Today's Papers

Call Guys

All three majors working the weekend agree on today’s lead: the decision by Janet Reno to begin the investigative process that could result in appointing an independent counsel to investigate President Clinton’s 1996 election fund-raising activities. This news comes on the heels of Reno’s decision two weeks ago to take the same look at Al Gore.

The Washington Post says the decision is based on new information developed by federal investigators that Clinton may have made campaign fund solicitation calls from the White House, and reports that the White House response is two-pronged: Clinton says he doesn’t remember making such calls, and there is no clear legal precedent to show that they would be illegal anyway.

The New York Times calls the Reno decision a “potential turning point” in that “until now, the investigation buffeting the administration had swirled around the Oval Office but had not touched Clinton personally….”

The new evidence apparently includes solicitation call sheets that were prepared for Clinton, for calls to fat cats who indisputably gave money to the DNC. What’s in dispute is whether Clinton actually made the calls. The NYT refers to a call sheet for beer baron August Busch IV. The WP opts instead for ones for a Maryland businessman and for Frank Zappa’s widow Gail. The natural assumption that all the papers had access to the same call sheets leads to a homework assignment: Does the WP or Newsweek or any Post company television station carry Busch product ads?

Only the Los Angeles Times makes the observation that puts this development in the proper context: Clinton has already been under the scrutiny of a special prosecutor for three years. (Remember Whitewater?)

Clinton wasn’t informed until Saturday–he was in California on his way to a $1 million fund-raiser (!)–which meant that the story was kept out of Friday headlines and newscasts. But what’s the gain? It’s dominating the Sunday papers, which in turn set the agenda for the Sunday political talk shows. There’s just no escaping the news cycle anymore.

The NYT runs a front-page explanatory piece on last week’s Teamster guilty pleas. Worth doing, because the case could well lead to deeper trouble for the DNC. Unfortunately, the piece doesn’t excel at explanation. True, it has the understandable problem of trying to be clear about describing schemes that were designed to be murky, but it doesn’t help that the story doesn’t even begin to explain until the 26th paragraph why the Teamster fund-raising deals in question were illegal, and even then none too clearly. Isn’t the relevant law that the union can’t donate money to either candidate, and hence can’t create schemes that do that while appearing to be donations from somebody else? And shouldn’t the Times just say so?

The WP runs a piece about the decline in the accuracy of directory assistance information, saying that the trend arises from increased competition and hence decreased cooperation between local phone companies and AT&T. They used to freely share numbers, but now they charge each other through the nose. The result is that AT&T and many regional phone companies are now attempting to compile their own data bases from other sources, like credit card files, DMV records, etc.–with decidedly mixed results.

The NYT’s “Editorial Notebook” item about Chelsea Clinton’s arrival at Stanford makes a good point. If the Clintons are so concerned that the media respect Chelsea’s privacy at school, then perhaps they should have let Chelsea arrive on her own “attended perhaps by a handful of Secret Service agents rather than arriving in a Presidential motorcade and trailed by hundreds of reporters and cameramen….”