The Washington Postleads with word that the Food and Drug Administration had been aware of problems at a Georgia peanut butter plant and on California spinach farms long before disease outbreaks resulted in three deaths, hundreds of people sick, and huge recalls. Some say this proves the FDA can't protect the nation's food supply. Officials at the agency recognize there are problems but say they couldn't have stopped these outbreaks from occuring.
The New York Timesleads with, the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, and the Los Angeles Timestop nonlocal spot goes to, yesterday's presidential elections in France, where conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Ségolène Royal received the most votes. The two will face each other in a runoff on May 6. USA Todayleads with a grim milestone as a man who spent 25 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit is scheduled to become the 200th person exonerated by DNA evidence today. According to the Innocence Project, this shows that, despite previous claims to the contrary, there are still plenty of convicts who could be exonerated using DNA evidence.
The Post says the FDA is too overwhelmed by a sharp increase in food processors and imports to adequately look into problems. Instead, the agency has often depended on self-policing. In 2005, FDA inspectors looked into complaints of salmonella contamination at a ConAgra Foods factory but left when they couldn't get some documents. The company says it asked for a written request but the FDA officials never followed up. Also, it's clear that in 2005, FDA officials knew there had been persistent problems with spinach from California's Salinas Valley. Officials insist that although they knew there was a problem, it was impossible to know where the problem was coming from.
Everybody mentions interest was high among the French electorate to replace two-term President Jacques Chirac, as more than 84 percent of the 44.5 million eligible voters cast ballots. The LAT notes it was the highest turnout since 1964; the NYT says it was 13 percentage points higher than five years ago. The WP sees this as evidence that there is "enthusiasm for the more modern, personality-driven, American-style campaigns." There also appears to be great interest in choosing a new generation of leaders as both Sarkozy and Royal, who would be the country's first female president, were born after World War II.
Sarkozy goes into the runoff with a clear lead, as he received 31 percent of the vote, compared to Royal's 26 percent. Opinion polls have consistently shown Sarkozy is more likely to win a runoff. But it will all depend on who the backers of centrist Francois Bayrou, who received more than 18 percent of the vote, will choose to support. So, there is still room for surprises as two very different candidates will face each other in what both the NYT and WP call a "classic" left-right contest in two weeks. Sarkozy seemed to recognize this last night when he said voters "clearly marked their wish to go to the end of the debate between two ideas of the nation, two projects for society, two value systems, two concepts of politics."
In other election news, everyone notes that both observers and the leading opposition candidates condemned Saturday's presidential contest in Nigeria. As the votes continued to be tallied, observers said that because of the widespread and blatant vote-rigging and intimidation, the only way to fix the problems would be to have a new election. Last week, the Post looked into how Nigerians have largely lost faith in democracy. Today, the NYT fronts a look at how this trend is extending to numerous countries across Africa as voters "are becoming more disillusioned with the way democracy is practiced."
On Page One, the NYT looks into whether the United States could have prevented China from launching a missile into space earlier this year. At the time, the test received widespread condemnation, but U.S. officials were well aware that preparations were under way and there was much debate about how to respond. In the end, the Bush administration decided not to say anything. Now, some are saying that the test could have been avoided if the United States had chosen to negotiate with China. Before the test, China had frequently advocated for a ban on weapons in space, which the Bush administration always rejected.
Everybody notes that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would seek to stop all construction of a wall around a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. The U.S. military plan to separate Adhamiya from the surrounding Shiite neighborhoods was met with criticism from members of both sects. Before the prime minister's statement a spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq tried to reassure Iraqis by emphasizing there is no new strategy to build walls or create "gated communities." But the Post says on Page One that the U.S. military is planning to create just those types of communities by "walling off" at least 10 Baghdad neighborhoods. Yesterday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four American troops.
In the WSJ's op-ed page, Donald E. Graham, chairman and CEO of the Washington Post Co., urges shareholders to vote against a plan to get rid of the two-tier stock structure at the NYT that puts a lot of power in the hands of the Sulzberger family. Graham makes clear up front that his company and Dow Jones & Co. also have a similar stock structure. If the tiered system were eliminated, "a line of buyers eager to purchase the company would form within minutes. No one could say no," writes Graham. Although it's possible that the buyer would be someone who cares about journalistic quality, there's no guarantee that "anyone owning the Times would spend more than $200 million on its newsroom budget, or deploy dozens of foreign correspondents around the world."