White House official blaming the NYT for stirring up this whole mess in the first place.

The LAT off-leads with  news that Labor Department statistics indicate 110,000 American jobs were created in September. It’s a switch from August, when approximately 4,000 jobs were reported lost (Labor now claims that the August numbers were wrong and that 89,000 jobs were actually created), and the economy reacted accordingly, with the S&P 500 closing at a record high. The LAT suspects that the good job outlook will stop the Fed from further reducing interest rates this year. That’s not to say the economic downturn has reversed—the WSJ fronts news that brokerage firm Merrill Lynch reported a huge third-quarter earnings hit.

After defending her innocence for years, track star Marion Jones admitted that she used steroids and lied about it in court, everybody reports. Jones will likely be sentenced to several months in prison and stripped of the five medals she won at the 2000 Olympic Games. Jones also formally announced her retirement from track and field. The LAT goes above the fold with an analysis of the Jones case that asks whether sports fans will ever again be able to trust their heroes. Apparent conclusion: no.

The Post fronts a feature on the Republican presidential candidates’ attempts to establish their orienting campaign narratives—narratives that will preferably diverge from the ones peddled by the Bush administration. The NYT, for its part, runs a campaign two-fer: One piece describes how Iowans haven’t necessarily decided for whom they will vote in next year’s presidential primary, which is good news for Sen. Barack Obama; the other reports that Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney are, shockingly, campaigning heavily against each other in New Hampshire. Ah, Saturday, when all the political stories that weren’t good enough to run during the week come to die.

The Post splashes a feature on the Chinese government’s efforts to go green. Although China has taken steps lately to fine polluters and regulate industry, the key question seems to be whether the local governments will bother enforcing the regulations determined by the State Council.

A U.S. airstrike Friday killed at least 25 Iraqis, everybody reports. NYT coverage focuses on the Rashomonic difference between American and Iraqi versions of the attack. The LAT, in its Column One slot, runs a clear, unsentimental profile of a battle-scarred U.S. combat platoon. “I came here feeling I could do great things,” said one medic. “I failed.”

The LAT and the Post go inside with news that celebrity tax evaders Elaine and Ed Brown were arrested yesterday in New Hampshire, ending an eight-month standoff. The Browns had challenged the federal government’s authority to levy income taxes, a stance that won support among anti-government activists, many of whom visited the Browns during their stand. So much for hospitality—they were arrested by two U.S. marshals posing as supporters. “They invited us in. We escorted them out,” said one marshal.

The Post reports that Don Imus is expected to return to radio, right in time for college basketball season. Imus is expected to sign a multimillion-dollar deal with Citadel Broadcasting that will give him a morning show to be broadcast out of New York and syndicated nationwide.

Anybody checked the Pai Gow tables?: Atlantic City Mayor Robert F. Levy unexpectedly stopped showing up at work last week, and has not been seen or heard from since, the NYT reports. Some claim that he is hospitalized, but nobody knows where he might be or what illness he might have. “The mysterious disappearance of Mayor Levy is now a national news story causing significant embarrassment and exposing the city to unwarranted risk,” said one city councilman. Look, if the mayor of Atlantic City can’t go off on a 10-day bender every now and then, the terrorists have already won.