The Los Angeles Timesleads with a poll showing the president with a five-point lead and about one-fifth of respondents saying the debates could affect their vote. USA Todayleads with a debate preview, highlighting a deep thought: "Gaffes Could Leave Lasting Impression." The New York Timesleads with IBM settling, for $320 million, part of a class action lawsuit that had charged the company with changing its pension plan in a way that discriminated against older workers. The Washington Post leads—banner-style!—with baseball coming back to D.C. If everything goes as planned, the Expos will be playing in Washington next spring.
The NYT details the much-bemoaned ground rules the candidates have agreed to—for instance, questions from the candidates must be "rhetorical." Meanwhile, the LAT, as is its habit, actually posts the agreement.
The Post's Glenn Kessler and Ceci Connolly have a "primer" on the coming debates, laying out the candidates' standard sound bites and explaining which are misleading or outright lies. The story gets teased on Page One.
The Post fronts word that the White House appears to support a bill that would allow the U.S. to deport foreigners to countries where they could then be tortured, a move that international law prohibits. The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, states that those shipped off need only be suspected of connections to terrorism. The bill also puts the burden of proof on the suspect, saying that in order to challenge their deportation, they need to have "clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured."
As the Post briefly mentions, the U.S. has been essentially outsourcing the torture of al-Qaida suspects since the Clinton administration (though the numbers picked up considerably after 9/11). The process is known as extraordinary rendition, and the WP been just about alone among the majors in covering it.
Finally, the torture proposal was flagged by a blogger yesterday—and flew around the Web. Yet so far as TP sees, it doesn't make any of the other papers. (Don't reporters know how to properly procrastinate?)
The NYT and Wall Street Journal go inside with a report by a liberal watchdog-type group concluding that half of the Pentagon's budget goes to contractors. The NYT emphasizes that much of that is via no-bid contracts. The Journal emphasizes the charge that the Pentagon is slack in tracking the spending.
The LAT fronts and others go inside with a federal judge ruling unconstitutional a portion of the Patriot Act. The zapped provision allowed the FBI to require, without a court order, companies to turn over data on individual customers. As the LAT points out, there actually was already a law on the books allowing that; it's just that the Patriot Act loosened it. The judge stayed the decision for 90 days to give the government time to appeal.
The papers say things were relatively quiet in Iraq; four GIs were wounded by a car bomb. And according to early morning reports, there was another airstrike in Fallujah; hospital officials said four people were killed, including two women and one child.
The NYT fronts a court in Yemen convicting six men and sentencing two of them to death for the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. One of the men sentenced to execution was tried in absentia since he's being held incommunicado by the U.S. Two of the others convicted briefly escaped last year from a Yemeni jail.
Slate's Overnight Critic Says Headline "Wrong" ... The NYT announces inside,"KERRY SAYS FLIP-FLOP IMAGE 'DOESN'T REFLECT THE TRUTH.' " The article itself never explains who's right.