The papers all lead with Sen. John Kerry's steamroller victory in two states yesterday, burnishing the glow of inevitability surrounding his candidacy. Kerry trounced the Democratic field with 52 percent of the vote in Michigan and 48 percent in Washington, for a total of nine wins in the first 11 nominating contests of the presidential election season. Howard Dean was a distant second in both states.
Kerry appeared so confident yesterday that his campaign released the text of a victory speech to the press before the vote had been tallied, according to the lead stories in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. (He later said the release was "premature.") The Washington Post's lead emphasizes how Kerry has almost entirely shifted his focus to the general election, lobbing attacks at the Bush administration. "They're the ones who are extreme; we're the ones who are mainstream," he said in a speech.
The papers' leads (and a separate story inside the NYT) note that Dean lost not only both caucuses yesterday, but also his largest union endorsement. The LAT chimes in with a relatively derivative front-page analysis of Dean's fall from grace but buries this nice tidbit in the middle: "Soon, it became clear that the ebullient crowds that packed events to hear the former Vermont governor were not necessarily representative of a larger pool of voters captivated by Dean. They were the voters captivated by Dean."
The NYT's lead also mentions anecdotal reports from Washington of "the heavy voting that has characterized almost all of the contests to date." Some analysts have speculated that this kind of record turnout hints at an energized electorate that will rush to the polls in November to defeat George Bush. But the Post points out (on page A5) that it's misleading to view recent turnout as heavy, much less record-breaking. Although the absolute number of voters is up, all the states that have held primaries so far (apart from New Hampshire) have seen their turnout fall in percentage terms from recent competitive elections.
The NYT fronts a detailed story on the "delicate dance" (also: "balancing act") Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, choreographed to elicit a confession last week from the country's most celebrated nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Dr. Khan admitted to—and was then pardoned for—selling nuke technology to multiple countries. The WP fronts its own story on the "Pakistan-led nuclear trafficking ring," describing a decentralized set of suppliers that together provided what one U.S. official called "one-stop shopping."
Although both papers voice American concerns that Musharraf turned a blind eye to the trafficking, which may well involve parts of Pakistan's military, the Post delivers the best account of how the Americans used a meeting in October to pressure the General to do something. "We were told that Pakistan's failure to take action will most certainly jeopardize its ties with the United States and other important nations," a Pakistani official told the Post.
A U.N. team studying the feasibility of holding national elections in Iraq this spring arrived in Baghdad yesterday, according to pieces inside the LAT and NYT. Already, Iraqi groups are jockeying for the chance to present their cases to the team, and a former U.N. official told the LAT that normal U.N. protocol is on hold. "This study is too important," the official said. "Kofi Annan will be involved in every decision."
Speaking of Iraq and the U.N., the NYT "Week in Review" reminds readers about a particularly influential (and misleading) piece of WMD intelligence: the infamous satellite pictures that Colin Powell brandished before the U.N. Security Council in 2002. It turns out that what was originally labeled a decontamination vehicle is now thought to be a fire engine and CIA agents based their original analyses of the images on third-hand accounts.
Faulty intel won't get Donald Rumsfeld off message, though. While at an annual U.S.-European security conference in Germany yesterday, the Defense secretary launched an impassioned defense of the U.S. doctrine of pre-emptive attack, according to pieces that the NYT and LAT reefer and the WP stuffs. "I know in my heart and brain that America ain't what's wrong with the world," he said during a contentious Q&A session after his prepared remarks.
In Florida yesterday, the G-7 nations, under pressure from the European contingent, issued a statement denouncing the weakness of the dollar, which has lost a quarter of its value against the euro in the last year. According to the NYT, WP and LAT, the statement will probably do little to stop the slide.
The NYT's new "conservative beat" reporter, David Kirkpatrick, lands on page A1 with the Christian Right's plan to use gay marriage as a new rallying cry. Sounds a little stale, yes, but he dredges up good details: "Some in the movement believe opposition to gay marriage could make for even more effective direct mail—the financial lifeblood of most advocacy groups—than their other great cause, the fight against abortion."
The LAT reports that Mel Gibson's Passion could be set for a blockbuster opening of up to $30 million over five days, despite eschewing traditional print and television advertising in favor of grass-roots marketing through Christian groups. The NYT Arts & Leisure section goes one step further and compares the religious marketing to that for 1979's Jesus—a boring, long-forgotten Hollywood epic that has lived on as an evangelical recruitment tool and may be the most-watched movie of all time. One Christian group estimates that 3 billion people have seen it over the years. Another touts the figure that really matters: 176 million souls saved.
Scary move, too … The NYT Magazine prints a small correction of its now-infamous sex slaves cover story, apparently as part of the internal review that led editor Gerald Marzorati to tell this week's New York Observer that "the piece was carefully read by a number of readers, by me many, many times, and I stand by the story." The error is actually one that Slate's Jack Shafer first caught at the beginning of the controversy surrounding the article: One of the central subjects said her captor took her to see Scary Movie 2 before she escaped four years ago. Scary Movie 2, however, didn't come out until 2001.