All the papers lead with a report showing the U.S. economy shrank at a rate equivalent to 5.1 percent last fall—the worst contraction since 1982. Businesses failed to cut production fast enough after the financial crisis hit in October, so now they're stuck holding vast inventories of unsold goods. (Truly vast: If you count unsold goods as GDP growth, the rate of shrinkage was only 3.8 percent.) In order to correct, they've begun aggressively closing factories and shedding workers.
The Wall Street Journal says there have been more than 70,000 layoffs this week alone, something President Obama called "a continuing disaster for America's working families." He urged passage of his stimulus bill, issued executive orders to increase the clout of unions, and appointed Joe Biden to head a task force on rescuing the middle class.
All the papers off-lead news that Tom Daschle, Obama's designated secretary of health and human services, didn't pay more than $128,000 in taxes until six days before one of his confirmation hearings. Daschle realized belatedly that he had to pay taxes on $182,520 worth of limousine services from Democratic power donor Leo Hindery Jr., who put Daschle on the board of his hedge fund in 2005. The former senator also failed to report $83,333 in consulting income and overstated the size of some charitable deductions.
None of the papers are sure if this will endanger Daschle's confirmation, though the White House says it will be fine. Daschle's spokesperson called the oversight a "stupid mistake" and highlighted his timely efforts to rectify the problem. (The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times generously credit ABC News for the scoop, while the New York Times keeps that little fact to itself.) Everyone notes that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had similar problems.
The NYT goes above the fold with news that the U.S. Embassy may have pressured the International Republican Institute—an international watchdog organization—to withhold sensitive exit polls after last year's disputed Kenyan election. There isn't conclusive proof, but NYT interviews and a look at the IRI's internal e-mails made it sound like the group was successfully pressured to help Mwai Kibaki—a U.S. ally—defeat challenger Raila Odinga, who named his son after Fidel Castro.
The WP fronts, and the rest of the papers stuff, the election of Michael Steele as the Republican National Committee's new chairman. Steele, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, campaigned as the GOP's answer to Barack Obama—a telegenic, moderate outsider who is the first African-American to head the "party of Lincoln." Some Republicans, however, are concerned that their party has embraced racial identity politics.
The LAT fronts, and the other newspapers reefer or go inside with, Iraqi provincial elections—the first since Sunni Arabs boycotted the electoral process in 2005. Here's where it's nice to have multiple big papers (enjoy it while it lasts): The LAT profiles a Sunni insurgent group that has decided "elections are the sole way to succeed without violence", the NYT provides a by-the-numbers look at the mechanics of the election, and the WP explains how Muqtada Sadr is trying to revive his electoral fortunes while appearing aloof from politics.
The NYT fronts a look at what one interviewee calls "the end of the Fourth Amendment as we know it." As a lawyer in the Reagan administration, John Roberts launched a campaign against the exclusionary rule—a Supreme Court ruling that automatically removes improperly gathered evidence from consideration in a courtroom. Now, Chief Justice Roberts is edging toward a 5-4 majority for overturning it.
The NYT fronts a profile of Rod Blagojevich's successor, the "anti-Blagojevich." Amazingly, Gov. Patrick Quinn is mild-mannered, modest, self-effacing, and seemingly unconnected to any of Illinois' power brokers. (He and Blagojevich stopped speaking to each other after their 2006 election.) In normal times, these might be considered weaknesses—but after Blago, the NYT says, he's just what the doctor ordered.
The NYT also fronts a super-evergreen story about the use of social pressure to encourage conservation. A California utility has achieved big energy-conservation gains by telling people how much power they use compared with their neighbors (indicated by the number of smiley faces on your electric bill). Cool! But the NYT has been recapitulating this idea since at least March 2008.
And the WP fronts a look at the last great glass ceiling for women (besides, oh, the presidency): professional sportscasting. As the paper illuminates, it's really hard for women to become professional sportscasters—though the LAT's Web site seems to have caught on, choosing today to exhibit a slide show hosted by "the first female correspondent for 'Inside the NFL'."