Today's Papers

Holder: Our Bad, Stevens

The New York Timesleads with China adopting a plan to become a world leader in producing hybrid and electric vehicles over the next three years. The plan comes “from the very top of the Chinese government” and could mean very bad news for the struggling Detroit automakers that are already lagging behind on what many consider to be the future of automotive technology. USA Todayleads with, the Wall Street Journaltops its newsbox, and the rest of the papers front the Justice Department’s move to drop all charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Attorney General Eric Holder asked that the case be dropped because prosecutors had failed to hand over important information to the defense team. Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in Senate history when he was convicted of seven felony counts for failing to disclose about $250,000 in gifts days before he narrowly lost a re-election bid.

The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with President Obama’s meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the eve of the Group of 20 economic summit in London. The leaders announced that they will open negotiations on a new strategic arms-control treaty that could reduce each country’s nuclear arsenals by one-third. Obama and Medvedev also agreed they would cooperate on a number of issues, including the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. The plan for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe was mostly avoided, and a joint statement pointed out that “differences remain” over the issue. The meeting was described as businesslike, and officials made sure to point out there was no talk about looking into each other’s souls. “I think it was a meeting without much intimacy to it, which is a good thing,” one Russia expert said. “No one is trying to impress each other.”

The NYT points out that in announcing its plan for making electric vehicles, “China is making a virtue of a liability.” The country is hardly a powerhouse when it comes to auto production, “but by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next.” China’s goals are certainly ambitious as it hopes to raise its production capacity from 2,100 last year to 500,000 by the end of 2011. The move could also help the country with its severe urban pollution problem, although it won’t do much for the country’s emissions as a whole since China gets most of its electricity from coal.

The judge overseeing the Stevens trial repeatedly criticized federal prosecutors for concealing information from the defense team and almost declared a mistrial at one point. Recently, the judge held three of the prosecutors, including the head of the public corruption unit, in contempt. After the Justice Department discovered that prosecutors had failed to turn over notes that could have raised doubts about the testimony given by a key witness, Holder “announced that he had had enough,” as the WP puts it, and ordered an internal investigation. The attorney general said he would not seek a new trial. Legal experts mostly agree the alleged misconduct was serious and Holder did the right thing. Republicans on Capitol Hill were livid. The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said there is “no question that, if this decision had been made last year, he’d still be in the Senate.”

As world leaders converged in London for the G-20 economic summit, Obama tried to start out on a conciliatory note by saying that the United States had “some accounting to do” for its role in sparking the financial crisis. But the battle lines have clearly been drawn. There’s the “Merkel-Sarkozy show,” as the LAT puts it, and “the other dynamic duo,” Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Obama and Brown tried to downplay their differences; the French and German leaders made it clear there are important disagreements that need to be worked out. “France and Germany will speak with a single voice,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said. To recap, France and Germany want stronger regulation, while the United States and Britain are pushing countries to step up their government spending. Making it clear that they won’t allow their demands to be ignored, Sarkozy said that tougher regulation is “nonnegotiable,” and Chancellor Angela Merkel said that more fiscal spending “is not a bargaining chip.”

Sarkozy said he didn’t want to assign blame, but he came very close to it: “The crisis didn’t actually spontaneously erupt in Europe.” Obama said world leaders should focus on trying to come up with solutions instead of finding someone to blame and warned that the United States is unlikely to return to its role as a “voracious consumer market” and can’t act alone “as the engine” for economic growth. The WP says Obama’s statement “signaled a recognition of a new economic era with a less dominant U.S. role.”

Obama and the first lady met with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and gave her an iPod that contained photographs and video of her visit to the United States in 2007, as well as songs. The WSJ notes the gift “continued a multimedia theme” for the Obama White House that gave Brown a set of DVDs during his Washington visit, a present that was widely panned by the British press.

USAT got a hold of State Department records that show the top security official at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq didn’t punish Blackwater security guards for an unjustified 2005 shooting because he feared it would lower morale among contractors. Investigators said the contractors “failed to justify their actions” and “provided false statements.” The 2005 shooting took place two years before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad and is yet another example of the State Department’s lack of oversight of security contractors.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is well-known for funding projects around the world to promote health and education. Today, the NYT points out that the foundation also acts “as a behind-the-scenes influencer” in popular culture by plunging money and helping to devise story lines for television shows like ER and Private Practice. That role is set to increase now that the foundation has reached a deal with Viacom to carry out what the paper dubs “message placement.” Foundations have been trying to get television shows to promote a message for years. “The difference here is the Gates Foundation is paying for this, that they are actually willing to pay for programming,” said the head of Common Sense Media.

The LAT fronts, and everyone covers, the decision by CBS to cancel Guiding Lights, the longest-running drama in broadcasting history. The show has been on the air for almost three-quarters of a century, first on radio before moving to television in 1952. The last episode will air Sept. 18. The soap opera is owned by Procter & Gamble, which said it would try to find a new home for the show. But the decision by CBS “is the latest example of the fragmentation of television,” notes the LAT, as well as the overall decline of daytime dramas on network television. Ten years ago Guiding Light had almost 5 million viewers; this season it was barely more than the 2 million mark.

USAT reports that one April Fools hoax was a bit too close for comfort. Yesterday, Car and Driver put up a story that said Obama had ordered Chevrolet and Dodge to get out of NASCAR after this season to save $250 million. The magazine pulled the story and apologized for “going too far” while also noting that it “has a proud tradition of irreverent editorial and we amplify that each year with our April Fool’s Day joke.” But many weren’t laughing. “I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years,” said a public relations representative for Dodge, “and I have never seen a story so irresponsible.”