Today's Papers

Journalists Are Free at Last

All the papers give top billing to North Korea pardoning the two detained American journalists after former President Bill Clinton met with dictator Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, left North Korea this morning with Clinton on a private jet. USA Todayand the Wall Street Journalreport that the two journalists were told in July that they would be set free if Clinton visited North Korea. The journalists told their families, who then got in touch with the administration. The New York Timessays it was Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, co-founder of Current TV, who asked the former president to take the trip 10 days ago. The Washington Postsays the administration’s first choice for the trip was Gore, but North Korea rejected that suggestion.

Although White House officials took pains to emphasize that Clinton traveled to North Korea as a private citizen, everyone notes that the administration did make sure that the journalists would be released if the former president made the trip. The Los Angeles Timesdeclares that the pardon “may have reopened the channels of communication between the Obama administration and the secretive regime.” North Korean state media reported that Clinton “expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists” and also conveyed a message from President Obama about the need to improve relations between the two countries. Administration officials denied that Clinton apologized and insisted he didn’t relay a message from Obama.

The NYT reports that while Obama didn’t talk directly to Clinton before the North Korea trip, Gen. James Jones, his national security adviser, “contacted the former president to sound him out.” The WP notes that while there were no government officials traveling with Clinton, “the nature of the delegation gave the mission a quasi-official status.” John Podesta, Clinton’s White House chief of staff who was head of Obama’s transition team, was on the plane, as was David Straub, who used to head the Korea desk at the State Department. North Korea pumped the visit for all it was worth, portraying the encounter in state media as a sign of respect for Kim, who hosted a two-hour banquet in Clinton’s honor and met with the former president for an hour and 15 minutes.

Although officials said the administration was clear with North Korea that Clinton would only discuss the journalists, no one believes wider issues weren’t raised. “It would be someplace between surprising and shocking if there wasn’t some substantive discussion between” the two men, one expert tells the NYT. Indeed, the LAT notes that in South Korea, analysts were hopeful that this could mark the first step in improved relations between the two countries. “If it was simply a matter of freeing two journalists, it would not have been successful,” one analyst said. “Both countries have agreed that this visit would be a place to discuss big changes in relations and to solve nuclear issues.”

In a separate front-page piece that describes how White House officials had been negotiating with North Korea for months, the LAT says many in the administration believed that if they gave the isolationist regime a way to release the journalists without looking weak it could mark the opening salvo in resuming talks about the country’s nuclear program. The WP points out that a side benefit of the meeting is that it gave the United States a first-hand look at Kim, who is thought to have suffered a stroke last year. But the WSJ notes that Kim’s apparent eagerness to meet face-to-face with Clinton suggests he may be in better health than many believed.

The NYT fronts new court documents that shine a light on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on medical literature. Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company that sold nearly $2 billion of its hormone drugs in 2001, paid ghostwriters to produce 26 scientific papers that advocated the use of hormone replacement therapy in women. The articles were published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005 and all made a point of emphasizing benefits of taking hormones. The articles, which were signed by top physicians who often did little or no actual writing, failed to reveal Wyeth’s involvement in the process. Of course, the question now is how common is this practice. “It’s almost like steroids and baseball,” said a doctor who has conducted research on ghostwriting. “You don’t know who was using and who wasn’t; you don’t know which articles are tainted and which aren’t.”

The WP fronts a look at how $52 million has been spent on advertising campaigns related to the debate over health care reform this year. And that number is set to grow into what some say could end up being the biggest advertising campaign related to a piece of legislation. Until now groups have mostly focused on national cable news and the Washington market, but as lawmakers head home for August recess, “advertising money will follow them,” as the Post puts it. Much of the advertising so far has been by groups broadly in favor of reform that don’t mention a specific plan. But that’s likely to change as plans take shape.

Along with the advertising, the massive lobbying campaign will also be following lawmakers, notes the WSJ. The health care legislation would affect so many people that all types of groups are lobbying for their interests. And they see the next few weeks as a key time to get their views heard.

The NYT fronts a look at the challenges the chief lobbyist for the insurance industry, Karen Ignagni, is facing as she tries to keep her coalition together at a time when many in Washington have seized on insurers as the prime villains. Ignagni, who earned $1.6 million in 2007, claims to be surprised by the turn of events, particularly considering she has made a point of telling Obama the industry is ready to accept reform. Ignagni got the industry’s big players to agree on concessions in the hope that she could work from the inside to prevent too much government interference. But some insurers might decide to walk away if they don’t think there’s anything to gain. That means the industry could end up “being thrust in the same role it played 15 years ago when it helped derail reform,” notes the paper.

The NYT and WSJ go inside with news that two Russian attack submarines were detected patrolling the waters off the East Coast recently. One has come as close as 200 miles off the coast of the United States. The Pentagon said it doesn’t consider the submarines threatening, but the discovery is certainly surprising, considering that the Russian navy is a shadow of its former self and hasn’t conducted this type of mission for years.

The NYT fronts a dispatch from Congo, where there has been a sharp increase in the number of men who have been raped in the last few months. Joint Congo-Rwanda military operations against rebels that started at the beginning of the year and were supposed to bring a semblance of normality to the area, which has been mired in conflict for more than a decade, instead have given rise to horrifying revenge attacks against civilians. Aid organizations don’t quite know how to explain the increase in male rape, except to say it’s “yet another way for armed groups to humiliate and demoralize Congolese communities into submission.” Of course, the number of men raped is small when compared to the hundreds of thousands of women who have suffered the fate. But aid workers say it’s harder for men to recover because, assuming they do come forward in the first place, they’re often ridiculed and ostracized in their villages and often have no one to turn to for support.

The LAT’s Patrick Goldstein takes a look at how top actors and filmmakers aren’t getting the same kind of money they used to from studios. Actors, writers, and filmmakers once had set quotes that went up with every hit and studios pretty much always met without asking too many questions. But that’s yesterday. Today, for “basically everyone except Will Smith, salary quotes have evaporated” along with the cherished “first-dollar gross deals,” which gave top talent a slice of revenue from a movie. Now it’s all about “cash break zero,” meaning they only get a share of the profits after all costs have been paid. Hollywood players are being forced to adapt to this new system, where the studios have all the power, and, suddenly, most stars aren’t able to get whatever they want.

The LAT and WP report word that Paula Abdul announced on Twitter that she’ll be leaving American Idol. Abdul had been in contract negotiations to increase her salary, which was reportedly between $2 million and $4 million a year.