The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with the feisty VP debate where Vice President Cheney defended the invasion of Iraq, while Sen. Edwards called it a distraction and the administration dishonest. Edwards also repeatedly harped on Halliburton. The papers mostly give the same impression TP got: Neither side scored a knockout. USA Today fronts the debate but leads with word that the U.S.'s flu-vaccine stockpile is going to be short by half. One of the two companies making the vaccine said it had to toss out much of its production because of potential contamination. In response, officials urged healthy adults to skip the vaccine so that those really at risk can get it. The Washington Post leads with another questionable second-hand preview of the weapons inspectors' report on Iraq due out today. It comes to the same conclusions as yesterday NYT piece: Inspectors think Saddam wanted weapons, was trying to undermine sanctions, but really had nothing going on. But the two pieces, both relying on anono-sources, have slightly different take-aways. The NYT: "INSPECTOR'S REPORT TO DETAIL IRAQI PLANS TO UNDERMINE SANCTIONS AND PRODUCE ILLICIT ARMS." The Post: "REPORT DISCOUNTS IRAQI ARMS THREAT."
With the exception of the Wall Street Journal, everybody has a debate fact-check check-in. A few highlights: Edwards was really reaching when he implied that Halliburton was getting juicy deals because of Cheney's connections. USAT calls the Iraq-Cheney-Halliburton charges "overblown," noting that the GAO concluded that the no-bid contracts were justified. (Meanwhile, nobody notes it but Edwards was on solid ground when he charged that Cheney-era Halliburton got cozy with Iran, Libya and other fine allies.) Meanwhile, the LAT and WP highlight how Cheney was off in his own world when he insisted, "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11." Slate's Fred Kaplan does a meta-fact-check, saying Edwards should have flagged more of Cheney's foreign policy fibs.
The Journal goes high with U.S. and some Iraqi forces launching a second offensive, this time with about 3,000 troops in a rural area just south of Baghdad. The military told the NYT it overran a training camp, detaining 30 suspects. Also, there were three car bombings, two in Ramadi and one in Mosul; seven Iraqis were killed and four GIs wounded. And airstrikes continued in Baghdad's Sadr City. No word on casualties.
The Post mentions that Iraq's interim president says his government is negotiating with Fallujah's leaders on a deal. The talks aren't new; this TPer flagged them two weeks ago.
The Post goes inside with State Dept. officials acknowledging that only about a quarter of every dollar spent on the reconstruction effort is actually used for reconstruction itself (rather than oversight, profit, security, or graft). The officials said they're now shifting to smaller scale projects and hope to employ more Iraqis.
The NYT goes inside with a CIA report's conclusions that, despite White House claims, it's at most unclear whether Saddam harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The story was broken yesterday by Knight Ridder, a fact the Times notes in the eighth paragraph.
The Post goes inside with two respected French journalists reporting that at the end of 2002 France was actually planning to send troops to invade Iraq, but balked when it decided Bush wasn't giving inspections a chance.
The Journal fronts an Iraqi government investigation's conclusion that Saddam promised the former head of the U.N. oil-for-food program about $1 million in oil bribes.
The NYT mentions inside that a court in Baghdad indicted an Iraqi politician for having met with Israeli officials. (A felony under Saddam-era laws.) The U.S. responded forcefully. "We are looking into this through our embassy," said a State Dept. spokesman.
The Post says on A25 that the administration has just relaxed Reagan-era rules meant to protect wildlife in national forests.
The Post's follow-up on former Iraq chief Paul Bremer's comments about the dearth of troops says everybody not at 1600 Pennsylvania backs him: "Senior former military officials in Iraq, experts on Iraq and Republican foreign policy analysts strongly endorsed Bremer's comments." Playing catch-up, the NYT emphasizes that the administration initially insisted Bremer was lying when he said he repeatedly asked for more troops. And then yesterday, the administration, um, "clarified" its stance: "The reality is that Paul kept pressing the issue," said one official.
Somebody might want to phone the folks at the WSJ's editorial page: "We haven't found a single other senior official involved in the war or its aftermath—in or out of uniform—who attests to Mr. Bremer's version of events."