The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and Los Angeles Timeslead with the release of eight hostages in Iraq, including, most famously and focused on, two Italian women. Two Iraqi colleagues of the Italians were also released, as were three Egyptian telecom workers. "The two girls are well and will be able to embrace their loved ones tonight," said Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. A Kuwaiti paper reported that the Italian government paid $1 million ransom. Asked about that, Berlusconi avoided the question. The New York Timesleads with"several setbacks or missteps" that the paper warns might keep thousands of expats from being able to vote. The Times focuses on the fact that eight of 15 swing states didn't send out ballots by Sept. 19, the federally recommended cut-off for ensuring that the votes get back in time. Most of states sent them out a week or less late; here's the list. The Washington Postleads with word that Major League Baseball is "close" to a deal to move the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. USA Todaysays it's a done deal, but leaves that nugget on the sports page and instead leads with oil briefly hitting $50 per barrel, an all-time high—at least when inflation isn't taken into account. When it is, explains USAT in a lead-defeating caveat, oil is "about $30 a barrel cheaper than at its peak in 1981, despite soaring 75 percent over the past year."
Two British soldiers and five Iraqi intel officers were killed by gunmen in separate attacks in the southern city of Basra. As far as TP can see, none of the papers headline the deaths on the Page One or anywhere else. U.S. planes also struck Fallujah again and fought with guerrillas in Baghdad's Sadr City. Meanwhile, Iraq's interim president contradicted Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and said it would be better to delay elections than to have partial ones.
The NYT fronts a security contractor report showing that, despite administration assertions, guerrilla attacks are happening everywhere but in the Kurdish north. There were 2,368 attacks recorded over the last 30 days, with about 1,000 of them in Baghdad. (Though the story doesn't mention it, the accompanying graphic suggests that the south is relatively peaceful.) The WP had a similar piece a few days ago.
The Post goes below-the-fold with current CIA officials and active-duty military officers saying the situation in Iraq is far worse than the White House is portraying and approaching FUBAR."There are things going on that are unbelievable to me," said one Army officer. "They have infiltrators conducting attacks in the Green Zone. That was not the case a year ago."Another officer said, "There's a feeling that Iraqi security forces are in cahoots with the insurgents and the general public to get the occupiers out." One outside intel put the reality check in context: "There's a real war going on here that's not just" the CIA against the administration on Iraq "but the State Department and the military" as well.
The Post off-leads a detailed piece on doubts about the missile-defense system that the administration has decided to deploy before the election despite a lack of tests or confidence that it will work. "A system is being deployed that doesn't have any credible capability," said one recent head of the U.S.'s nuke force. "I cannot recall any military system being deployed in such a manner." The Post has a done a good job of covering the lack of tests and other foul-ups, though most of the stories have landed inside. That's better than NYT which, with one or two exceptions, has simply skipped it.
The Post's Jim VandeHei and Howard Kurtz tag Kerry on Page One for joining Bush in "playing on the public's security fears and sometimes using incendiary charges to stoke them." The article bemoans, "Virtually every day, Kerry has warned that if Bush is reelected, the situation in Iraq will worsen and continue to divert attention from nuclear threats and terrorism." Perhaps Messrs. VandeHei and Kurtz should turn to their paper's editorial page this morning: "Mr. Kerry is arguing that the nation is less safe because Mr. Bush waged war in Iraq and paid too little attention to al-Qaida; that's a legitimate case to present to voters."
In a NYT op-ed, Al Gore has one big debate tip for Kerry: Go after Bush's record. Then he gets all nostalgic:
I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: 'The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined.'
Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.