Free the NIE!
The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal all lead with President Bush's partial declassification of a National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism. The document, which was finalized in April and represents the combined judgment of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, describes violent jihadism as a metastasizing threat being driven in part by the Iraq war. Bush angrily ordered the publication of the report's key findings after newspapers (led by the NYT) described its contents Sunday. Today it's the papers' turn to react, and while their news accounts hew closely to the released text, accompanying analysis pieces argue that the NIE paints a grim picture of the administration's anti-terror efforts. ( USA Today, which runs the NIE across the top, leads with a proposal to track college students' performance.)
With the two parties entering the final weeks of a hard-fought midterm election campaign, the obvious question about the NIE is whether its conclusions boost Democrats or Republicans. The report's money quote (cited at least in part by all the papers) certainly sounds like a Democratic talking point: "The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." But in releasing the report, Bush seems confident he can use it to support his claim that GOP policies, including the invasion of Iraq, have made the country safer.
In lengthy news analyses, however, the papers argue against the president. The Post writes the "overall estimate is bleak, with minor notes of optimism," while the NYT notes, "nowhere in the assessment is any evidence to support Mr. Bush's confident-sounding assertion this month in Atlanta that 'America is winning the war on terror.'" The LAT's front-page analysis argues that the explosive fight over the NIE shows that Democrats who "in past years have been reluctant to challenge the GOP on national security matters" will "fully engage their rivals on the security front this time."
Oddly, the papers do not mention a comment from Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., that another intelligence report, focused only on Iraq, has been prepared. Harman said Tuesday that the second report, which offers a "grim picture" of the country, is being kept in draft form until after the election so that the administration does not have to circulate it. CNN does note Harman's potentially significant claim and gets an official denial from the administration.
Of course the argument over the NIE is only one front in the intense battle for control of Congress. The NYT offers a front-page review of the war on the airwaves, with a roundup of the nasty political ads dominating television this fall. The article echoes a similar report in yesterday's LAT, which described the attack ads as a central component in the GOP's strategy to maintain control of Congress. USAT reports that the effort also could hinge on marriage rates. The paper notes that married people are more likely to vote for Republicans.
The papers stuff the latest on the detainee bill wending its way through Congress. The Post focuses on the controversy surrounding the legislation's "court-stripping" provision, which would deny terror suspects the right to challenge their imprisonment in court. Opponents of the provision, led by Senate judiciary committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., hope to defeat it on the Senate floor. But a key figure in the debate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., predicted Specter will fail. The NYT follows up on yesterday's Post report about a small but important change to the bill's definition of "enemy combatant" with a review of several other seemingly minor wording differences. Democrats are worried about changes to evidentiary rules, although Republicans explained away at least one potential issue as a drafting error.
Europe's uneasy relationship with Islam—already strained in recent weeks by the pope's discussion of the prophet Mohammed—seems set to grow even more tense. Both the NYT and the LAT front the cancellation of a German opera that featured Mohammed's severed head. The opera company's manager said she made the decision after police warned of an "incalculable risk" if the show went on, the NYT reports. But the LAT actually talked to a police spokesman, who explained "no concrete terrorist threats against the opera" had been made. "We received an anonymous call that certain scenes might be offensive to Muslims," the spokesman told the paper.
Also on Page One: The Post plays a photo of Enron CFO Andrew Fastow in cuffs across the middle of the page. Fastow, a key figure in the energy company's financial scandal, received a "surprisingly lenient" six-year sentence, the WSJ reports. USAT examines the violence in Darfur from the perspective of an "international monitor" with the African Union who has taken striking photos of the conflict.
Kids today! The Post fronts a breathless report on the latest trend in teen fashion: Racy T-shirts. Well, not exactly the latest trend—the paper concedes such shirts "have been around for years." But today's shirts are "blatantly sexual"—apparently a little too sexual for the chaste Post, which describes one shirt as "parodying the 'Got Milk?' ad, with sexual slang replacing the word 'milk.'" Apparently readers are expected to use their imaginations.
Alexander Dryer works for The New Yorker in Washington, D.C.