The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal world-wide news box lead with, while the Los Angeles Times fronts, Zimbabwe's one-man presidential election. Gangs of thugs loyal to President Robert Mugabe, the only candidate, drove frightened voters to the polls, collecting their personal information and threatening violence if they resisted. The New York Times poetically describes it as a "woeful event in a woebegone nation."
The LAT leads with a report on Barack Obama's move to the center on many issues, while the WP fronts his appearance with Hillary Clinton in Unity, N.H. The NYT leads with a potential deal between the United States and Europe that would allow American law enforcement and security agencies to access information about European citizens. Credit card transactions, travel histories, and Internet browsing habits might be shared, but there are still about half a dozen outstanding issues to be dealt with.
The nature of Zimbabwe's election is perhaps best captured in an open letter from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to his supporters. Addressing those who might be compelled to vote for Mugabe, he wrote: "If you need to do this to save your life, be not afraid. Do it." The LAT says some did, if only to have their fingers stained with the indelible voting ink that would save them a beating from ruling party thugs. But many others stayed away and the NYT reports that turnout was "very low, especially in the opposition's urban strongholds." Unsurprisingly, the government disagrees.
The LAT says results are expected late Saturday. It will be interesting to see if the government tries to make the tally look realistic. The ruling party "will have to rejigger the results from the frightened masses, taking votes from themselves," a civic group leader tells the NYT, predicting that Tsvangirai will get "at least 30 percent." But Western and African nations have already condemned the government's actions and some are threatening new sanctions. Still, Mugabe seems unfazed. "Some African countries have done worse things," a state-run newspaper quoted him as saying.
Back in America, the LAT cites Barack Obama's "tougher stance on Iran, mild reaction to expanded gun rights and malleable view of free trade" as proof that the candidate is moving toward the center to broaden his appeal. This is a typical move for a general-election candidate, but tougher for Obama, who carries the risk of diminishing his self-styled image as a new type of politician. Mr. McCain, of course, is doing the same thing, but he's moving right in an attempt to court conservatives, says the Times. All this posturing makes TP sympathetic to Libertarians, some of whom complain to the NYT that the party is "fundamentally more committed to principle than electoral action."
The WP reports that the Obama campaign is encouraged by Hillary Clinton's willingness to stitch the Democratic Party back together. Obama's advisers hope to use both Hillary and Bill Clinton to speak to voters about the economy. The Post notes that Obama will have a distinct advantage over John McCain if he is able to consolidate the Democratic vote—many more Americans identify with the Democrats than with the Republicans. But he's not there yet. "We want Hillary!" chanted some in the New Hampshire crowd yesterday. "It's over!" a man yelled back.
Obama may also benefit from Bob Barr's candidacy on the Libertarian ticket. Earlier in the week Obama's campaign manager said a strong showing by Barr could deliver Georgia and Alaska to the Democrat. Barr, meanwhile, tells the NYT that a group of Republicans have told him not to run. But should they really be so scared? Barr has raised just over $300,000 so far, and "he has yet to lease a campaign headquarters, have a fund-raiser, tape a television advertisement or hold a campaign event," says the Times.
The WSJ fronts bad news out of Afghanistan, where Taliban militants have regrouped and the security situation has deteriorated. The insurgency has now spread into areas previously thought to be stable. If this all sounds familiar, it's because the LAT reported much the same thing on Wednesday. But the Journal cites a new Pentagon report (also mentioned in the Post), which is part of a "top-to-bottom review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan." NYT readers might counsel the department to look into "the Taliban's deepening penetration of Pakistan" as well.
The papers report better news from another trouble spot. North Korea razed the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear facility on Friday. While video of the event was broadcast widely in the West, the NYT reports that North Korea's state news agency didn't mention the demolition.
The $4.6 million man … Everyone reports on the Justice Department's $4.6 million settlement with Steven Hatfill, a former Army biodefense researcher who was labeled a "person of interest" in the probe of the 2001 anthrax attacks. The department, which didn't admit to any wrongdoing, had good reason to bury the news on a Friday, as the papers rehash the bungled investigation that never solved anything. The NYT ends its article on a comical note, retelling the story of how FBI agents ran over Hatfill's foot as he approached their surveillance car. The researcher was later given a $5 ticket for "walking to create a hazard." I guess he can pay it now.