Terror Firma

Terror Firma

Terror Firma

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 25 2004 6:56 AM

Terror Firma

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead with John Kerry's charge that President Bush bungled the war on terror by shifting attention from al-Qaida to Iraq. The New York Times goes above the fold with Kerry's fightin' words and leads with California approving a plan to cut car emissions over the next 11 years. The ground-breaking regulation faces legal opposition from automakers and a possible block by the White House, but if enacted, it could reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to global warming by 30 percent.

"George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority. I would have made Osama Bin Laden the priority," Kerry declared in Philadelphia yesterday, while laying out his own six-part antiterror plan. Touching on everything from North Korean and Iranian nukes to terrorist financing to port security to Muslim hearts and minds, Kerry sought to distinguish his policies from Bush's and portray his opponent as a politico living "in a fantasy world of spin." Kerry's perhaps most winning line—sure to turn up at the first debate next week—appears only in the WP's account: "The Bush administration is spending more in Iraq in four days than they've spent protecting our ports for all of the last three years." The WP also gets points for soliciting outside opinion; a security scholar tells the paper, "I have the impression that somebody assembled all the possibilities that would have a rhetoric impact and crammed them into a speech."

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Everyone has comparable coverage of the security legislation introduced in the House yesterday, but only the NYT fronts it. For the most part, the WP and LAT focus on the fact that the bill would grant stronger law enforcement powers than its Senate proxy; for example, authorities could more easily deport immigrants and monitor suspected "lone wolf" terrorists. The NYT, on the other hand, seizes on the limited authority for a national intelligence director and points out that—contrary to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's assurances of the NID's "full budgetary authority" in gathering intelligence—the post would in reality "facilitate the management" of funds and could transfer money between programs only with OMB approval.

A WP Page One analysis finds that the U.S. military's missteps in training the 6,000 Iraqi soldiers are "the principal challenge facing the United States in Iraq." Because Pentagon civilians opted to put private contractors in charge of Iraqi basic training and then replace them with GIs—despite the protests of military veterans—Iraqi soldiers were put under the command of officers they had never even met, leading to mistrust and ultimately, desertion. Case in point: A 90-man National Guard police outpost tasked with keeping a six-lane highway free of bombs has dwindled to just six unarmed Iraqis. "We simply don't have enough trained Iraqi forces right now to do what we need to do," an anonymous U.S. military official tells the paper.

Contradicting Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's glib suggestion that Iraq might settle for a partial election in January, Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told reporters that polls would open everywhere, without exception.

Between six and 10 Egyptian engineers have been abducted in Iraq in the past several days; the papers don't agree on the exact number. The Iraq catch-alls also mention that insurgents fired a rocket at a U.S. convoy, killing four Iraqis and wounding 14 others. According to late-breaking wire reports, rebel gunmen killed six Iraqi National Guard applicants in the western part of the capital, and U.S. warplanes bombed Fallujah early this morning.

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Under the header "OIL AND GAS HOLD THE REINS IN THE WILD WEST," the WP catalogs the administration's land use decisions, which, predictably, tend to favor the energy industry over Mother Nature. Perhaps most egregiously, the White House banned federal workers in Utah from surveying public lands and identifying possible federal reserve areas, and more than 3 million acres lost their protected status. All in all, more than 60 million acres are more susceptible to development and drilling as a result of lax new policies. Recent pressure to triple the amount of drilling permits granted annually, says the paper, has led to an "unusually high" number of resignations in the Bureau of Land Management. An Interior official offered this unconvincing rebuttal: "Many times it's portrayed as the administration ramming this through and running over people. We're trying to take a thoughtful, measured approach."

With the exception of a perfunctory, Chad-bylined piece stuffed inside the NYT and a similar AP quickie in the LAT, TP doesn't see any real coverage of Sudan—even a month after this searing dispatch—leaving David Brooks to pick up the slack: "The United States said the killing in Darfur was indeed genocide, the Europeans weren't so sure, and the Arab League said definitely not, and hairs were split and legalisms were parsed, and the debate over how many corpses you can fit on the head of a pin proceeded in stentorian tones while the mass extermination of human beings continued at a pace that may or may not rise to the level of genocide. For people are still starving and perishing in Darfur."

The NYT and LAT go high with photos of flood victims in Haiti, who swarmed U.N. aid trucks yesterday by the thousands and had to be dispersed with tear gas after violence broke out. Both photos reefer articles about the wake of Tropical Storm Jeanne. (The LAT alone estimates that 300,000 are now homeless.) "We are having trouble organizing the distribution because there is no authority existing in the town," one aid worker tells the NYT. "The government is absolutely not responding."

CBS admitted yesterday that it has delayed a segment about the administration's use of false documentation to prove Iraq tried to buy yellowcake from Niger. Ironically, the network bumped the report—which features the first on-camera interview with the Italian journalist who obtained the forged yellowcake papers—for that other set of fake documents, and now the Niger piece won't run until after the election. Whether media experts, pundits, and other news organizations think CBS would be justified in running the segment before Nov. 2, the NYT doesn't ask.

Does First Lady Laura Bush have a little too much time on her hands? The WP takes a look at the facelift she's giving the White House's VIP boudoir. Kids, just don't try this at Crawford Ranch:

Laura Bush is about to establish her own White House legacy in a bold transformation of the Lincoln Bedroom. ... But, in the first sweeping rethink of the Lincoln Bedroom in at least three decades, the timid lemon walls, celery-green curtains and pale floral carpet are being banished in favor of a blast of Victorian bliss. Heady hues of emerald green, golden yellow and deep purple will carpet the floor, drape the windows and envelop the massive, six-foot-tall carved headboard. Walls will be papered in a restrained palette of cream tones—a nod to contemporary tastes—but the pattern has been derived from the Victorian Age. Two elaborate cornices such as might have topped windows in Lincoln's day have been carved and sent to the gilders. An opulent white marble mantel was commissioned to better complement a rococo-style mirror installed last summer. The pièce de résistance, both decoratively and symbolically, will be a carved bed canopy in the shape of a crown. It too has been sent for gilding.