The New York Times leads with yesterday's devastating suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, which killed more than 70 Iraqis and heightened fears that the country is tumbling into a sectarian civil war. The attack also tops the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox. The Los Angeles Times leads with the White House spokesman's admission that President Bush authorized Lewis "Scooter" Libby to disclose classified information about Iraq's weapons programs in an apparent effort to discredit administration critics. The Washington Post leads with the collapse of a compromise immigration bill as the Senate adjourned for a two-week recess.
The attack targeted a mosque associated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the powerful Shiite political party. Three bombs exploded as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers. The bombing was apparently well-coordinated: One bomber—possibly a woman or a man disguised in female dress—detonated a bomb at the mosque's entrance, driving departing worshippers back into the confined space of the mosque, where two other attackers blew themselves up. The WP has the best on-the-spot details.
The NYT's piece explores the attack's political overtones. Moments before the bombs went off, the mosque's imam delivered "a searing speech" demanding the resignation of the country's current prime minister, a member of a competing Shiite political party backed by supporters of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "Both Mr. Sadr and the Supreme Council have formidable militias that have clashed in open street battles," the story notes, but it says Sunni extremists are still the most likely culprits. Some Sadr supporters who were visiting the mosque for political negotiations may be among the bombing victims, the paper notes, and Shiites tend to shun suicide bombing.
Everyone mentions that Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, is worried about the prospect of a Sunni-Shiite war. The WP fronts a lengthy analysis of the sectarian violence, which says that, notwithstanding high-profile incidents like yesterday's attack, which allow Shiites to portray themselves as victims, militias like Sadr's kill far more people through targeted—and not-so-targeted—assassinations. Their victims are usually Sunnis.
The LAT's story is headlined: "White House Does Not Deny Leak Claims." But Scott McClellan, Bush's perennially embattled press secretary, actually avoided using the L-word to describe what his boss did, arguing that the president couldn't improperly disclose classified information since once he discloses it, it's considered declassified. He drew a distinction between the kind of disclosure Bush authorized—releasing intelligence about Iraq's prewar weapons programs in an attempt to defuse criticism—which McClellan said was "in the public interest," and revelations that "could compromise our national security," such as reports about the existence of a domestic wiretapping program that is probably illegal. Critics questioned whether Bush was confusing the public interest with his political health. McClellan countered by saying that Democrats were "engaging in crass politics."
Speaking of crass politics … at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday, the compromise immigration bill—which seemed likely to win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate—ran aground amid partisan recriminations. The proximate reason for the breakdown was a dispute between Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the GOP leader, and his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid, D-Nev., over some amendments that Republican hard-liners wanted to offer. But the LAT's Ronald Brownstein, in a front-page analysis, says the deeper reason was that "each party suspects the other of a hidden agenda": Democrats think Republicans are going to make the bill more draconian at a later stage in the legislative process, while Republicans think Democrats want the bill to fail so they can use it as an election issue. The WSJ goes dishy, saying the compromise fizzled largely because Frist was "a weak, wavering leader," while Reid, "cunning" and sometimes "cynical," worked hard to humiliate him.
Dish is also on display—big, big display—on the front page of the NYT, which devotes half of its precious above-the-fold real estate to a splashy photo montage depicting the deliciously squalid scandal currently unfolding at the New York Post. Following a scoop by the Daily News, the NYT details how Jared Paul Stern, a longtime contributor to the Post's followed and feared gossip column, Page Six, allegedly attempted to extort more than $100,000 from a California billionaire who thought the paper was smearing him. The billionaire videotaped a series of conversations with Stern during which the reporter compared his paper to the mafia and said payoffs could buy favorable coverage. "We know how to destroy people," Stern allegedly added. "That's our specialty." The LAT also fronts the story, calling Stern "a noirish figure" who idolized Walter Winchell, "affecting a fedora, pocket watch and a preference for rye whiskey."
The WSJ fronts a well-written yarn about a Mongolian boy who recently underwent a life-saving heart operation in Boston. The surgery came about through a ridiculously improbable chain of events involving the intervention of a tenacious grandmother, an expatriate uncle, a Harvard medical resident, a kindhearted surgeon, a philanthropic liquor distributor, and a Christian charity, which put up the money for his airfare.
In less heartwarming medical news, the NYT fronts a harrowing account (picked up from its stepsibling, the International Herald Tribune) of a drug trial gone awry in Britain. The experimental medicine had been deemed safe after tests on monkeys, but it nearly killed all six human subjects who were administered it, damaging their vital organs and immune systems. *
The NYT off-leads an investigation into Rep. Allan Mollohan, D-W.Va., focusing on his use of "earmarks" to direct $250 million into several nonprofit foundations run by close associates. It's a fascinating story. Too bad the WSJ broke it yesterday, as the NYT grudgingly notes in paragraph seven. The Times has some interesting color, but the Journal's earlier piece has more documentation on the most suspicious stuff. According to his public financial statements, Mollohan, the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee (!), became a multimillionaire over the course of four years, a stroke of financial good fortune that seems to have coincided with his Appropriations committee adventures. He credits his wife's real estate savvy. Among other properties, the Mollohans partly own a condominium complex that advertises itself as "Washington's Best-Kept Secret." Not anymore.
TP gets results … On Thursday, our regular columnist, Eric Umansky, pointed out that the major papers had unaccountably failed to follow up on a National Journal report about the suppression of a classified report from 2002 that showed intelligence agencies were skeptical about a key piece of Iraq WMD evidence. Today, in its lead story, the LAT mentions the National Journal scoop. Mr. Bradley, you know the drill: small bills, brown envelope.