USA Today leads with the pope, who suffered heart failure last night; Vatican officials now say his condition is "very grave." Though the Vatican denied it, three Italian wire agencies reported this morning that the pope is in a coma. His condition first plummeted yesterday when he got a high temperature brought on by a urinary-tract infection. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox lead with the death of Terri Schiavo. Millions of Americans are "saddened" by Schiavo's death, President Bush said. "The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak." House Majority Leader Tom DeLay added, "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."
The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times(with a near-banner headline)lead with a presidential commission's spicily worded indictment of intel agencies. The commission declared that myopia and sclerotic management fueled the "dead wrong" assessments of Iraq. It added that the problems are "still all too common" and said agencies know "disturbingly little" about North Korea and Iran's weapons efforts. The commission made 74 recommendations to shape things up, including creating a sort of devil's advocate team. (Slate's Fred Kaplan reviews the suggestions and isn't impressed.)
Though the language was saucy, the commission's findings mostly echo previous reports. Still, the report does have a few new tidbits. As the WP notes on Page One, some CIA officials tried to warn CIA Chief George Tenet that the mobile-labs claims were based on a single source who was off his rocker. One official recalled Tenet responding, "Yeah, yeah," and then saying he was "exhausted." The report says Tenet insisted he never heard the warnings. The LAT has good background on the nutty source, code-named Curveball, whose existence was first reported by the paper last year.
What the commission skipped and said it was "not authorized" to do was look at how the White House used the intel assessments. As a rare sharp sentence in a NYT "news analysis" puts it, "So the latest and presumably the last official review of such questions leaves unresolved what may be the biggest question of all: Who was accountable?"
The Post's Dana Milbank, writing something akin to a reporting-heavy op-ed, excoriates the commission: "The report is plenty tough, but it directs its fire at the intelligence professionals and gives the political figures a pass." Milbank's piece is worth reading just for his description of the press conference, where Bush "ignored a question as he left the room," but thankfully the commissioners "proved able surrogates."
A suicide car bomber blew himself up near a Shiite shrine in Baghdad, killing five Iraqis. U.S. military officials said they're holding a top lieutenant to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Three U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks. As USAT emphasizes, that brings the number of KIAs to 35 in March, the lowest number in a year. The paper doesn't mention stats on civilians killed one way or the other.
Everybody goes inside with Palestinian gunmen wildin' through Ramallah after they shot at the presidential compound (nobody was wounded). The gunmen have long been wanted by Israel and had been given refuge at the compound by Yasser Arafat. They launched their temper tantrum after Palestinian officials kicked them out. The NYT speaks to several restaurant owners whose places were smashed up. And the Journal says Abbas backed down after initially suggesting he'd go after the gunmen.
The Post fronts former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger agreeing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to his absconding with classified documents from the National Archive. Berger will also acknowledge that he, well, lied to archive workers.
The NYT fronts Ted Koppel announcing that he'll leave Nightline—and ABC News—when his contract expires in December. Koppel had been offered by ABC to do a five-night-per-week live version. Asked if the network made that suggestion knowing he would reject it, Koppel to the Post, "I can't entirely disagree with that interpretation."