The Washington Post leads with the lack of any hard evidence that, as previously feared, terrorists are plotting an attack around Election Day. The New York Times leads with Ohio GOP officials dispatching 3,600 recruits to polling places—many in "heavily Democratic urban neighborhoods"—to challenge voters they suspect to be ineligible. The only non-local story above the fold in the Los Angeles Times is about the Mongolia government's initiative to give surnames to its citizens, who have long used only their first names. *
While U.S. intelligence officials continue to field reports of a Nov. 2-related attack, á la Madrid, the WP's lead says that a CIA source who claimed knowledge of potential plans has been discredited. Ominously, however, the FBI is "keenly worried" about Adnan G. el Shukrijumah, a Saudi-born radical and trained pilot who went AWOL after Sept. 11 and has yet to resurface—probably due to his $5 million U.S. bounty. Terror detainees have all been asked who'd be sent to the U.S. for an attack, and they consistently finger Shukrijumah. As one government terror analyst summed it up, "He's a real threat. He speaks Spanish, English and Arabic; he's totally bought into the plan, and nobody—but nobody—knows where he is."
In its off-lead, the NYT sniffs the dirty laundry of Custer Battles, a private security firm in Iraq charged with defrauding the government of tens of millions of dollars, and finds internal memos written from managers to their bosses in February warning of shady billing practices. In one of several similar instances, Custer Battles charged the Coalition Provisional Authority $157,000 for a helicopter pad * that cost $95,000.
The WP's off-lead says that in the 30 states that allow early voting, tens of thousands of people are casting their ballots, and as of yesterday, 1.3 million had already voted in eight of the swing states. In Iowa, a critical battleground where pre-voting tends to favor the Dems, at least 200,000 votes have already been cast. (A pertinent fact that's left out of the article is that Al Gore beat George W. Bush by just 4,000 votes there in 2000.)
While the president impugned John Kerry on national security in Pennsylvania and Ohio yesterday, the Bush campaign released an ad starring a pack of wolves. Of everyone, the NYT seems the most spooked, describing it as "one of the hardest-hitting advertisements of the hard-hitting campaign" and describing the wolves as "moving menacingly." To its credit, the WP isn't nearly as wobbly-kneed. Apparently the Bushies first tested the ad with voters five months ago, and decided to save it for the final sprint after test audiences gave it positive reactions. Color TNR campaign guru Ryan Lizza unimpressed. Read Slate's Fred Kaplan's reaction to the ad here.
Kidnapped British-Iraqi aid worker Margaret Hassan pleaded for her life and urged Tony Blair to pull British troops out of Iraq on a videotape aired by Al Jazeera. It is unclear who is holding Hassan hostage.
The LAT buries the now-near-official news that Bush will be the first president since the Depression to end his term with a net loss in payroll employment.
The WP reefers the much-ballyhooed intelligence bill, which is languishing in a House-Senate conference until after the election, and possibly longer, given that chief negotiator Rep. Jane Harman told reporters she was "pessimistic that after the election we will have the momentum we have now." A major sticking point is the budgetary control the new national intelligence director will have over Pentagon intel agencies. The Senate version, which is supported by House Dems and the bipartisan 9/11 panel—and parts of which are supported by the White House—would give the NID godlike discretionary power, and the NYT's piece, stuffed inside, focuses on chairman of the Joint Chiefs' displeasure with it. Notes the paper, "it is highly unusual for a disagreement between the White House and the nation's most senior military officer to become public."
Playing catch up with the zeitgeist, the WP goes Page One with the old news that comedian Jon Stewart "seems to be having some undefined, irony-drenched influence on how the campaign is perceived." Disappointingly, Howard Kurtz seems content to recycle CW about Stewart (i.e., "The secret of Stewart's appeal is that he mocks the conventions of journalism") and doesn't solicit much opinion outside of the rarefied, self-referential media bubble. Maybe it's because Howie is overworked: By TP's count, the media maven has no less than four bylines in today's Post.
Don't call it a comeback… The WP's Sean Daly reports:
The five original members of Duran Duran—the definitive '80s band, the too-cool dandies of the MTV revolution—are back together for the first time in two decades, and that, apparently, is something to shout about. … In fabulous Duran Duran style, they headed to St. Tropez in southern France to write, jam and find out if they could still create the "brand," as [bassist] John Taylor calls the band's style. Accommodations weren't a problem: There was a friend with a yacht, another friend with a mansion. "I had a golden blow dryer in my room," says John Taylor. "We could have done the album in a hut in Siberia. But we didn't want to suffer for our art," says [lead singer Simon] LeBon. "I mean, we are Duran Duran."
Correction, Oct. 25, 2004:This piece originally stated that the Los Angeles Times led with a story about Mongolia. In fact, the lead item was a local story. (Return to corrected sentence.) Also, this article incorrectly stated that a security firm defrauded the Coalition Provisional Authority by charging too much for a helicopter. In fact, the alleged overcharge was for a helicopter pad.(Return to corrected sentence.)