The New York Times leads with a conventional wisdom dispatch from the campaign trail. The takeaway: Sen. John Kerry still appears to be flailing, his campaign conflicted on how or even whether to go on the attack. The Washington Post leads with Hurricane Ivan's assault on Jamaica last night, as its rains caused widespread flooding and its 155 mph winds tore through trees and homes. Given the print deadline, the Post focuses mostly on the preparations, including the decision to shut off the entire island's electrical grid and the recommendation that a half-million people evacuate coastal areas. Some Jamaicans, however, were staying put. "We can't stop it come," said a coal seller in the capital, Kingston. "We can't do nothing about it. It just have to flourish." The Los Angeles Times leads yesterday's Wall Street Journal scoop that Disney CEO Michael Eisner will leave his position in 2006, when his contract expires. The paper suggests that Eisner made his announcement to avoid being forced out by the board, which a blind source said was not planning to renew his contract.
The LAT probably should have led with its sobering must-read on the official dissolution of the Fallujah Brigade—to which Marines had handed control of the city in the spring. "The Fallujah Brigade is done, over," said a Marine colonel, as U.S. forces continued their assault on insurgents there yesterday. "The whole Fallujah Brigade thing was a fiasco. Initially it worked out O.K., but it wasn't a good idea for very long." The net result is that many of its soldiers will rejoin their compatriots, decked with U.S.-provided weapons and vehicles. "They leave us no other option but to join the resistance," said one Iraqi officer. Meanwhile, the WP reports that tens of thousands rallied for Moqtada Sadr in Baghdad during celebrations for a Shiite holiday. And, in Najaf, gunmen kidnapped four Iraqi policemen, threatening to kill them unless the interim government stops pursuing Sadr and his followers.
Despite the NYT's lead about the Kerry campaign's struggle over going negative, there's one instance in which the WP and LAT say the candidate is already taking a very strident tone: Citing the "al-Qaida manual on terror," Kerry says President Bush is helping terrorists by letting the assault weapons ban lapse, as it is scheduled to do on Monday. Bush, for his part, campaigned with Sen. Zell Miller yesterday, attacking Kerry more forcefully than before for what Bush says is inconsistency in the Democratic challenger's position on the Iraq war, according to a front-page story in the WP. At the same time as Bush sharpened his words, however, the Post notes that Dick Cheney sought to "clean up" his assertion earlier this week that "[I]f we make the wrong choice [on Nov. 2], then the danger is that we'll get hit again." In an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cheney said, "I did not say if Kerry is elected we will be hit by a terrorist attack. ... Whoever is elected president has to anticipate more attacks."
According to the NYT, the traditional fight over the number and format of presidential debates has become a kind of arms race, with ever-higher-yield consultants being named to their candidate's negotiating team. "If they want to get in each other's faces and do the little playground routine, O.K.," said one person involved with the Debate Commission, "But there's an event waiting to happen."
The papers stuff SecDef Donald Rumsfeld's speech yesterday at the National Press Club (in which he twice mixed up Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden). During the appearance, Rumsfeld turned to the the lowest common abomination in defending the U.S.'s response to systematic abuse of detainees in Iraq and elsewhere. "Does it rank up there with chopping someone's head off on television?" he asked. "It doesn't."
The papers all report that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the independent group that ran misleading ads about Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam war record, disclosed yesterday that it has raised $6.7 million, much of it in response to publicity surrounding its controversial ad campaign. The NYT's story, sadly, waits until the bottom to mention that the group's most widely publicized charges are almost universally thought to be untrue. Much more enlightening is a Knight-Ridder piece, which says that SBVFT didn't turn to the more damaging charges until the arrival of slick GOP-connected consultants during the summer. The article also says that some vets had words put in their mouths during the ad shoot. "I was told to say, 'On the river that day, Kerry fled,' " one vet said, adding, "[b]ut 'fled' connotes fear and I understood why Kerry left, then returned, so I didn't use that word."
Controversy continued to flare yesterday over the authenticity (and proportional typography) of some of the memos 60 Minutes II aired suggesting that President Bush did not fulfill his National Guard service. Even as Dan Rather defended the memos last night, saying they "were and remain authentic," more doubts accumulated. (For a recap of their accumulation since Wednesday, read Slate's highly annotated blow-by-blow.) The WP and LAT provide the more illuminating newspaper coverage, with the Post reporting that the senior officer who'd supposedly pushed to "sugarcoat" Bush's record had already been discharged by the time it was allegedly written. Separately, ABC and the LAT report that the memo-writer's direct supervisor, who had originally confirmed their content, now says he was misled by CBS.
The papers say Russian President Vladimir Putin reversed himself yesterday, authorizing a semi-independent parliamentary investigation into the Beslan school massacre only four days after he'd refused to do so.
And, finally, the papers all run resonant stories to coincide with the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Rather than flooding the zone, however, the papers each lavish greater attention on narrower topics. The LAT fronts a piece on the growing political involvement of 9-11 victims' families. The Post's front offers both a simple, evocative profile of survivors' physical, emotional, and psychic scars and the first in an exhaustive two-day series on the Islamic Brotherhood, an organization that is sprawling enough to include both terrorists and relative moderates. And the NYT anchors A1 with a story on the traumatic bereavement and slow healing of the 3,000-some "9/11 kids"—the children of those who died.