October Surprise: Bin Laden's Reprise
By Alexander Barnes Dryer
Posted Saturday, Oct. 30, 2004
As the presidential campaign enters its final, frantic 72 hours, everyone leads with the long-awaited October Surprise, which emerged yesterday in the form of a new videotape from Osama bin Laden. The video features the terrorist kingpin's first direct admission of guilt for the 9/11 attacks and shows him looking healthier and more relaxed than he has appeared in previous recordings. Bin Laden's comments demonstrate a familiarity with recent events in the United States, including the presidential campaign.
The New York Times features the most extensive quotes from the tape, including the entirety of bin Laden's remarks about Bush's initially slow response to news of the attacks. The Los Angeles Times report has the best review of bin Laden's demeanor, noting that he appeared "almost defiant" at times. The Washington Post's story places greater emphasis on the potential political impact of bin Laden's reappearance. A news analysis that runs alongside the paper's lead attempts to discern whether the tape helps or hurts either candidate. The piece presents the emerging conventional wisdom: The video may boost Bush by reminding voters of terrorism (an issue on which Americans continue to trust him), or it may boost Kerry by reminding voters bin Laden is still on the loose (an issue on which the senator has attacked the president). The NYT also runs a secondary piece; it goes light on the analysis but reports on both candidates' efforts to incorporate news of the tape into their last series of campaign appearances.
The LAT is the only paper to front an unfortunately ironic counterpoint to the bin Laden tape--news of the intelligence reform bill's collapse in Congress. House and Senate negotiators could not hammer out a compromise on several thorny issues, including Pentagon control the intelligence budget. The paper also fronts an excellent story on the growing hatred of the United States in Pakistan, which only adds to the overall gloomy news offered about the war on terror.
Other election news dominates the rest of the papers' front pages. The Post hits the early voting story a day late, and adds little that the NYT didn't offer up yesterday. For its part, the NYT examines the voters who are switching from the party they supported in 2000. The piece has some interesting details about the strength of the candidates' support from their political bases, but it is mostly an attempt to offer a view of the electorate at a time when most political pros have concluded it's too late and too close to watch the polls. The LAT has the best color from the campaign trail, with a report on Bush's swing through Ohio with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Post assesses the possibility of a drawn-out election in which a winner cannot immediately be declared. While at least one expert tells the paper the 2000 election was an historical anomaly, others fear Florida-style chaos. Perhaps the biggest problem will be provisional ballots, which are given to voters who don't appear on registration lists. This is the first presidential campaign in which the ballots are being used nationwide (they are now required by federal law), and they are already the subject of intense litigation.
The NYT fronts a story that may become bigger news in the next few days, given the Kerry campaign's ripped-from-the-headlines approach to criticizing President Bush (see also: al-Qaqaa). A new study shows the serious and increasingly apparent effects of global warming on the Arctic. The NYT obtained the study--which was prepared by the United States and seven other countries--after Europeans involved in the research complained that the Bush administration was holding the results until after the election.
The Post offers a healthy reminder that U.S. politics are relatively tame when compared other countries' electoral efforts. The paper has an excellent review of the tense (and at times violent) presidential campaign in Ukraine, where voters head to the polls tomorrow. Ukrainians' choice, as the Post explains it, is between an opposition candidate favoring closer ties to the West and a ruling party candidate favoring closer ties to Russia. Significantly, both candidates support withdrawing Ukrainian troops from Iraq.
Back at home, the NYT examines the struggles of traditional airlines and the growth of low-cost carriers. The nominal newspeg is ATA Airlines' bankruptcy filing, but a troubled discounter doesn't exactly fit the storyline and is thus buried at the end. In truth, the story reads as if it could have run any time in the last three years.
All the papers front a handful of local stories, but a couple will be interesting to readers across the country. An article in the LAT examines the case of an L.A. man who falsely incriminated himself in three slayings. The paper reports that the man had an IQ between 60 and 73 and uses his case as an example of a problem nationwide: Children and mentally impaired adults regularly offer confessions for crimes they did not commit. The Post gets ready for Halloween with its report on a Virginia haunted house staged by Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. The paper reports that evangelical groups are staging such scary Halloween-related events to frighten visitors into accepting God.
Alexander Barnes Dryer is a former Slate intern.