The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timeslead with Friday night's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. (The Washington Postleads with a local story about slot machine gambling in Maryland, but fronts the bombing above the fold.) The Tel Aviv attack, outside a crowded beachfront nightclub, killed four; the Post and the LAT peg the number of wounded at 50. None of the papers have a good fix on what the attack will mean for the renewed peace process, mostly because everyone is awaiting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' response. Although the NYT quotes Abbas as vowing to punish those responsible, the situation seems to hinge on his willingness to crack down on Palestinian terrorists, and no definitive claims of responsibility have emerged. An Israeli foreign ministry official told the Post that the only language the terrorists understand is "total war," but the LAT described the official Israeli reaction as "restrained." All the papers note the suicide attack was the first against Israeli citizens since Nov. 1.
The NYT is the only paper to front a report on the recovering pontiff. The story notes that despite his improved condition, questions remain about his ability to lead the church.
A trio of foreign affairs pieces in the NYT, the Post and the LAT tackle stories that lack particularly compelling newspegs (and thus don't land on the evening news) but are nonetheless important and worthwhile. The LAT offers a superb piece about the "metastasizing" militant groups active across Russia's southern border in the Caucasus region. The separatist movement in Chechnya has spilled over into neighboring territories as militants' goals expand. Shamil Basayev, a leader of the Chechen rebels, wants to create an Islamic republic across the northern Caucasus.
The Post fronts a detailed story on China's emergence as a regional and global power. The well-covered topic is given new life by the paper's emphasis on the way China has used economic ties to forge new connections in Asia and around the world. Particularly interesting are China's efforts in Latin America.
Finally, the NYT offers an interesting look at women's power in post-conflict Rwanda, where they hold nearly half the seats in the legislature's lower house. The article bravely tiptoes up to the argument that the women's authority does little to reform a patriarchal society in which women suffered a disproportionate share of the trauma from 1994's brutal violence.
The Post offers a decent examination of the challenges House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist face in working together to push the GOP agenda through Congress. The LAT reports that the campaign for item No. 1 on that agenda, Social Security privatization, is getting a whole lot nastier. Groups left and right are launching the kind of attack ads normally reserved for election campaigns. The conservative group USA Next, which is attacking the AARP for its anti-privatization stance, has retained consultants who helped orchestrate the Swift Boat Vets attack on John Kerry. You can see one of the group's particularly audacious ads, which is described in the article, online here.
For those who can't get enough of the controversy surrounding Harvard President Larry Summers' comments on women in science (see Slate articles here, here, and here), the LAT and the NYT both offer more today. The NYT scored an interview with Summers, which gives its story a bit more authority (although the authors do their best to undermine it with a bizarre reference to the Will Smith movie Hitch). The LAT concludes that Summers likely has succeeded in quelling a faculty revolt.
Rounding out the serious news of the day, the NYT fronts an evergreen about autistic children's difficulty mastering social situations as they reach adolescence, while the Post fronts a local story (with international interest) about a settlement D.C. banking establishment Riggs has reached with victims of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Apparently the bank helped Pinochet hide his money.
On the big news of the weekend—tomorrow night's Oscars—the LAT has a hometown advantage. The paper does not disappoint in its report on the outrageous sums studios spend to actually bring home one of the little gold men. Meanwhile, the NYT writes about one film that (understandably) wasn't nominated this year: The Numa Numa Dance.
Finally, there is some good fluff to fill out your Saturday morning from the Post and the LAT. The Post runs a look at the transformation of hot-rodding culture now that computers have replaced toolboxes. Modern cars are almost entirely reliant on advanced electronic control systems and squeezing the most performance out of them requires software reprogramming rather than under-the-hood tinkering. The LAT explains why Martha Stewart's prison time is making her an even more powerful brand (apparently the one thing she was missing was a little humility).