Today's Papers

Get Ready To Rumble

The Washington Postleads with word that U.S. and Pakistani officials are switching gears in their hunt for Osama Bin Laden to focus more on the use of Predator drone spy planes in western Pakistan. No one has received reliable information on Bin Laden’s whereabouts since December 2001. Hobbled by the continued lack of informants in Pakistan’s tribal regions, officials are now concentrating on tracking down other al-Qaida leaders that could lead them back to the ultimate prize. The New York Timesleads with, and the Wall Street Journal fronts, the increasing fears that Lehman Brothers might be on its last legs. Sparked by concern that a planned investment by a Korean bank would fall through, investors dumped Lehman’s stock and erased almost half of the firm’s value in one day. The WSJ leads its world-wide newsbox, and the WP and LAT front, word that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may be seriously ill. No one is quite sure, but he didn’t attend a parade to commemorate the country’s 60th anniversary yesterday, a date that is particularly important in North Korean society. His absence lent credence to reports that the reclusive leader is having health problems and may have suffered a stroke.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how many top Democrats are doing what Democrats do best: worrying. There’s a general concern that John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, which many expected to drag the Republican down, has effectively stolen Barack Obama’s thunder. And now that Obama has started to aggressively criticize the Alaska governor, there are worries he could be helping the Republican ticket by increasing Palin’s appeal among white, blue-collar voters, particularly women. USA Todayleads with word that foreign investment could begin flooding to Iraq as the government has received requests for more than $74 billion in projects over the past five months. Only one project has actually broken ground, as government approval has been difficult to obtain, and there are skeptics who say the final amount that will be spent will actually be much smaller. Still, investors, particularly from oil-rich monarchies in the region, insist they’re ready to plow money into Iraq.

Besides the lack of on-the-ground informants, officials attribute their failure to find Bin Laden “to an overreliance on military force, disruptions posed by the war in Iraq and a pattern of underestimating the enemy,” reports the Post. But even as many say that the American effort has been hurt by an aggressive approach that claims civilian casualties and fails to foster good will among those in the border region, the number of missile attacks in Pakistan has more than tripled this year. Officials are also quick to blame their failure to catch al-Qaida’s leader on the switching of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 as well as less-than-stellar relations with the Pakistani government.

The fears surrounding Lehman had a reverberating effect on the rest of the stock market and more than wiped out gains made in Monday’s rally after the government announced the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The uncertainties are compounded by the fact that many don’t think the government will come to Lehman’s rescue. “Some may worry that Treasury has taken on so much taxpayer burden they don’t have any remaining capacity more to take on the burdens of Lehman,” one analyst said. Now the 157-year-old institution continues on what the NYT calls “a fight for its life” as executives desperately seek investors who could save it from extinction.

The WP quotes an Asia expert saying that the man who is considered to be the No. 2 leader in North Korea gave a speech on Monday “that referred to Kim Jong Il mainly in the past tense,” which is highly unusual. Others warned that rumors of this kind have swirled around in the past and cautioned against reading too much into them. Still, everyone notes that if Kim Jong-il dies or is incapacitated, a power struggle is likely to ensue, and it might make it more difficult to continue nuclear disarmament negotiations since the country’s generals oppose giving up its nuclear weapons. North Korea announced it would rebuild its Yongbyon nuclear reactor shortly after Kim Jong-il was last seen in public, which some think could be evidence that a power struggle is already underway.

Over the last few days, Obama has been aggressively responding to Palin’s claim of being a reformer who stood up to Washington while also making fun of the Republican ticket’s claim that it is the true choice for those who want change. Yesterday, Obama said Republicans are trying to put “lipstick on a pig,” which immediately raised cries from the GOP that the Democrat was making a sexist allusion to Palin. Obama’s campaign dismissed the complaint as a “pathetic attempt to play the gender card,” but it’s exactly these types of distractions that Democrats say Obama could avoid by effectively ignoring Palin and focusing on McCain. That’s not to say all Democrats agree. In fact, some think Obama should be more aggressive in order to let independent voters know about Palin’s conservative record.

A new WSJ poll, which the paper fronts, gives some hints at where all these concerns are coming from as it echoes the other surveys released this week and notes that McCain has received a sizable post-convention bump. The race is pretty much a dead heat nationally among registered voters. But while enthusiasm among McCain supporters has increased sharply, Obama voters are still more enthusiastic about their candidate. The poll also suggests that the Palin pick may have been exactly what McCain needed to tip the scales his way in Southern states. “Nearly six in 10 Southern voters now favor the McCain ticket, up from fewer than half in August,” reports the WSJ.

Remember how the LAT said yesterday that Obama was pursuing a more ambitious strategy than McCain and devoting lots of resources to traditionally Republican states? Well, today the WSJ suggests that’s not quite true. The increasingly competitive contest is leading Obama’s campaign to focus almost exclusively on traditional swing states. So far this month, the Democratic nominee has spent the bulk of his time in three states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

The NYT also says that Obama’s initial plan of competing in at least 18 states “may soon get whittled down” because, quite simply, there isn’t much time left. Although Election Day is on Nov. 4, more than 30 states allow voters to cast their ballots early, so someone in Iowa, for example, could be making his or her final choice in less than two weeks. This not only means candidates have to be selective about where they appear, but also that they can’t afford to wait to release their most hard-hitting advertisements and arguments. “I think it’s unprecedented, a whole new way of looking at elections,” a Democratic strategist said. “A combination of the late conventions and the way early voting is becoming even earlier around the country is going to have a big, big impact.”

While the candidates are scrambling to reach the finish line, they’re not as concerned about telling the truth, notes a front-page piece in the WP. There’s probably no better example of this than Palin’s claim that she opposed the so-called Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska. We’ve already known for more than a week that’s not true (she defended the project while campaigning in 2006 and turned against it only after Congress made it clear that it would not pay for it), but that doesn’t mean Palin has stopped repeating the applause line. Another example is McCain’s oft-repeated claim that Obama would increase everyone’s taxes. As the campaign enters its final weeks, “untrue accusations and rumors have started to swirl at a pace so quick that they become regarded as fact before they can be disproved,” notes the Post.

Although the WP does note that the Republican ticket has “been more aggressive in recent days in repeating what their opponents say are outright lies,” it tries to make it seem as though this is the way both campaigns are operating by noting that there have been untrue rumors swirling around the Internet about Palin. But isn’t there a fundamental distinction between e-mail rumors and what is said by candidates on the stump? TP sure wishes the WP—and all the other papers—would be less reluctant to explicitly qualify these lies and call them as such instead of saying that “their opponents say” they’re lying. It would also be nice if there was recognition that not all “untruths” are created equal. For example, Obama’s campaign has repeatedly quoted McCain saying that the economy is fundamentally sound. Is it disingenuous? Sure. That quote is months old, and now McCain can’t stop repeating that the economy is in trouble. But he did actually say it, which is quite different from making something up. Not that it would matter. “We have created a system where there is not a lot of shame in stretching the truth,” one analyst said. And once these lies seep into the public consciousness, it’s difficult to change them.

The NYT’s Thomas Friedman says that in the last few weeks Obama has lost his “gut connection” with voters. “Whoever slipped that Valium into Barack Obama’s coffee needs to be found and arrested by the Democrats because Obama has gone from cool to cold.” But unlike many commentators, Friedman doesn’t equate being more aggressive with attacking his opponent. “Forget trashing McCain’s ideas,” Friedman writes. “If Obama wants to rally his base, he has to be more passionate about his own ideas.”