The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with the House voting to shield gun-makers and dealers from liability lawsuits. The bill, which has long been a top priority for the NRA, passed 283 to 144, with 59 Democrats in support. It now goes to President Bush. The Washington Postleads with a U.N. report charging that top Syrian officials and their Lebanese lackeys were responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. USA Today'slead does the numbers and concludes that 1,300 U.S. residents are moving to the coast of the Atlantic and Gulf daily. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the currently Cat. 4 Wilma approaching Cancun, where it's expected to hit today.
The assassination of Hariri could not have been performed "without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security forces," says the U.N.'s report. The investigation isn't done. But citing "a diplomat with intimate knowledge of the inquiry," the NYT says the main suspect is Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, who is also Syria's intel chief. "There is absolutely no doubt, it goes right to the top," said the diplomat. "This is Murder, Inc."
The U.N. Web site offers a link to the report. But the link is broken, at least as of 4 a.m. (Perhaps Ambassador Bolton can lodge a complaint.) For those wanting more detail on the report, get up from your desk and pick up a copy of the Journal. It has an op-ed from a respected Lebanese journalist,who delves into the details. One tidbit: A suspect in the killing"called Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a close Syrian ally, on his personal cell phone minutes after the blast."
The WP off-leads, LAT fronts, and NYT, oddly, stuffs a FEMA bureaucrat—who was the only agency worker in New Orleans during Katrina—testifying in congressional hearings that he warned superiors about the situation in New Orleans but was blown off. The day Katrina hit, he e-mailed five FEMA officials about what he wrote was the "worst possible news": A levee had broken. "The situation is past critical," he wrote later that week. "Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water." Former FEMA head Michael Brown recently testified that the bureaucrat had sent "fairly routine kind of e-mail." The first night after the storm, as the official was trying to get his boss's attention, one of Brown's handlers said Brownie needed serious downtime to eat: "He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes." The LAT notices that Brown's consulting gig for FEMA was just extended by 30 days.
USAT and LAT front a study showing that a diabetes drug on the verge of FDA approval appears to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke threefold—to about a 1 percent risk. The FDA has already said its approval is contingent on getting more data about the risks.
Just about everybody at least tries to push the Plame story forward. A front-page LAT piece has the most success, saying Scooter Libby was so worked up about Joseph Wilson's charges that "he monitored all of Wilson's television appearances and urged the White House to mount an aggressive public campaign against him." The piece is cited—dagger-style—to "former aides," one of whom appears to have provided the LAT with a "packet that included excerpts from press clips and television transcripts of Wilson's statements, and that were divided into categories, such as 'political ties' or 'WMD.' " A "former White House official" told the LAT, "Scooter had a plan to counter Wilson and a passionate desire to do so."
The WSJ emphasizes the obvious: that the special prosecutor may be considering using the (much-criticized) Espionage Act. But the paper adds, interestingly, that the charges could be based not just on the revealing of "Plame's identity but also other secrets related to national security."
The NYT also fronts Plame specula-news. There's no news in the story, nor new speculation: The prosecutor might go after Rove and, wait for it, Libby, for, allegedly, misleading the grand jury.
A Page One NYT piece ponders the estimated 3 million Pakistanis made homeless by last week's earthquake. Winter is weeks away, access is still limited to the mountain villages, and the Times says there are not enough cold tents in the world to house everybody. Meanwhile, foreign donors have pledged $90 million, one-third of what the U.N. said is needed. (The Times' lists places to donate.)
The NYT goes inside with a government report concluding that National Guard units in the U.S. have on average just 34 percent of their equipment available. The response to Katrina, said the report, "was more complicated because significant quantities of critical equipment such as satellite communications equipment, radios, trucks, helicopters and night-vision goggles were deployed to Iraq."
Earlier this week, TP noted Judy Miller's noncooperation with her own paper, including the fact that she apparently hasn't let the Times' own reporters look at her notebook, and wondered whether the Times' publisher might like to share his stance on Miller's lack of cooperation. It's now been five days since the Miller takeout was published, and judging by a Nexis search, Sulzberger has yet to offer his position. In fairness, he has talked about the larger Miller saga. "We can all hope this period is behind us," he told the Journal.