The Note: This Gun's for Hire

The Washington Post 's Milbank and VandeHei write that the missing explosives has "crowded out the subjects Bush is raising, particularly an appeal to Democrats," and Note that "while there has yet to be an 'October surprise' that shakes up the race, a series of small, negative surprises have undermined Bush's campaign: the flu-vaccine shortage, climbing oil prices, falling stocks and this month's disappointing jobs report." LINK

"That Bush addressed the issue at all — on Tuesday he only glared at a reporter who inquired about the matter — reflected the prominence the explosives have gained in the final days of the presidential race, when every moment is precious to the campaigns. Kerry has used the situation to question Bush's terrorism-fighting credentials, and the matter has crowded out the subjects Bush is raising, particularly an appeal to Democrats."

Howard Kurtz reports today that in a conversation with New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, Keller told him that "sure there's a possibility" that the 380 tons of explosives disappeared from Al Qaqaa before American forces arrived. "I think the original story accounted for that possibility," Keller said. LINK

This sounds a little (or a lot … ) different from the tone and substance of the original Times story, which reported in its second paragraph that "United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year." (See: LINK)

"The sharp statements dominated the day's campaign debate, putting Bush on the defensive and giving the Massachusetts senator an opportunity to question the incumbent's credentials as commander in chief," write Warren Vieth and Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times. LINK

And look at this excellent nugget from the Vieth/Gold duo:

"The two-day delay in the Pentagon's response to the news reports troubled some of the military brass, one senior Defense official said. The Pentagon press office e-mailed its 'talking points' on the explosives to administration officials late Wednesday."

"'We have talking points now?' the official said, angered by the slow response. 'Two days after the story broke?'"

Read all the way to the bottom so you don't miss the good stuff they have on ads too.

The reluctant Kerry endorsers at the Washington Post 's editorial board think the Senator may have stepped over the line separating facts from wishful thinking.

"It may not be fair to claim, as Senator John F. Kerry did on Monday, that the loss represents 'one of the greatest blunders of this administration.' Apart from the doubts about whether the explosives disappeared before or after U.S. troops reached the site, Iraq was covered with some 10,000 weapons sites under Saddam Hussein; Qaqaa was not among those given highest priority by U.S. intelligence. Unfortunately, high explosives are not in short supply in the world's black markets, and HMX is far from the most valuable material needed for a nuclear bomb. We have said repeatedly, however, that President Bush erred in not dispatching enough troops to Iraq to secure the country after the war. We'll never know if a larger invasion force might have been able to prevent this looting, but the chances of avoiding this and other terrible reverses surely would have been much higher." LINK

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