Tenet's Testymony

Tenet's Testymony

Tenet's Testymony

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 10 2004 7:30 AM

Tenet's Testymony

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times leads with intel chief George Tenet's contentious congressional testimony during which he said that he had privately warned Vice President Cheney and perhaps others that their public statements didn't jibe with what the CIA knew. As Tenet explained, sometimes politicians say things that don't, ahem, "uniquely comport" with the CIA's nuanced assessments. At another point, he insisted that the White House didn't misrepresent the prewar threat. USA Today leads with a much-anticipated government report showing that slothfulness and junk-food habits, or more precisely, obesity, are about to overtake smoking as the nation's leading cause of preventable deaths. Sixty-five percent of Americans are overweight. The Washington Post leads with a judge sentencing John Allen Muhammad to death for his role in the fall 2002 sniper killings around Washington D.C. Muhammad told the judge, "I had nothing to do with this case."

The coverage of Tenet's testimony is all over the place. In a role reversal, the Post has the weakest coverage. Going inside, it emphasizes Tenet's less than shocking answer to Sen. Ted Kennedy's essentially rhetorical question about whether administration hyped intel. (Tenet said no.) The NYT, LAT, and USAT all have variations of what is essentially the opposite conclusion.

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USAT highlights Tenet saying that the CIA had been "wildly inconsistent" in policing prewar White House statements. The NYT headlines Tenet's assertions that he talked to Cheney quietly when the vice prez had his facts wrong.

The LAT focuses on Tenet saying that he had no idea that the head of a Pentagon intel office had circumvented the CIA and had met with White House officials giving them the office's (sketchy) conclusions about supposed Iraq-al-Qaida links. (TheNew Yorker's Seymour Hersh has done some of the best reporting about that office.)

Meanwhile, the toughest coverage of Tenet's testimony comes not from any of the biggies but from Knight Ridder. It digs into the details and doesn't shirk from saying that Tenet "reversed himself." And mercifully, the story doesn't dwell on the Democrat and Republican blustering.

The Post does a much better job with its Americans-are-chubsters' coverage. Unlike USAT, the Post gets into politics  of it. It notes that while the administration has introduced ads telling people get off their butts, public health folk say that only addresses half the problem. "It's perfectly safe. It's totally uncontroversial. But it's not enough to keep weight under control," said one nutrition prof. "If the government said, 'You really ought to cut back on soft drinks and juice drinks,' those lobbyists would go berserk. They don't want to take on the food industry."

The NYT and Post both off-lead the launch of at least $5 million in anti-Bush ads by a consortium of independent Democratic groups. This first rollout is only the tip of what could be an onslaught of such ads with one Democratic-leaning group saying it has $70 million in pledges. (The Bush campaign is slated to take in about $200 million.) Independent groups don't have spending restrictions, but the latest campaign finance law doesn't allow them to either coordinate with campaigns or to spend money for or against any specific politicians. The FEC is planning to rule on whether such groups are now out of line, but that won't happen for another few months. In the meantime, get used to these things. (In a thoughtful little touch, the Post links to the groups' contributor data.)

USAT and the Post both go inside with polls showing that support for civil unions has jumped in the last month. USAT has support at 54 percent while the Post says 51 percent. The WP's poll shows that a slight majority oppose a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, while USAT has opposition at 45 percent. It's worth keeping in mind that poll numbers on the issues have tended to bounce around.

Everybodynotes inside that after criticism by Sen. Kerry the White House is no longer saying that President Bush will limit his appearance before the 9/11 commission to an hour. Under intense questioning during a press gaggle, spokesman Scott McClellan said, "Nobody is watching the clock." (Tip for fellow procrastinators: The transcript is priceless.) The Post notes that White House officials declined to make a similar pledge for Cheney. The commission's spokesman also noted that neither Cheney nor Bush has agreed to meet with the full commission as requested. Anyway, McClellan said an hour was still a reasonable timeframe. "Believe me," he said, "you can answer a lot of questions in one hour."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.