Everyone leads with news of the Saturday afternoon death of Ronald Reagan at his California home. America's 40th president had been fighting Alzheimer 's disease since 1994 and was 93 years old.
The New York Times reports (and the Washington Post doesn't even mention) that Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr has agreed to withdraw his militia from the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Kufa. Sadr, who brokered a cease-fire with U.S. troops last week but let fighting continue in both cities throughout the week, afterward met with rival and Iraq's most influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The NYT plays up the meeting as an attempt by Shiite clerics to blunt Sadr's political impact (by portraying him as collaborating, not fighting, with Sistani) and simultaneously save his reputation so he's not still bitter and angry when sovereignty comes around.
The WP has a front-page article on the negative effects of the Iraq war on the National Guard's deployment abilities: While the guards of big states like Texas and Florida are still in good shape, smaller states will reach their breaking point (they're already bereft of more specialized units) in a few months and are considering more interstate coordination to offset possible staff shortages in the case of natural disaster.
The New York Times fronts a catch-all on bipartisan concerns that the Pentagon's investigations of Abu Ghraib and similar soldier misconduct are missing the big picture. Although the military has authorized six relatively expansive investigations into prisoner abuse since January, none of them addressed either the role of military lawyers in drafting interrogation policy or the role of civilian contractors in the abuse. Additionally, even though there is "no groundswell in Congress or elsewhere" to create an independent commission, there is worry that the Pentagon may not be effective at fully vetting itself and is narrowly constricting its inquiries to the point where structural problems or issues regarding people higher in the chain of command will be ignored. A recent Rumsfeld-appointed bipartisan panel that was ordered to look at how deep the Army's investigations should dig has come under fire because one of its members has already said that the "[t]he secretary is an honest, decent, honorable man, who'd never condone this type of activity," even though their investigation doesn't start until June 14.
In other Iraq investigation news, the NYT fronts the story of how $650 million worth of American greenbacks found their way from the New York Federal Reserve Bank to Saddam Hussein's central bank. The story involves—surprise, surprise—a secretive and misbehaving Swiss bank. The bank, UBS, which has been fined $100 million (the second-largest fine in U.S. history) for illicitly dealing with countries like Libya and Hussein's Iraq, has not been implicated for more nefarious crimes, such as money-laundering.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who fired two of his ministers on Friday so he could obtain the Cabinet majority necessary for approval of his Gaza Strip withdrawal plan, was notified that the right-wing party of the deposed ministers, the National Union Party, was leaving his government. One of the ousted ministers, Benjamin Elon, was avoiding official notification of his expulsion from the Cabinet by disappearing into the West Bank. Meanwhile, another right-wing group, the National Religious Party, was also threatening to leave Sharon's coalition. Both right-wing parties disagree with Sharon's Gaza policy, and the prime minister will probably have to cobble together a new government by appealing to the left-wing Labor Party, which supports the Gaza plan. *
Everyone mentions that President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac met in Paris yesterday and were close to a final agreement on a U.N. Security Council resolution establishing a framework for Iraq's new government. When asked about what the French contribution to the Iraq effort would be, the NYT reports that Bush said, "the French are going to provide great advice." No word on whether the U.S. plans to heed that advice.
All three papers complement the news of Reagan's death—the plans for his funeral in D.C. have not been finalized—with prewritten, reverential, 10,000-word obits. Despite the near-hagiographic tone, all of the articles deal with Iran-contra, Reagan's tumultuous personal life, and other smudges on his record. The papers' coverage of his death, ranging from the NYT's lone lead story to the Washington Post's four Page One articles (plus more inside), manage to reach the same conclusions: He reshaped American politics, left behind a tangled foreign policy legacy and more easily disputed economic legacy, lifted America's morale from the depths of Watergate, and was really, really good at doing television. (See Sunday's Chatterbox for a different kind of Reagan hagiography.)
The previously undefeated Smarty Jones failed in his bid (which every paper fronted) to capture horse racing's Triple Crown, losing the Belmont stakes by a length to 36-1 longshot Birdstone. It seems that everyone—sans those who cashed in on Birdstone's $74 payout—was dismayed by the result: Birdstone's owner apologized, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I wanted Smarty Jones to win" while the winning jockey lamented his victory, "I was looking forward to a Triple Crown. This sport needs heroes."
Correction, June 7, 2004:This article originally and incorrectly stated that one of the ministers fired by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon belonged to the National Religious Party. In fact, both ministers were members of the National Union Party. (Return to corrected paragraph.)