The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the black smoke emanating from the Vatican; i.e., no pope yet. "It's white! It's white," shouted many overexcited and ill-informed watchers. As NYT notes, the Vatican has promised to ring bells at the same time as it sends up the white puffs.
USA Todayteases the conclave and leads with a North Korean diplomat telling the paper Pyongyang has shut down its nuclear reactor in order to harvest fuel for bombs. As yesterday's NYT flagged, the reactor really does seem to be shut down. But nobody knows why, and the diplomat could be bluffing about the bombs part. "The ball is the U.S. court," he said. The Wall Street Journal says that if North Korea is telling the truth, the U.S., baring a change of policy, is up the creek, particularly since South Korea and China have been expanding links to Pyongyang. "U.S. policy is essentially nowhere," said one analyst. "The U.S. won't negotiate, so there's no chance of a diplomatic settlement. And there's no chance of punishing [North Korea] either because the other countries won't support the U.S."
Everybody's Vatican coverage also flags the fire-breathing sermon given by widely perceived front-runner Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was John Paul II's former right-hand man and is a serious traditionalist. Ratzinger deplored a "a dictatorship of relativism" and railed against "sects," apparently a reference to evangelical movements. At the end of the homily, many in the audience cheered.
But not everyone. According to the NYT, some cardinals sitting in the pews "appeared to doze."
The LAT mentions a German cardinal who gave what seems to have been an anti-Ratzinger sermon. "Let us not search for someone (as pope) who is too scared of doubt and secularism in the modern world," he said.
Citing "sources familiar with the case," the Post's off-leadannounces, "MOUSSAOUI PLANNING TO ADMIT 9/11 ROLE." Admit, eh? One potential problem with that: As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick once mentioned, "there has never been any evidence" presented that Moussaoui was in on the plot. As for his seeming confession now, well, he also decided to plead guilty in 2002 then changed his mind a week later. And he tried to fire his lawyers and has been known to make bizarro comments in court. The judge is going to meet with Moussaoui this week and decide if he's competent; the legal bar for that is very low.
Playing catch-up, the WP says inside that the State Department has decided to publish its annual report on international terrorism sans stats on ... international terrorism. (The other papers don't seem to have it at all.) Last year's report created a stink after it reported that the number of terrorist incidents had gone down when they actually were at record levels. (Question: Is there really much value in adding up all incidents of terrorism in a single report? Isn't that just following the same fuzzy definition, and focus on methods, as the "global war on terror"?)
A vote on the nomination of John Bolton is scheduled for today. The NYT focuses on Democrats asking for a delay, but the Post suggests it's not in the cards. Still, the Times gets a fun quote. "Do I think John Bolton would make a good ambassador to the United Nations? Absolutely not," said Colin Powell's former chief of staff. "He is incapable of listening to people and taking into account their views. He would be an abysmal ambassador."
The NYT notes a top Iraqi adviser to the Defense Ministry was assassinated by gunmen who stormed his home. Meanwhile, still no Shiite hostages have turned up south of Baghdad. The NYT says Sunni groups condemned the whole incident as a government-inspired ruse designed as cover for an offensive in the neighborhood.
The WP goes inside with newly released documents showing that in response to commanders' requests for suggestions on "how to take off the gloves," U.S. interrogators in Iraq sent around "wish lists" listing everything from beatings with a phone book to "low-level electrocution."
A Page One NYT piece points out that, prodded by its Supreme Court, Israel's government has changed the path of the West Bank security barrier so that far less Palestinian land is being de facto annexed. About 8 percent of West Bank land will wind up on the Israeli side of the barrier, half the figure estimated last summer. The peace deal that was on the table at end of the Clinton administration envisioned 5 percent.
Meanwhile, blowing off calls from President Bush, Israel announced it is building 50 new homes in a West Bank settlement.
An LAT editor's note lowers the boom on a (now former) Times reporter who wrote a much-panned and it turns out inaccurate piece about drinking at Cal State Chico.
The obits and appreciations for human-rights activist Marla Ruzicka continue, including, interestingly enough, on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page: "By approaching the world—including those in it with whom she disagreed—so constructively, Marla was able to make a real difference in the lives of many Iraqis and Afghans who became collateral damage in war. America has lost a peerless and unique ambassador." (Read Christopher Hitchens' appreciation in Slate.)