The New York Times leads (and everyone but the LAT fronts) with Michael Brown's Senate testimony, in which he blamed the White House and the Department of Homeland Security for the botched response to Hurricane Katrina. The Wall Street Journal leads its worldwide newsbox (while the WP and the NYT front) with the United States posting its fourth straight year of record trade deficits. The Washington Post's top nonlocal story is the opening of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The Los Angeles Times leads (at least online) with an investigation of Jack Ambramoff's many "charitable" institutions.
All the papers note that Michael Brown did a brisk about-face during his Senate testimony on Friday, placing blame on the administration and the internal workings of the DHS for FEMA's sluggish hurricane response. Last fall, when Brown spoke before the House (and incidentally, was still on the federal payroll) he sang a very different tune, saying state and local authorities were the cause of the foul-ups. The NYT focuses on the political theater surrounding the testimony, with Republicans scourging Brown and Democrats defending him now that he's turned on Bush. The WP sticks closer to the meat of what Brown said, the chronology of phone calls he painted to show that it was his superiors who ultimately dropped the ball, having made disaster response the "stepchild" within the DHS family.
Everyone mentions the rebuttal of the DHS officials who testified after Brown, pointing out that Brown's response to Katrina didn't follow DHS protocol and left Secretary Chertoff largely out of the loop. Only the WSJ hints the Chertoff may propose his own FEMA reorganization in coming weeks, in an attempt to stave off legislative action. Lurking in the subtext of all the articles is the million-dollar question: How much of Brown's testimony is prompted by hurt feelings and self-preservation? And do those motives make it any less credible?
The NYT,WSJ, and the WP all report continuing record U.S. trade deficits. The WSJ and the NYT blame the widening deficit on the high cost of oil and on cheap Chinese imports. The NYT in particular notes that Chinese monetary policy continues to imbalance trade. The gap between American imports and exports grew by 17.5 percent from last year, but the WP concludes the news isn't necessarily bad. The WP argues the deficit is caused, at least in part, by a growing U.S. economy putting more disposable income in the hands of Americans … who then go out and spend the money on Japanese and European goods. The dimness of that silver lining might be the ultimate indicator of just how grim the news is.
The WP's Olympics piece parrots an editorial it ran last week, concluding that even though the winter games are bigger than ever for wealthy nations with regular snowfall, most of the world is still left out in the cold. Where last week's article attempted nuanced, socio-cultural explanations for why no one in Africa cares about curling, today's story makes it nice and simple: "The IOC, of course, has not found a way to bring winter to warm-weather countries." TP admits the accompanying front-page photo is eye catching, but has to question why a story they'd essentially already run trumps Michael Brown's testimony.
Under the fold, the NYT chooses to focus on the early spate of athletes testing positive for unusually high hemoglobin levels. Buried deep in the piece is an interesting scientific debate over how much hemoglobin is really too much. In addition to the boilerplate opening day story, the WSJ runs a weird look at the tortured past of this year's Olympic torch.
The LAT describes how Jack Abramoff used a network of nonprofits, many of which he created, to evade taxes, launder money, and peddle influence. Much of the information is old hat by now, but the focus on how he did what he did makes the story outrageous all over again.
After Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., questioned the NSA domestic surveillance program last week, a growing number of Republicans began to do the same, according to the NYT. The NYT now counts seven Republicans who take issue with some aspect of the program. Of course, the questions being asked range from issues of constitutional authority, to revising the FISA law, to how much oversight Congress should have over the matter. It's hardly the full-scale mutiny the NYT paints it as, even if that kind of dissent would've been unthinkable 18 months ago.
The NYT goes inside * with a story about a former CIA official's charge that the Bush administration cherry-picked favorable intelligence while making the case to invade Iraq, ignoring any information that didn't support the decision to fight. That assertion has already been made by plenty of people, and the NYT acknowledges that, but none of those guys were in charge of Middle East intelligence during the years leading up to and following the decision to invade.
Even as the Medicare prescription-drug plan continues to sputter, the U.S. government is seizing a much higher-than-average amount of prescription drugs being shipped in from Canada, says the LAT. While U.S. officials claim no crackdown is in effect, the LAT's astonishing seizure numbers belie some sort of coordination.
The WSJ reports the Pentagon's dream of being able to patrol the globe via satellite has taken a beating in recent years. Pentagon officials once dreamed of defending America from space with an interconnected network of surveillance and defense satellites, an example of DoD technological overreaching on par with the crusader self-propelled howitzer. Logistical and technological hang-ups have stalled the projects indefinitely, forcing officials to come up with more intermediary solutions and move forward in smaller, more manageable steps.
The LAT fronts the White House's proposed sale of $1 billion worth of public lands to help pay for rural roads and schools.
The WP covers the collapse of one of the last peaceful neighborhoods in Baghdad.
The NYT wins the overstatement prize for calling reaction to a Missouri high-school production of Grease a battle in the ongoing "culture war."
The LAT looks into creationist boot camp for the kindergarten set.
NBC Was Robbed …
The LAT reports Disney agreed to allow football announcer Al Michaels to follow his partner John Madden to NBC next fall, but only if NBC agreed to give Disney the rights to an obscure cartoon character: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald was an early creation of Walt Disney's and the studio wanted the rights to him for posterity's sake.
Correction, Feb. 17, 2006: This article originally and incorrectly stated that the New York Times fronted a story about a former CIA official's claim that the Bush administration used selective intelligence to justify invading Iraq. In fact, the story was teased on the front page, but ran inside. This article also asserted that other papers should have run the story. The Washington Post actually ran a similar story the day before, which was mentioned in a Feb. 10 "Today's Papers." (Return to corrected paragraph.)