Today's Papers

Obama: Salaam Aleikum

President Obama spoke to the Muslim world in a heavily watched speech in Cairo, Egypt, and it leads almost all the papers. In the words of the Washington Post, it was “a direct appeal to the Islamic world Thursday for a ‘new beginning’ with the United States, acknowledging historical mistakes made over centuries in the name of culture and religion that he said are now overshadowed by shared interests.” The reviews were largely positive and acknowledged Obama’s ambition in giving the speech: The New York Times called the address a “bold overture” and “the riskiest of his presidency.” The Post said it “electrified many Muslims in the Arab Middle East,” and the Los Angeles Timescalled it “sweeping” and said it got “support from unexpected voices, such as members of the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip and Islamist intellectuals in Pakistan.” Only the Wall Street Journalseemed unimpressed, saying Obama “waded into the heart of the Middle East conflict” and “chided” Israel. USA Todayfronts the speech but leads instead with advance word that a Federal Aviation Administration report will show that one in three U.S. airports has not taken legally mandated action to protect planes from birds.

Obama seemed to have the Cairo crowd at “hello”; his greeting of “Salaam aleikum” (literally peace be upon you) was greeted with applause and cheers by the audience at the university hall where the speech was delivered. The speech was widely praised by Muslims for its skillful use of Quran quotes, omission of the word “terrorist,” and acknowledgement of U.S. mistakes toward the Muslim world. The NYT goes so far as to say it was structured “almost like a Friday Prayer,” and the Post has good reporting on how Obama was able to achieve that level of facility with Muslim rhetorical practice, by meeting several times with American Muslim groups.

Some Jews, however, took offense at the moral equivalence implied by Obama’s juxtaposition of the Holocaust with the suffering of Palestinians today, a comparison one right-wing Israeli parliamentarian called “a shocking parallel,” according to the Post. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement about the speech that the Journalcalled “restrained,” though the newspaper also quoted a left-wing Israeli arguing that “better Arab-American relations may actually prove very useful for Israeli national security.”

The speech was short on specifics, but the LAT, in an analysis by its Cairo bureau chief, says that is how it should be done: “[T]he speech was delivered the way you introduce yourself here to neighbors as a newcomer to town: explaining where you’re from, your passions, your dreams, but not delving too deeply into prickly things. That unveiling comes later, during ensuing weeks, months and years.” (Similarly, the same analysis suggests that the way Obama mentioned American mistakes, such as the Iraq war, also worked: “Saving face is a cherished Arab virtue, and a man who can keep face while listing his mistakes is respected.”)

The Post and NYT both run front-page stories on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s past. The Times finds, by interviewing several people she worked with early in her career, that she rose through the ranks through her own merit and ambition and a few mentors rather than through the patronage of party or political bosses. And the Post analyzes several speeches, released by the White House yesterday, and notes repeated references to her Latina heritage, including several versions of the “wise Latina” line that has been the focal point of conservative opposition to her nomination. (The NYT stuffs a similar story.) The Journal, meanwhile, finds that if Sotomayor is confirmed, she appears likely to ally with the Supreme Court’s conservatives on criminal justice cases based on a review of some of her key rulings as a lower court judge.

The NYT, LAT, and Postfront news that the Securities and Exchange Commission has accused the former CEO of Countrywide Financial, once the country’s biggest mortgage lender, of fraud and insider trading. The Times calls the case “the most prominent against an executive involved in the mortgage crisis.” The SEC released several e-mails implicating the CEO; in one, he writes of one of Countrywide’s offerings: “In all my years in the business I have never seen a more toxic product.”

Also in the news: The social pressure is now to show how frugal you are rather than to conspicuously consume, the Post says in a front-page recession trend story. The Post also fronts another episode in its ongoing investigation of Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat accused of various forms of extreme pork-barrel politics; this time it’s allegations that a defense contractor with close ties to Murtha is using government money to pay for personal expenses. The NYT profiles a new charter school in New York that is paying teachers an unteacherly salary of $125,000 a year after assembling the “dream team” of accomplished educators found in a nationwide search. North Dakota is a rare bright spot in the nation’s economy, with state budget surpluses and the lowest unemployment rate in the United States, the Journal finds. The Journal also reports that China’s excess of young men is leading to a rise in marriage scams in which women demand a high bride price (the custom in rural China) and then run off with the money after the wedding. And the LAT has, in its Column One section, a good profile of a Colorado abortion doctor and friend of the slain George Tiller.