The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Washington Postlead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the announcement that most of the active-duty soldiers going to, or currently in, Iraq and Afgahnistan will see their tours extended from one year to 15 months. There was speculation that the Pentagon was going to do this for some units, but this blanket policy that could affect more than 100,000 members of the Army is more drastic than expected. Defense Secretary Robert Gates characterized it as a difficult decision but said the only other alternative would have been to decrease the amount of time soldiers stayed at home, which would have also cut down on their training.
The New York Timesleads, and everybody else fronts or reefers, North Carolina's attorney general saying that all charges against the three former Duke University lacrosse players have been dropped. The former players were accused of sexually assaulting a stripper at a party. At a news conference, the attorney general said the players were victims of "a rush to condemn" and said there is no evidence that any kind of attack took place. The attorney general called the Durham County district attorney, Michael Nifong, a "rogue prosecutor" and criticized him for jumping to conclusions and failing to properly examine the evidence.
Gates made sure to emphasize that although the new policy doesn't meen the troop buildup will be extended, it will allow the Pentagon the possibility to maintain current troop levels in Iraq for another year. But, as the WSJ emphasizes, some worry the administration is pushing the Army to its breaking point. The LAT notes that, as a result of these extra three months, those who will be patrolling Baghdad's streets are likely to have more experience and be more familiar with the area. The Post notes that this new policy will result in the longest combat tours for the Army since World War II. It also means that, for the first time, active-duty soldiers will be spending more time in the war zone than at home. Marines and the National Guard will not be affected by the new policy. All the papers have quotes from family members of soldiers who, obviously, are not very happy with the decision.
USAT mentions, and the WSJ goes high with data that show that the Army paid more than $1 billion last year in bonuses to attract and retain soldiers. In 2002, the Army paid $127.8 million in retention bonuses.
The LAT, NYT, and WP front yesterday's bombings in Algeria that killed at least 24 people in what was the worst attack in the country's capital in more than a decade. The bombs targeted a building that contains the prime minister's office in Algiers and a suburban police station. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the most active terrorist group in North Africa, claimed responsibility and analysts see this as the latest sign that terrorist activity in the region is increasing. Besides affecting the area, analysts are concerned that these terrorist groups might begin to use North Africa as a base to carry out attacks in Europe. "We're seeing a new front opening up big-time," an expert tells the WP. The LAT has the only story datelined from Algiers.
The NYT takes a look at the data and fronts a piece that reinforces something that should be clear by now: There is no real problem with voter fraud. After five years of trying to get tougher on fraud, the Bush administration has little to show for its efforts. Approximately 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year. This may seem like a significant number but, as the Times shows, most of the individuals convicted were immigrants or felons that appear to have simply voted by mistake because they were confused about their eligibility. There have been some cases that uncovered multiple voting and some vote buying, but these were isolated events in local races.
Everyone goes inside with the White House saying that e-mails relating to official government business that were improperly sent through a private system may have been lost. These e-mails, which included communication with Karl Rove and several other officials, could have included key documents in the investigation of the fired U.S. attorneys. There has been growing concern that Bush officials may have used private e-mail accounts, set up through the Republican National Committee, to avoid investigations. The White House said it will try to recover the lost messages.
All the papers either front or reefer news that NBC News will no longer broadcast Don Imus' talk show on MSNBC. Although CBS so far has decided to stick by its man, albeit with lots of qualifiers about how it continues to "monitor the situation closely," it is under increased pressure to fire the radio personality. NBC's announcement came late in a day when several more advertisers announced they would no longer sponsor the show.
In the incredibly stupid idea category, the LAT publishes an AP story reporting that a radio station in Pennsylvania fired its morning DJ after he had a contest that involved people calling in and repeating Imus' remark. The DJ asked people to call in and say, "I'm a nappy-headed ho" to win prizes.
The NYT and LAT front the death of Kurt Vonnegut, a celebrated author who wrote about war and modern society using a mixture of comedy, satire, and science fiction. He was 84. Last night his wife said Vonnegut had suffered brain injuries in a fall a few weeks ago. In addition to plays, essays, and short stories, Vonnegut wrote 14 novels, all of which remained in print throughout his long career. Vonnegut was often compared with Mark Twain because they both successfully combined humor and social criticism. "As a writer, I guess he's the closest thing we had to a Voltaire," Tom Wolfe tells the LAT. "He was never funny just to be funny."