The New York Times leads an exclusive report on new intelligence that might suggest North Korea is preparing to test a nuclear weapon. The intelligence pointed to "a confusing series of actions" which "included the movement of materials around several suspected test sites," but the article is quick to observe that intelligence officials disagree about whether a test is imminent. The Washington Post leads its coverage of the emotional Sept. 11 tributes at Ground Zero, Arlington National Cemetery, Washington National Cathedral and across the nation, while the Los Angeles Times runs a paired lead, one half on President Bush's strategy to recast himself as the candidate of change (an unconventional angle for a four-year incumbent), and the other on Sen. John Kerry's continued problems staying focused and "on-message."
Strangely, just after the NYT went to bed last night, the Associated Press, Reuters and others picked up on a story from the South Korean news agency Yonhap,which reported that "a huge explosion rocked North Korea near the border with China [on Thursday], producing a mushroom cloud that sparked speculation Pyongyang might have tested an atomic weapon." The wires were abuzz for several hours until the U.S. government calmed things down by saying the reports appeared to be "completely unfounded" and that "people are pretty sure it's not a mushroom cloud and not a test of any kind." At any rate, the NYT lead warns that a successful nuclear detonation by North Korea could alter the perceived balance of power in Asia, perhaps triggering an arms race there.
In covering the Sept. 11 anniversary, the papers tend to catalog scenes of grief from across America, and let the details speak for themselves. One piece in the NYT is an exception: in a kind of requiem whose language resonates with the great sadness of the day, this piece focuses on the ceremonies in New York, where victims' families gathered at Ground Zero for a recitation of the 2,749 names, read this year by the parents and grandparents of those who died. Hundreds more families mourned at Arlington National Cemetery, and thousands listened to bells ring in the Pennsylvania field.
Bush's attempt to be the change-man, the LAT lead points out, is reminiscent of Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign, where he promised a bridge to the 21st century, and claimed Bob Dole was selling "a bridge to the past." Bush's proposed changes appear to consist largely in rethinking the tax code, healthcare and social security, systems which he insists were "created for the world of yesterday, not the world of tomorrow"—while he paints Kerry's policies are "backward-looking" because they "rely primarily on strengthening or expanding existing government programs." On the other side of things, Kerry's advisors still appear to be slowing him down with infighting over tone and strategy ("In one compromise, Kerry has taken to using the words 'new direction' rather than 'change.'"). The pundits interviewed agree that despite his tough new rhetoric, he lacks a consistent message—a problem that could be related to unsettled who's-the-boss issues following the arrival of former Clinton aides.
The WP fronts an analysis suggesting that the number of swing states Kerry can compete in has dwindled in recent weeks from 21 to 16 (give or take). With fewer options, the Kerry campaign will almost haveto win either Ohio or Florida—two electoral treasure troves—either that or win every othercontested state but those two. To boost their chances then, they've scaled back operations in less winnable states and reinforced them where it'll count.
Medicare costs are emerging as a crucial campaign issue that both parties are fighting tooth and nail to make their own. Democrats claim that next year's 17.4 percent increase in premiums is a direct result of Bush's refusal to control rising health care costs and allow cheap drugs in from Canada. Republicans counter that Kerry voted for the very legislation that made the price increase possible; a new Bush ad says, "It was Mr. Kerry who voted five times to raise Medicare premiums." But, the NYT notes, "the votes, from 1985 to 1997, were not on premiums alone, but on comprehensive budget bills that included hundreds of provisions affecting Medicare and scores of other federal programs."
In the day's only front page story on Iraq, the LAT reports on the sad state of the U.S.-stewarded power infrastructure there. Because of mismanagement, bureaucratic inefficiency, preventable looting and danger to engineers, the sprawling power plant in Baiji is producing less than half of what it did two decades ago, a quantity which is more than 25 percent short of meeting the national demand.
Another NYT front reports on the ties between the Chechen separatist movement and foreign Islamist militants, a matter receiving more scrutiny in the wake of the Beslan school massacre. The article observes that even though the groups have long shared funds, personnel, and tactics, the Chechens remain chiefly devoted to the cause of independence: "Al Qaeda was much more interested in Chechnya," those interviewed claimed, "than Chechen separatists were interested in a global religious war."