The New York Timesleads with a preview of President Bush's speech at the U.S. Naval Academy today, where he is expected to unveil his "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," which critics argue is a little late in coming. The speech also tops the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox. The Washington Post, which leads with a local story, off-leads a very different take on America's future in Iraq, sitting in on a contentious town hall meeting held amid the falling mortar shells in Ramadi. The Los Angeles Times leads (at least online) with its second big Iraq break in two days, exposing a Pentagon-sponsored network that pays Iraqi newspapers to print dubiously favorable stories about the war. USA Today follows a scoop from yesterday's WSJ: In a reversal, the Federal Communications Commission may now allow consumers to pick and choose which cable channels they want to subscribe to, rather than forcing them to buy expensive packages.
None of the other papers even front their pre-speech stories, and reading the NYT piece, it's not hard to see why: The sneak-peek reporters got didn't contain any bombshells (no pun intended)—though Bush will be asking Congress for an additional $3.9 billion to train Iraqi troops. Some analysts, like Slate's Fred Kaplan, think today's speech will mark the beginning of the end of America's occupation of Iraq. If so, Bush is being cagy about it, saying yesterday, "I want our troops to come home, but I don't want them to come home without having achieved victory." To that end, the administration will release a 27-page booklet outlining its "strategy for victory" today. The Times says that "much of it sounded like a list of goals for Iraq's military, political and economic development rather than new prescriptions on how to accomplish the job."
The WP's Ramadi dispatch shows just how far off victory may be. At an unusual meeting held between Iraqis in the restive Anbar province and the local American military commander, Sunni leaders railed against the "illegitimate occupation" and their country's "terrorist government" and heckled an insufficiently demure female American official. The Marine general tried to sound conciliatory, telling the crowd, "We're here to work through the problems," but his message of understanding was undercut when an impatient interpreter translated his words into Arabic as, "I don't have any time to waste."
Facing such problems of miscommunication, the Army seems to have come to an innovative solution, the LAT reports: Buy good news. Secretly, through military contractors and Iraqi intermediaries posing as freelance journalists, the Pentagon has been paying local newspapers to run stories with headlines like "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism." Some of the articles are labeled as "advertorials," while others are passed off as straight news stories. The paper writes that it's only the latest example of "how far the Pentagon has moved to blur the traditional boundaries between ... the dissemination of factual information to the media" and creating propaganda.
USAT's lead doesn't add much to the cable-channel story besides a few live quotes from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin at a Senate hearing yesterday. The proposed change has less to do with lowering prices—an FCC study last year found that consumers might actually pay more under the smorgasbord approach—than with pleasing families who want Nickelodeon but not Nip/Tuck. The WSJ, which unsurprisingly has deeper coverage, stresses that cable providers and networks are vehemently opposed, saying the change will kill niche channels that survive financially only by being bundled with ESPN and MTV.
The WP has news of some slightly reassuring developments on the bird-flu front: Two manufacturers are expected to deliver several million doses of a vaccine to the government by the end of December, and researchers are experimenting to see if these could somehow be diluted to cover up to 120 million people. The bad news: Nobody really knows if the vaccine can be stretched that far, and if it can't be, the government is only sure it can protect 4 million people. In the event of a pandemic this winter, the Pentagon would be allotted a quarter of the vaccine stock, while the rest will "probably be restricted to critically needed personnel," the WP says. TP would like to see a follow-up explaining who defines "critically needed" and how one gets on the list. (May I humbly submit: The world needs freelance journalists.)
For those who are still fuzzy about why a bug that has killed fewer than 100 people in Asia is so scary, the WSJ has a useful flu FAQ.
The USAT and WSJ both front stories pegged to an abortion case that is to be argued before the Supreme Court today. The New Hampshire case concerns a parental-notification rule for minors that does not include an exemption for cases in which the health of the mother is threatened *. The WSJ has an interesting feature on Americans United for Life, a little-known group that had a "guiding hand" in crafting the legislation at issue. Modeling its fight on the NAACP's battle against segregation, the group's strategy is to "chip around the edges" of Roe v. Wade until the Supreme Court is ready to overturn it.
The LAT alone fronts news that Mexico's Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday allowing alleged criminals who face life imprisonment—though not the death penalty—to be extradited to the United States for trial. Previously, life without parole was considered cruel and unusual punishment in Mexico.
By far the best most enjoyable read of the day is the WSJ's chronicle of fallen Russian oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky's life in a Siberian prison camp. Surviving on porridge while performing menial tasks in a climate that reaches temperatures of 40 below, he may be plotting a comeback once he's done his time in Siberia—following in the rich tradition, the story says, of "Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Solzhenitsyn."
Only the NYT fronts the latest round of kidnappings in Iraq. Pictures of four peace activists from Canada, Britain, and the United States turned up on the Internet yesterday, while a separate group threatened to execute a prominent German archaeologist.
Back to the Pentagon propaganda story for a moment. TP can't help wondering whether any American newspaper should cast stones at their developing-world brethren for blurring the lines of journalism for big-spending advertisers—in the LAT's case, a scandal over a glossy advertorial touting the new Staples Center comes to mind. But the piece is worth reading if only for the hilarious reactions of the duped Iraqi newspaper editors. They range from (possibly feigned) outrage to shoulder-shrugging. ("We publish anything.") Then there's the head of Iraq's "most cerebral and professional" newspaper, who ran three Pentagon advertorials and says he wishes he knew the U.S. government was behind them—so he could have "charged much, much more." Mark Willes couldn't have said it better.
Correction, Nov. 30, 2005: This article originally and incorrectly claimed that a disputed New Hampshire law that restricts a minor's access to abortion doesn't allow for exemptions even if the mother's life is at stake. In fact, the law doesn't allow for exemptions if the mother's health is an issue. Return to the corrected sentence.