Walter Cronkite dies at 92; White House mulls elite interrogation unit for high-value detainees.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 18 2009 5:55 AM

So Long, Uncle Walter

The New York Times leads with a report from Tehran, where one of the country's top clerics sharply rebuked the government for its handling of the post-election unrest, even as police used tear gas and batons to disperse a huge crowd of opposition protesters. The Wall Street Journal heads its worldwide newsbox with a scoop: According to unnamed sources, the White House may create a special unit of elite interrogators, drawn from a range of governmental and law-enforcement agencies, to question high-value detainees. The team, which would not be affiliated with the CIA, would focus on intelligence-gathering rather than eliciting criminal evidence; it's not clear how it would be overseen, or whether it would abide by the Army Field Manual's standards for noncoercive questioning. 

The Washington Post leads with word that the Iraqi government is seeking to restrict U.S. troop movements and activities, ordering U.S. forces to cease joint patrols in Baghdad and to keep resupply convoys off the streets during daylight hours. The Los Angeles Times goes with news that the LAPD has been freed from federal oversight, imposed eight years ago following decades of brutality and corruption complaints. And, of course, all the papers find space up-front to mark the passing of iconic newsman Walter Cronkite, who died last night at the age of 92.

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In a sermon delivered at Tehran University before tens of thousands of opposition protesters, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani yesterday attacked the ruling regime for losing the trust of the Iranian people in the aftermath of last month's disputed election, and called for the easing of media restrictions and the release of hundreds of those detained in recent weeks. "I hope that today's Friday prayers will be a turning point for us to pass this crisis," he said, "and that once again we will be able to witness healthy competition and the choosing of whoever the people want." The speech gave fresh energy to the country's opposition movement and sparked boisterous demonstrations on the streets of Tehran, where protesters chanting opposition slogans were forced back by "a human chain of police" using tear gas and truncheons.

Earlier this month, the Iraqi government startled U.S. commanders by applying a strict new reading to a six-month-old security agreement, limiting American troop movements and demanding a halt to joint patrols in urban areas. The move points to increasing tension as U.S. troops transition away from combat operations, reports the Post;U.S. commanders voiced concerns that the restrictions would hinder soldiers' efforts to defend themselves or to respond swiftly to threats. The reports came as insurgents launched a mortar attack on a U.S. base in a formerly peaceful area near Basra, in southern Iraq, killing three U.S. soldiers—the first American deaths since last month's withdrawal from urban areas. In Baghdad, meanwhile, three pilgrims were killed and dozens more injured in a wave of bombings timed to coincide with a Shiite festival; still, the LAT notes, the violence was far less intense than has been the case at other such events in recent years.

Walter Cronkite, who in his 19 years as CBS news anchor helped shape both the news business and America herself, had the disarming habit of shrugging off his legendary status by saying simply: "Everything we did was for the first time." Still, as President Obama said yesterday, Cronkite—who died at his home in New York yesterday from complications of dementia—was "more than just an anchor"; he was a beloved and trusted public figure who helped steer the American people through some of the rockiest moments of the 20th century. The papers all pay fulsome tribute to the late, great newsman, who was once voted the most trusted public figure in America; still, all the obits and analyses are tinged with a sense of nostalgia, not just for Cronkite, but for the simpler and more idealistic form of broadcast journalism that he represented. "There are many more rooms in the mansion that is television news nowadays," notes the LAT's TV critic, "But they have grown proportionately smaller; they are no longer fit for giants."

The House Intelligence Committee opened an investigation yesterday into whether the Bush administration broke the law by failing to inform Congress about the CIA's efforts to develop assassination teams targeting senior al-Qaida leaders—and whether Dick Cheney improperly intervened to cover up the operation. Republicans dismissed the move as a "partisan plan," but a CIA spokesman said the agency would cooperate fully with the inquiry. In the WSJ, former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke argues that congressional oversight of the CIA's covert operations has long been "more of a ritual than a reality" and argues that the agency should be ordered to retire its tainted covert-ops wing and focus solely on gathering intelligence.

On the Hill, Democrats appeared to be getting ever-so-slightly-cold feet yesterday over health care reforms. With the president determined to pass legislation before the summer recess, the NYT reports, lawmakers fret that they'll only be able to meet their deadline by steamrollering opposition from Republicans; what's more, centrist Democrats are growing increasingly queasy over the size, scope, and cost of the legislation. In a bid to cut through the chaff, the White House submitted detailed cost-cutting proposals to Congress yesterday, and the president underscored his determination to pass the reforms. "We are going to get this done," he said. "We will reform health care. It will happen this year. I'm absolutely convinced of that."

With impressive disregard for literary irony, Amazon yesterday remotely deleted copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle devices of readers who'd bought them, after it emerged that the bookseller did not hold the rights to the texts. Amazon's unilateral decision to spike bought-and-paid-for digital texts sparked an Internet firestorm—"If this Kindle breaks, I won't buy a new one, that's for sure," groused one disgruntled reader—and left Amazon scrambling to contain the PR fallout.

And, as Uncle Walter would have said, that's the way it is.

Ben Whitford writes for the Guardian, Mother Jones and Newsweek.

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