The New York Times exposes a multi-armed Pentagon message machine.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 20 2008 5:33 AM

Onward, T.V. Soldiers

The New York Times leads with a 7,500-word exposé of the Pentagon "message machine," a concerted effort by the Department of Defense to spread the Bush administration's Iraq talking points by briefing supposedly independent retired commanders for network and cable television appearances. The Los Angeles Times leads with California school districts' cries to parents for funding in the face of sweeping budget cuts. Potential layoff notices have been handed to 20,000 teachers, librarians, and nurses, as districts ask for as much as $400 a year from each student's family. The Washington Post leads with the growing energy consumption of the District of Columbia, which fuels the coal mining that is devouring the once-green landscape of nearby West Virginia. The largely unenlightening piece shows that D.C.'s energy consumption is on the rise but fails to highlight much of a conflict beyond the concerns of isolated environmentalists and select West Virginians. More of the state's residents, it seems, see their coal-rich environment as a "gift from God."

The NYT successfully sued the Department of Defense to gain access to thousands of e-mails and internal documents relating to its posse of military T.V. commentators. The 8,000 pages of information "reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated." These "military experts" often communicated with the Pentagon to receive the latest agenda before going on camera, and some used the inside information to assist private companies in obtaining military contracts. More unfortunately, "members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access." Several of the purported military experts express regret over their actions, while the Pentagon defends the operation as a genuine effort to inform the American people. The networks, with the sole exception of CNN, refused to comment.

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The Times also fronts two war stories—first, requests by American commanders in Pakistan for expanded attacks on indigenous radicals in the country's tribal regions. The requests have been "rebuffed for now" amid fear that such attacks would upset delicate negotiations between Pakistan's new government and radical groups. On the Iraq front, Iraqi soldiers took control of the final strongholds of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra, prompting Iran's Baghdad ambassador to publicly "endorse" the Iraqi army's military operation in the region. The victory and ensuing calm also prompted violent, desperate words from al-Sadr, who accused his opponents of using the "politics of Saddam."

The WP tops its A1 with a study of Sen. John McCain's "volcanic temper," which the presumptive Republican presidential nominee explains alternately as a lifelong character flaw and as the fuel of his fire for political reform. The unflattering piece charts the infamous temper from its early days on the playgrounds of the many schools McCain attended as a child to the Senate chambers, where it often showers McCain's opponents with denigrating expletives. Like thisPost piece, a string of "McCain stories" —in which the grievances and grudges of past colleagues are aired—forms the bulk of the story. Those who have born the brunt of McCain's fury in the past are split on how the temper might affect his presidential performance—some are now his supporters while others see his short fuse as a strong disqualifier for the Oval Office.

In a front-page, left-column story, the NYT airs the inner dialogue of Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign about the erosion of support for Mrs. Clinton among past friends and colleagues. The perceptive piece notes that some Democrats' decisions to defect have been politically expedient, but the erosion is also "a reckoning of whether the Clintons, on balance, have been good or bad for the party." But what some see as disloyalty is, for others, a "well-deserved comeuppance," a reaction to the Clintons' widely perceived one-way loyalty street. Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle chalks it all up to "Clinton fatigue," while others like Minnesota superdelegate Nancy Larson still like the Clintons too much to explain their reasons for endorsing Sen. Barack Obama.

The LAT front page reports that Mexico is feeling U.S. pain, as economic slowdown has stanched the flow of income from illegal immigrants back to their relatives south of the border. The number crossing into the U.S. this spring might be as low as half the usual rate. "The U.S. housing downturn has dried up much of the building-related labor market, and a striking number of workers here say that, for now, they are unwilling to accept the physical and legal risks and fast-rising smugglers' fees to reach an iffy job situation on the U.S. side," the Times reports.

After an ever-so-brief reprieve, Facebook philosophizing is back, this time in the WP Style section. The piece expends several thousand words attempting to define "true" friends amid the sea of new, miscellaneous associations we now call "friendships." What we mostly get, however, is perspectives from the token Facebook-story characters (the proficient college student, the cliquish high schooler, the late-coming adult user) and reiterations of the tired Facebook quandaries (to accept or not to accept?). And of course, there's an avalanche of new metaphors for social networking ("internet cocktail party" and "digital eavesdropping," for example).

Much more worth a look is an op-ed in the LAT that provides evolutionary defenses for the Biblical admonition to "turn the other cheek." Or on the lighter side, an amusing essay in the WP magazine section explores the office caste system encapsulated in an e-mail's recipient fields.

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