Everybody leads with President Bush's press conference, though the papers all emphasize different aspects of it. The Washington Post in a near-banner headline announces, "BUSH TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR IRAQ CLAIM." The New York Times focuses on the president's denial that the White House oversold the case for war in Iraq. USA Today highlights Bush's statement that he supports a ban on gay marriage. And the Los Angeles Times goes with the president seeing "hopeful signs" that the economy is picking up.
"I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course," Bush said. He added, "I also take responsibility for making decisions on war and peace. And I analyzed a thorough body of intelligence, good, solid, sound intelligence that led me to come to the conclusion that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power." Bush also tried to shoot down the emerging Condoleezza Death Watch. "Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person," Bush said as he whapped the podium for emphasis. "America is lucky to have her service—period."
As the WP flags, Bush said he was confident that the U.S. would find evidence of an Iraqi "weapons program." That continues a recent trend in which the president has been referring to "programs" and not the weapons themselves.
According to wire reports, one GI was killed and two were wounded in an attack this morning in Iraq. That ends a relative period of calm in which no GIs had been killed for 48 hours.
Regarding gay marriage, Bush said, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other." As everybody notes, there already is a law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriages: the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton. The only way to significantly strengthen it is with a constitutional amendment. According to a "senior White House official" cited by USAT, that's what the president is "considering supporting." Especially considering that tid-bit, the paper's headline feels weak, "PRESIDENT MOVES TO DEFINE MARRIAGE." (In fairness, the subhead clarifies, "Legislation in works to deny right to gays.")
The NYT's fronted piece on Bush's gay marriage comment says that "public opinion has been gradually shifting, albeit slowly, toward a more tolerant view of homosexuality." The next paragraph of the story cites a NYT poll, the results of which are exactly contrary to that sentence: As a recent USAT poll also showed, opposition to gay marriage appears to have increased recently. (Yes, it might just be a post-Supreme Court ruling blip, but the NYT should at least acknowledge it.)
A NYT editorial ponders the presidential tête-à-tête, and pans the performance: Bush gave "vague and sometimes nearly incoherent answers."
The Wall Street Journal says on Page One, "DESPITE INSTABILITY IN IRAQ, BUSH HAS STRONG SUPPORT, POLL FINDS." His approval rating is at 56 percent, down six points from May, but still relatively high. Seven out of 10 respondents also said they still support having gone to war. The story doesn't mention a bit of negative data from the poll: For the first time in the WSJ polls' trackings of the Bush administration, a plurality of respondents (44 percent) said the country is "heading in the wrong direction."
The Post off-leads word that Iraqi scientists continue to deny that Saddam had any active chemical, nuclear, or biological weapons. That includes scientists who have been detained by the U.S. for months and one who has talked outside Iraq. The Bush administration official in charge of the search, a former U.N. inspector, is set to testify in front of Congress today. Perhaps that has something to do with the above story, which was leaked by "senior administration officials and members of Congress.
The WP notes that a number of the scientists have been "held incommunicado." Last week Post columnist David Ignatius wrote of two scientists who the U.S seems to have detained and who haven't been heard from. Ignatius wrote that he suspects the forced silence is "evidence that the Pentagon and the White House have concluded that any public release of [the scientists'] testimony would undercut" the administration's position.
The LAT, alone among the papers says on Page One that with money issues apparently worked out by the U.N., African peacekeepers are about to go into Liberia. Nigeria, which will lead the force, said troops will begin arriving Tuesday. Everybody else goes inside with Liberia and doesn't seem as sure that troops are heading in. Instead, the other papers focus on a U.N. resolution that the U.S. offered yesterday authorizing a peacekeeping force. The resolution doesn't commit U.S. troops.
As USAT fronts, the Transportation Security Administration backed down from what seemed to be a middle-management plan (mentioned in yesterday's WP) to cut the number of air marshal flights. The WSJ gives the larger story: Facing a $900 million budget shortfall, the TSA has asked Congress for authority to transfer about $100 million from the air marshals program to other parts of the agency. Instead of cutting the number of marshals, it's planning on cutting training and support staff. So how about a piece explaining why the agency is facing a budget shortfall in the first place?
Citing a"senior Defense Department official," the WSJ reports that John Poindexter, the head of the Pentagon team that came up with the heavily criticized futures trading plan, is leaving. Meanwhile, the NYT, WP, and Slate all write that the futures idea got a bum wrap.
The papers, including the NYT, notes that a Times' committee released its report on the Blair fiasco and among other changes recommended that the paper hire an ombudsman or as the report put it, a "public editor." The Times' new editor, Bill Keller, said the paper will do it.
Back to Bush... Yesterday's press conference appears to be one of those rare moments when a newspaper editorial isn't just tinkling in the wind. Tuesday's Post all-but-begged for a press conference. Today, the WP says thank you.