Today's Papers

Iraq and Roll Call

The Washington Post leads with U.S./U.N. reactions to the continuing Iraq stand-off. USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with congressional fast-track maneuvering. And the New York Times goes with the announcement of a Pentagon job cut.

According to the WP, President Clinton is urging the U.N. to put enough pressure on Iraq to compel Saddam Hussein to give internal access once again to the U.N. weapons inspection teams. The Post says that Clinton is especially focused on getting France, Russia and Arab states to stay firm. Meanwhile, says the paper, Hussein made a statement on Iraqi television that appeared to be bucking up his countrymen to continue the impasse.

The WP says Clinton is proceeding on two fronts. One, he is making it clear that military options are not off the table–“We will not,” he said yesterday, referring to Hussein’s vow to shoot down U.S.-piloted U.N. surveillance U-2s, “tolerate his efforts to murder our pilots.” And two, trying to ensure that the U.N. maintains a united front against Iraq.

USAT and the LAT both report that the fast-track roll call will probably take place early Monday morning, and that Clinton seemed unable to persuade enough House Democrats to vote his way and so the emphasis has turned towards the hunt for Republican votes. The LAT says Republican leaders predict the bill will pass.

You have to sympathize a bit with the situation the dailies are in with fast-track. Fascinated by the bill’s strange bedfellow coalition of supporters and convinced that a dramatic vote was imminent, the papers started hitching their leads to the vote in the middle of last week, which meant that as the vote kept not materializing, the papers were stuck in bed with a story that wouldn’t undress and was ugly anyway. But the majors didn’t help themselves out much–they could have been doing much more substantive reporting from the outset about what sorts of trade agreements fast-track authority was likely to spawn. Why, for instance, is there no mention of NAFTA or GATT in these stories? The whole episode is a good example of the press’s weakness for covering the how of a political story over the why or the what.

The NYT lead says that Secretary of Defense Cohen announced his plan to cut thousands of administrative jobs at the Pentagon under pressure from Congress to reduce the Pentagon’s own bureaucracy before ordering cuts in troops or weapons. The paper reports Cohen’s plan could save $6 billion a year. (That’s only a little more than a 2 percent cut.) The plan also includes proposed base closings, which the Times notes, require congressional approval and may not get it. And shades of the balanced budget deal, none of the projected pain takes place until Clinton is out of office. The WP runs substantially the same Cohen plan story on its front as well.

The Wall Street Journal runs a front-page feature about a federal affirmative action program for female highway contractors (the only one that cites women as a disadvantaged class) and the backlash it has created among black, male construction workers, who feel squeezed out of the trade by it. Under the program, reports the Journal, women’s share of federal highway funds has tripled. But meanwhile, the share going to blacks, the program’s original beneficiaries, plummeted. “The white women–95% of them are fronts,” the WSJ quotes a black trucking business owner as saying. Now there’s a move afoot in Congress to end the program, which the paper reports, might well mean a lot of female subcontractors will go bankrupt.

The WP runs a front-page piece detailing how since returning to office in 1995, Mayor Marion Barry has used more than $240,000 from a special unaudited fund, generated by the D.C. hotel tax and political contributions, for such goodies as a Waterford crystal wedding gift, a lavish staff Christmas party and extensive travel abroad. The story runs under the headline: “Barry Used Unaudited Funds For Gift, Parties and Travel.” That’s F6 on Post keyboards.