Today's Papers

Skin Deep

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Todayall lead with scientists in Wisconsin and Japan announcing that they’ve been able to reprogram human skin cells to act almost identically to embryonic stem cells. Although there’s still a long way to go before this new technique could be used in a medical setting, the researchers were able to create the cells without using embryos, which could mark an end to the ethical debate surrounding stem-cell research. Researchers discovered that by adding four genes they were able to turn the cells back to their embryonic states, which means they could theoretically become almost any other cell in the body.

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox, and almost everyone else fronts, news that the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the Second Amendment means citizens have a constitutional right to keep guns in their homes. The Supreme Court has been silent on the Second Amendment since 1939 but yesterday decided to take up a challenge to a 31-year-old ban on handguns in Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court has “inevitably injected the issue of gun control into the presidential campaign,” says the NYT. The case “will force each presidential candidate” to express his or her views on what the Second Amendment means, a National Rifle Association official tells the WSJ.

The new stem-cell breakthrough was expected after researchers in June announced they were able to do the same thing in mice, but, as the LAT notes, everyone thought it would “take years, not months.” There are still problems to overcome, including the use of a virus that has a tendency to cause cancer to insert the genes, but scientists are already working on ways around that problem. Researchers also have to figure out exactly how these cells are different from embryonic stem cells, but yesterday everyone was optimistic and “stem cell scientists seemed almost giddy,” says the Post.

The LAT, NYT, and WP have separate stories analyzing the political implications of the stem-cell news. The Bush administration was claiming victory yesterday, saying that the researchers proved the president was right when he pushed for an alternative method of creating stem cells without destroying embryos. But critics of President Bush’s policies insist he shouldn’t be so quick to take the credit since these developments would have never been possible without the initial research on embryos and the restrictions might have actually slowed down the discovery. They also emphasize this new development doesn’t mean that research using embryos should stop, but recognized it would now be “more difficult to keep up the political momentum,” says the Post.

The WP fronts a look at how the White House seems to be moving away from criticizing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. In an interview with ABC News, President Bush said Musharraf “believes in democracy” and “hasn’t crossed the line.” Many were surprised by the comments, and Sen. Joseph Biden said that “If the president sees Musharraf as a democrat, he must be wearing the same glasses he had on when he looked in Vladimir Putin’s soul.”

Meanwhile, the Post, and pretty much everyone else, cites the Pakistani government’s announcement that it has released more than 3,000 political prisoners. But the NYT talks to a diplomat who says that only about 1,000 prisoners have been released and more than 3,000 remain in custody. And the arrests continued yesterday, giving diplomats the feeling that “there seemed to be a revolving door,” says the NYT.

The WP fronts a dispatch from Afghanistan that looks into the increasing suspicions that Afghan security forces and bodyguards are to blame for many of the deaths after a Nov. 6 blast that killed more than 80 people, including 70 schoolchildren. It was first described as Afghanistan’s worst terrorist attack, but now witnesses said security officers at the scene responded to the blast “with such sustained and wild barrages of gunfire that they killed many survivors,” says the WP.

The WSJ interviews Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, who said that it’s too soon to tell whether al-Qaida in Iraq has been defeated, although it has definitely been weakened. He made it clear that U.S. troops would leave only areas that are either free of violence or if there are competent Iraqi forces that can take over. The Post’s David Ignatius warns against being too optimistic about Iraq and cites a Syrian analyst who thinks militias are merely laying low and regrouping. “This will be known as the era of deception,” the analyst said.

The WP fronts a new poll out of Iowa that shows Mike Huckabee is surging past most of the other contenders and is now challenging Mitt Romney for the lead spot. But the Post warns it will be difficult for Huckabee to continue his quick rise in the polls (his support has tripled since July) unless he expands his base of support, which so far mostly consists of conservative and religious voters.

There has recently been much-written about the “Columnist Wars,” as Editor & Publisher put it, among NYT op-ed writers who attack one another’s positions but don’t name their colleagues. Today, the WP’s Ruth Marcus may have inadvertently given the best example of why columnists should never name one another. In a column where she criticizes Paul Krugman for apparently changing his mind over whether Social Security is in trouble (is that even column-worthy?) she ultimately sounds like an angry blogger who has a bone to pick with the NYT columnist, particularly after we learn that he criticized an editorial she may have written.

President Bush pardoned two turkeys yesterday (somebody said they should be named “Scooter” and “Libby,” writes the WP’s Dana Milbank) and although legend has it that the tradition began with President Harry Truman, the WP says “the first officially pardoned bird debuted not in 1947 but in 1989.” And it seems “no one really knows why” the first President Bush decided to grant the turkey “a presidential pardon.”