They've Got Some S-plainin' To Do

They've Got Some S-plainin' To Do

They've Got Some S-plainin' To Do

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 21 2005 7:32 AM

They've Got Some S-plainin' To Do

The New York Timesgets a peek at a Pentagon assessment concluding that virtually no Iraqi security forces are capable of independent counterinsurgency operations. About half were labeled trainees capable of doing not anything much at all. About a third of military units were considered useful so long as they operate with U.S. help. The Washington Postleads with a State Department memo central to the investigation of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The 2003 memo, which may have been how White House officials found out about Plame, marked the paragraph referring to her and her employer "S," for secret. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the arrest in Pakistan of an al-Qaida suspect who reportedly phoned all four of the London bombers shortly before the attacks. Haroon Rashid Aswat is a British citizen of Indian descent and is wanted by the U.S. in connection with a late 1990s plot to create a jihadist training camp in Oregon. The NYT fronts the searchfor Aswat. The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and USA Todaylead with and others front follow-up to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John Roberts. Democrats have held their fire, playing nice in the face of Roberts' résumé. Of course, some opposition is to be expected. "It's a little bit like biblical Pharisees, you know, who basically are always trying to undermine Jesus Christ," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, in a TV interview the Post flags.

Tuesday's Journal first reported that the State Department memo warned that Plame's info was classified. But the Post has a few more details. The memo didn't say Plame was a covert agent, but, as the Post says, anybody reading the Plame paragraph "should have been aware that it contained secret information." One other thing the WP notes: The memo made only glancing reference to Plame. Instead, of most of it was taken up with supporting claims by Plame's husband, (and White House critic) Joseph Wilson, that Saddam didn't really seem to be going after yellowcake in Niger.

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The NYT didn't get a copy of the Pentagon's assessment of Iraqi forces. Rather, it got a seven-sentence summary of the assessment written by the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Times spends a whole article summarizing those seven sentences; why not post them as well?

The LAT notices that while Roberts' stance on abortion is murky, his wife's isn't. She's a longtime anti-abortion advocate.

The WSJ wonders whether Roberts is a supporter of "originalism," the notion—promoted by Justices Scalia and Thomas—that rather than consider society's current standards, justices should stick to the narrow confines of what they deem were the intents of the Constitution's framers. A particularly thoughtful NYT op-ed suggests that Roberts isn't really onboard with Scalia and Thomas. The piece, by law prof Jeffrey Rosen, makes a number of other points and is today's extra-credit reading.

The NYT and WP front Sunnis on the constitution-writing committee suspending their involvement in the process ostensibly over a demand that they get better security. Yesterday's USAT flagged the possibility of a walkout. The LAT suggests that the Sunnis on the committee are also frustrated that their ideas are not being taken into account. The Post notices that Kurdish members of the committee are causing their own problems: They've made a bid for a big-time expansion of the semiautonomous Kurdish zone, putting its border just 75 miles from Baghdad.

Ten people were killed by a suicide bombing outside a security-forces recruiting center in Baghdad. A bomber killed 25 people at the same location about two weeks ago.

The NYT fronts an international observer group concluding that heads of the militia terrorizing Darfur are still on the Sudanese government's payroll. The number of attacks in Darfur has actually gone down recently. But the Times says that's because "almost everyone who might have been a target is either dead or living in a refugee camp." A piece inside the Post suggests that the U.S. has lately been playing down the killing in Darfur.

Everybody mentions the previously unannounced "retirement" of LAT editor John Carroll, who had bridled at his bosses' pushes for big budget cuts. Replacing him will be Dean Baquet, a former NYT man who is, among other things, quite skilled at skimming talent from his old paper. Or, as NYT top editor Bill Keller said, "He has this habit of telling recruits there's something in the New York water that makes your penis fall off."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.