The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with the Supreme Court's decision to overturn a federal child pornography law that had banned virtual computer-generated images of children engaging in sexual acts. The court also ruled that it's OK to show sexual images of adult actors who "appear to be minors." By a 6-to-3 margin, the court ruled that such bans violate the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. The Washington Post leads with the Bush administration's "conclusion" that Osama Bin Laden was in Tora Bora during last year's fighting there but skedaddled at some point during the battle. The paper adds that the administration considers the decision not to commit U.S. ground troops there as "its gravest error in the war against al-Qaida." The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, and the New York Times leads with, word that Secretary of State Colin Powell is set to leave the Mideast today without having met what the WSJ calls his "minimum objectives" of securing a cease-fire and an Israeli pullout from the West Bank.
The papers report that Powell met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday and today is scheduled to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "I think we are making progress, and I look forward to furthering that progress," said Powell.
The papers give different senses about whether they buy that statement. The WSJ, NYT, and WP all emphasize that Powell hasn't made any deals yet. Meanwhile, the LAT and USAT are more optimistic. For example, according to one USAT headline, ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL MIGHT BE NEAR.
The NYT says the best Powell can hope for is a "vague commitment to a cessation of hostilities, an eventual Israeli withdrawal at an unspecified date, and a possible international peace conference."
Meanwhile, Israel is still refusing to pull back from Ramallah and Bethlehem until the Palestinian Authority give up men who the Israelis believe are terrorists. "The Palestinian Authority is hoping that in this case, Israel will bend in light of the pressure and give up," Sharon said. "This will not happen."
USAT emphasizes that CIA Director George Tenet might swing by the region next week to try to "rebuild security cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians."
Everybody notes that Israeli soldiers exchanged gunfire with Palestinian gunmen who are still holed up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. Two Palestinian bystanders were injured in the exchange.
In an inside piece, the NYT notes that Israel has used loudspeakers to "bombard those inside the church with sounds of approaching helicopters, tanks, and barking dogs." The paper adds, "In another twist in the psychological pressure, the Israelis had begun detaining some wives and mothers of men inside, Palestinians said."
The NYT says Israel is bracing for attacks since soldiers arrested Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti. The Times flatly states, "Mr. Barghouti's organization includes Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which carried out a majority of suicide bombings since January." That's interesting. According to yesterday'sNYT, Brigades members contend that they "do not act on [Barghouti's] orders in conducting attacks."
The Post reports that officials say that the U.S. made a mistake by not sending any top officers to oversee the first days of the battle in Tora Bora. "No one had the big picture," one defense official said. The article says that many officials are blaming Gen. Tommy Franks for what they see as the screw-up.
The papers duly report that the White House denied that it encouraged coup plotters in Venezuela. The denial comes a day after the WP reported that Bush officials had met with the country's coup plotters months ago. "We explicitly told opposition leaders that the United States would not support a coup," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
The NYT emphasizes the administration's contention that the day after the coup, a top State Department official phoned Venezuela's then president and warned him notto dissolve the legislature. No doubt, the administration put out that bit of info to show that the White House did the right thing. But Times sees another angle. According to its story, "The disclosure raised questions as to whether [American] officials were stage managing [the] takeover."
Everybody reports that British troops have joined U.S. soldiers on a mission to hunt down possible al-Qaida forces in eastern Afghanistan, near the town of Khost. They haven't exchanged fire with enemy forces yet.
The papers stuff word that officials now believe that the explosion last week at a Tunisian synagogue was an al-Qaida-connected terrorist act. The blast killed 16 people.
A NYT editorial slams Pakistani President Musharraf for his less than democratic presidential referendum campaign: "In a surreal spectacle, General Musharraf has been barnstorming around Pakistan holding rent-a-crowd rallies while barring anti-referendum demonstrations. His heavy-handed tactics can only undermine the nation and weaken its ability to fight terrorism."
A WSJ op-ed by academic Eliot Cohen calls the notion of sending peacekeepers into Israel, "an appallingly bad idea." He asks, "What happens if terrorist attacks on Israel were to continue, which they almost certainly would?"
A fun piece in USAT profiles Dogtown and Z-boys, a documentary about the rise of skateboarding culture in 1970s Los Angeles. The article notes that back in the day, skaters wore "Pendleton plaid shirts, khaki trousers and Vans Authentic shoes. Vans' sticky soles were especially helpful in keeping skaters in contact with their homemade boards." That would have been a good place to mention that the film was funded by the company that makes Vans. (Full disclosure: Today's Papers grew up in L.A. and was once a proud Vans-wearer, though, sadly, he wasn't coordinated enough to actually skateboard.)