The Los Angeles Timesand the Washington Post lead with an Iraqi militant group's claims that it beheaded an American Marine who has been missing since late June. The group claims that video of the beheading will be available shortly, but the Army did not confirm the group's statements. The New York Timesmissed the late news of the beheading and leads with details of a secret U.S. prisoner swap with Saudi Arabia. Apparently the NYT scooped the others on the story, which American officials deny.
The LAT and the Post both note that the claim of the Marine's death could not be verified, although the LAT reports that the Web site carrying the news was the first to post details of an American contractor's beheading on June 18. The missing Marine, Wassef Ali Hassoun, disappeared from his unit on June 19 and was last seen a week ago in a video aired by the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera. The Ansar al Sunna Army, the group claiming to have killed Hassoun, may have captured him by luring him into a relationship with a local woman. The LAT reports that the group's statement claimed, "Your soldier had romantic relations with an Arab girl." Both the LAT and the Post seemed to find it significant that Hassoun was Lebanese American. The LAT led with the detail and the Post put in the fifth graf.
The NYT prisoner swap story outlines some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering necessary to keep allies on board for the war on terror. In a move initially opposed by the CIA as well as Justice and Defense Department officials, five Saudi terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay were sent home last July in exchange for the release of five Britons (as well as a Canadian and Belgian) imprisoned in the kingdom. The deal was first proposed 11 months earlier by U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan, who is President Bush's former lawyer. The releases were major PR boosts for the Saudi and British governments at a time when both were facing criticism for their role in the Iraq war.
Everyone fronts a different report on the big picture in Iraq. The LAT piece examines new Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's first week on the job. The article reads like the horse-race coverage of domestic politics, with a heavy emphasis on how Allawi is managing his public image and how Iraqis perceive him. The story does have a few good details on Allawi's efforts to increase security. The NYT story, although light on details, seems to capture the mood in the country as ordinary Iraqis get accustomed to the idea of their own government. The Post's piece is the best-reported of the three. The paper investigated postwar spending in Iraq and discovered that the U.S. has spent only 2 percent of the funds in the aid package Congress approved. Occupation authorities spent nearly all of the Iraqi money earmarked for reconstruction, however.
The NYT fronts the intensifying presidential campaign with an above-the-fold story on Ohio. The somewhat predictable piece notes that Ohio is a pivotal battleground state. No Republican has captured the presidency without Ohio, and the state has voted for the winner in every election since 1960. In what seems to be the pattern across swing states, Ohio voters support the president on cultural issues but are increasingly dissatisfied with the economy.
The LAT and the Post also front stories on the campaign. The Post reports on the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in Newark last month and notes that "campaign strategists" believe young people could decide the election (if they vote). According to the article, more groups are working to register youth voters "than ever," although like most trend pieces, it offers little evidence of the claim. The LAT details MoveOn's effort to engage the entertainment world in its anti-Bush campaign. The liberal Internet group is recruiting directors such as Errol Morris and Rob Reiner to produce political advertisements and used its organizing power to pack theaters showing Fahrenheit 9/11.
The Post has an excellent investigative piece on the Bush administration's efforts to undermine the Endangered Species Act. Under Bush's watch, federal officials have added an average of fewer than 10 species a year to the endangered list. The Clinton administration added 65 species each year, and the first President Bush's White House added 59 per year.
The LAT reports on the increasingly impressive tunnels Mexican drug traffickers are digging under the U.S. border. Although the paper slugs the story "U.S. Authorities fear the routes could be used to move guns—or terrorists," the article offers no evidence the tunnels are being used for anything other than drug transport.
The NYT finally has a non- blitz review of the Clinton memoir My Life, although Frank Rich provides a welcome escape from the Man From Hope with a rant on Clinton, Reagan, Cheney, and "innocent escapism post-9/11."
The Post's Sunday "Outlook" section has a note from ombudsman Michael Getler about the paper's decision to spell out the obscenity Vice President Cheney used on the Senate floor last week. Getler supported the paper's decision to publish the word but chastised the editors for not removing a "smart-aleck" reference to Cheney as "the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency."