The New York Times leads with the administration's plan to present the Iraqi government with a set of deadlines to address the country's political, economic, and security challenges. The government of Nuri al-Maliki will be asked to agree to a timetable for disarming militias and "a broad set…of other benchmarks." But hold on, the Washington Post reports inside that White House officials have already denied the NYT report: "The story is not accurate," said a spokesman for the National Security Council. The Post goes across the top with a feature from Southern Iraq, but leads with the "significantly improved" chances of Democrats taking control of the Senate. On its redesigned front page, the Los Angeles Times leads with a thorough and troubling look at the organization charged with overseeing the nation's organ transplant system.
The WP says that if the NYT lead is accurate, "it would mark the first time that the administration has used deadline threats to pressure the Iraqi government." Really? Two paragraphs later, the Post notes that "benchmarks have been part of the U.S. policy in Iraq for months." That's according to Dan Bartlett, a top Bush aide, who added, "Implicit in that is that if they are not achieving the benchmarks, we are going to have to make changes accordingly."
That sounds a lot like the plan the NYT lays out, except that all the benchmarks would be incorporated into a single blueprint that the Iraqi government would be asked to sign off on by the end of the year. So why the White House denial? Perhaps there is no comprehensive plan, or perhaps there is simply a lack of communication between the White House and the Pentagon, which is formulating the timetable. (It certainly wouldn't be the first time that happened.)
Whether there is or isn't an overarching plan, all parts of the administration agree that there will be consequences if the Iraqi government fails to meet certain political and military benchmarks. According to the NYT, officials say the administration would "consider changes in military strategy and other penalties," short of withdrawing American troops. But that sounds like a pretty hollow threat after yesterday's statements by George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.
On the ground in Iraq, the death of three Marines in the province of Anbar means October is the deadliest month for U.S. forces in a year. That news makes nobody's front page.
On the domestic front, the WP says the Democrats' hope of taking back the Senate relies on three states with close races: Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia. Needing to flip six seats total, and with four already solidly in their favor, the Dems must win two out of three of these contests. The fact that Mark Foley is still front-page material should help.
On the House side, the NYT says Democrats are increasingly optimistic that they will retake control. This has led to some pressure on Rahm Emanuel, who is leading up the Democratic effort, to go for a big victory instead of focusing resources on close races. That strategy has annoyed some military veterans who complain that, after being recruited to run as Democrats, they have received little support.
The LAT investigation into the organization monitoring organ transplants is a must-read. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) "often fails to detect or decisively fix problems at derelict hospitals—even when patients are dying at excessive rates." One hospital remained "in good standing" despite five straight years of having among the lowest survival rates in the country. Another facility turned down organs that may have saved patients because it did not have a full-time surgeon to do transplants. UNOS has never recommended the closure of an active transplant program, but the LAT proudly notes that its exposés have forced two shoddy facilities to close down.
Another LAT investigation bears less fruit. Ignite, the learning technology company headed by President Bush's brother Neil, has benefited from federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act. Fishing for a conspiracy, the Times notes that "educators and legal experts were sharply divided over whether Ignite's products were worth their cost or qualified under the No Child law." But the LAT itself admits that the funding laws are "unclear" and the products "get generally rave reviews from Texas educators." So why is this on the front page?
For a much more satisfying look at corruption and political influence, check out the NYT report on the scrutiny surrounding an S.E.C. hedge fund inquiry involving a well-connected Bush fund-raiser.
Stuffed quote of the day … Deep inside the WP's story on the death toll in Iraq, we learn that Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, told al-Jazeera: "We tried to do our best, but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq." I hope State offers a good pension plan.