The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with U.S. forces' assault on Samarra yesterday, in which some 5,000 troops, led by 3,000 Americans, combed through the insurgent-ridden "outlaw" city, claiming to have killed 100, captured 37, and seized as much as three-quarters of its territory. The Washington Post tops its front page with Samarra but leads instead with local news of national resonance: A Virginia judge dismissed a capital case against D.C.-area sniper John Allen Muhammad in Fairfax County yesterday, citing a state law that a defendant has the right to a trial within five months of arrest. The ruling has no effect on his previous death sentence, and he still faces trial elsewhere in Virginia and in four other jurisdictions.
The NYT is the only paper whose Samarra story is actually datelined there, and its piece is much more richly detailed because of it, describing how troops sealed the city, cut phone lines, and assaulted from three sides. Iraqi forces seized the Golden Mosque, a Shiite shrine in the city, before insurgents could retreat into it. And at one point troops discovered, and freed, a Turkish hostage. "Chalk one up for the good guys," an Army specialist said at the scene. (Morning dispatches report that while most insurgents "melted away" during the assault, some fighting is continuing in the center of the city.)
The papers all do more follow-ups on Thursday's debate, which an LAT story notes was much more widely watched than those in 2000. The NYT off-leads a milquetoast piece on the candidates' pugnacious return to the campaign trail—and plays catch-up with a debate fact-check. The WP and the LAT are far less timid, using their front pages to call the first debate a win for Kerry. The LAT bases its conclusion on analysts and snap polls, while the WP relies on its own focus group. "The president appears to me to have a pretty big ego, and he's letting it get in the way of what's best for the American people," one Pennsylvania Republican told the WP. He may now vote for Kerry.
Inside, the Post's Dana Milbank makes the case that Bush's split-screen grimaces are crystallizing as the 2004 version of the Gore sigh and the Bush I wristwatch-check.
The WP and LAT both catch a story that got drowned out in yesterday's post-debate-o-rama: The top U.S. cyber security official quit on Thursday, the third cyber czar to resign in two years. The first was Richard Clarke.
The WP and LAT front, and the NYT reefers, the jail sentence for a former Pentagon official who admitted in April to awarding contracts to Boeing unfairly before taking a job with the aerospace giant. During her sentencing yesterday, a more full accounting of her crimes came out, including an admission that she misled investigators after her initial plea and that she also explicitly sought jobs for her daughter and son-in-law in exchange for awarding Boeing inflated contracts worth more than $20 billion. For all this her term was increased to ... 9 months.
The LAT notes inside that Fox News' chief political correspondent wrote a fictitious article Friday quoting John Kerry calling himself a "metrosexual" who enjoys manicures. The article appeared briefly on Fox's Web site Friday but has since been replaced with an editor's note saying that the piece was written in jest and should never have been posted. "We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice," it read.