Everyone leads with a sigh of relief as Hurricane Rita hits land with much less force than expected while state and federal preparations for the storm have gone smoothly, resulting in no reported loss of life so far.
The Los Angeles Times has the straightest coverage of the storm, mostly focusing on the damage Rita's actually caused and not dwelling on comparisons to either early predictions for Rita or Hurricane Katrina. The LAT does the best job of recognizing that while power outages might not be as compelling as utter devastation, they're still a serious problem for people living in the storm's path. The New York Times points out that while Rita has been downgraded to a tropical depression, the Louisiana-Texas corridor still faces the threat of massive flooding as the system hovers over the region. The Washington Post comes off sounding the most relieved of the three, spending more time commenting on the lessons learned by state and federal agencies after Katrina sucker-punched New Orleans.
The biggest story to come out of Rita may be the historic traffic jam that arose from everyone trying to get out of Houston at once. The NYT takes a look at similar flaws in the untried (and in some cases, non-existent) evacuation plans of several major U.S. cities. While some cities (like Los Angeles) are worse off than others (like Boston), the upshot is that in the event of an emergency, no one is really ready to handle a mass evacuation. In that vein, the WP fronts a feature on the small Texas town that became an unplanned refugee center after Houston evacuees began to run out of fuel well short of their intended destinations. The town, which had its electricity and sewage knocked out by the storm, is having difficulty handling the extra people and little success getting government aid. The LAT off-leads with a report on the burden that those who stayed put placed on rescue workers.
The WP off-leads with (while the LAT and the NYT stuff) anti-war protests occurring in Washington and other cities around the globe. The Post writes that not only was the Washington protest the largest peace rally since the war in Iraq began, clocking in at somewhere between 150-300,000 protesters, but it was also the most focused. Where previous marches on Washington had mixed anti-war sentiment with a variety of lefty causes that divided protesters, the message on the Mall Saturday was primarily one of peace, only mildly tinged with disgust over the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. All the papers mention the catalyzing effect of Cindy Sheehan's presence at the rally, and everyone but the NYT sees fit to mention the comparatively anemic counter-protests by war supporters. But only the WP points out that the Laura Bush-hosted National Book Festival was literally next-door to the protests, and confusion inevitably ensued.
Predictably enough, the only thing spinning faster than Hurricane Rita this week was the Bush administration, as it prepared to show America that could indeed handle a natural disaster, if it felt like it. The WP hands out its report card on the Rita response, calling the difference between this week's efforts and those following Hurricane Katrina, "like night and day." Officials attribute the difference to better planning, more thorough evacuations, and the fact that the storm was less severe than Katrina and made landfall in a less densely developed area. Inside, however, the paper notes that while Texas may have avoided the worst case scenarios, Rita has significantly hampered the clean up effort in New Orleans, which saw renewed flooding in its Ninth Ward.
It's not surprising that so much damage control and spin have gone into characterizing the federal response to Katrina in one light or another. As the LAT points out, everyone's got a dog in this fight.
The NYT predicts that the next Supreme Court nominee with be much more hotly contested (on both sides of the aisle) than John Roberts has been, due to Sandra Day O'Connor's position as a swing vote and the perception that it is her spot that will shift the court in one direction or another.
Under the fold, the LAT runs news that the U.N. atomic energy agency has voted to refer Iran to the Security Council, condemning its efforts to gain access to nuclear weapons. The piece runs under the unfortunately worded headline "UN Slaps Iran, But Gently," as if the vote amounted to awkward diplomatic foreplay, instead of the firm, swift action the U.S. had long desired.
Sympathy for the Devil… The NYT runs an editorial by Public Editor Byron Calame arguing that the paper should issue a correction for a column that managed the seemingly impossible task of maligning the character of Geraldo Rivera. The column incorrectly stated that Rivera "nudged" an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so that he could be filmed helping an elderly woman during Hurricane Katrina coverage. Calame watched a tape of the Fox News segment in question and concluded that there was, in fact, no nudge. Some priceless lines come from Executive Editor Bill Keller's attempts to justify not printing a correction, including debating the wide range of actions that might hypothetically constitute a nudge and insinuating that Geraldo's rabid response to the column justified its being written in the first place. Calame's response is a good one: "One of the real tests of journalistic integrity is being fair to someone who might be best described by a four-letter word."