The New York Timesleads with a look at the Bush administration's military propaganda initiative abroad that the paper describes as "extensive, costly, and often hidden." The Los Angeles Times leads with revelations that more than a year before the president's 2003 State of the Union speech alleging that Iraq tried to buy nuclear-weapons material in Africa, the French counterintelligence agency warned the U.S. government that no evidence existed to support that hypothesis. The Washington Post leads with the latest episode of the negotiations in Montreal to set new international emissions standards once the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. In an early Saturday morning agreement, most industrialized nations—except the United States—pledged to work on creating new restraints on greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the NYT, the White House created a secret panel after 9/11 to manage "information operations" by government agencies and private contractors. Since then the military has operated news outlets in Afghanistan and Iraq, producing news stories that are attributed to an untraceable organization. Sometimes the Army pays international news organizations to carry their message, with no attribution to the U.S. government.
Alain Chouet, the former head of the French counterintelligence service, told the LAT the French investigated Niger and other former French colonies at the request of the CIA and found nothing. ("We told the Americans, 'Bull----. It doesn't make any sense,' " Chouet said to the paper.) One former (and anonymous) CIA official corroborates Chouet's story, but a U.S. government official (also anonymous) told the paper that Chouet's version was "at odds with our understanding of the issue."
More on those Montreal talks: A broader coalition of countries—including the U.S.—did agree to "non-binding" talks that will not lead to "new commitments" to fight pollution that causes climate change. As uncontroversial as that concession may sound, it was difficult to convince the skeptical American delegates to participate in even nonbinding discussions, the papers note. After leading with the talks in yesterday's paper, today the NYT stuffs an analysis on the Montreal drama.
The Post fronts a look at the president's determination to stick to a strict political timetable in Iraq, despite mounting problems on the ground and his continued refusal to set a deadline for military withdrawal. The WP cites "a wide array of Bush advisers, Iraqi politicians and others involved in the effort," painting a portrait of doubt-ridden administration advisers amid growing Sunni alienation and chronic insurgent violence. The paper quotes Dan Senor, an adviser to Paul Bremer: "I believed—and I said from the podium—that as Iraqis became more politically empowered, the insurgency would become politically weakened. ... That hasn't happened. The political process has been resilient—and so has the insurgency."
Comedian Richard Pryor and former Sen. Eugene McCarthy died on Saturday. The 65-year-old Pryor died of a heart attack after years of deteriorating health due to multiple sclerosis. McCarthy, 89, had Parkinson's disease.
The LAT and Post front both obituaries, including a picture of each. The NYT fronts McCarthy's obit and a picture of Pryor, while running the comic's obituary on the inside of the paper—news judgment that could prove to be controversial.
Also on Saturday, five U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, and 11 were injured.
The WP stuffs an AP report that Poland's prime minister announced Saturday he will be launching an investigation into whether the U.S. ran secret prisons for terrorism suspects in the country.
Credit where credit is due: The NYT runs this correction:
An article on Friday about a prewar Bush administration assertion of ties between Iraq and al-Qaida based on statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody described how the prisoner later said he had fabricated the statements to escape harsh treatment. While the article disclosed new information about the handling of the terrorist suspect, it should have acknowledged earlier reporting on the subject by other news organizations, including Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor and The New Yorker.
TP wonders: Exactly how much outside reporting did the Times story rely on to have to run a correction to acknowledge this bit of help? And how did this happen—could it be another case of "inadvertent mingling"?