Today's Papers

Still Sleazy After All These Years

The showdown congressional vote today on fast track trade authority is the lead all around. The New York Times says neither side has the upper hand. The Los Angeles Times says the vote will be a “cliffhanger.” The Washington Post is more pessimistic, saying that pro forces have “hit a brick wall in their attempts to muster the votes.” The Times notes the strange alliances forged by the bill, such as Clinton supporters Dick Armey and a former Bush White House lobbyist, not to mention Newt Gingrich.

The Times points out that many anti Democrats are mad at Clinton for his comment earlier this week suggesting that they were putting personal needs before the country’s (and the paper implies that eventual presidential candidate Al Gore may ultimately pay the price for all this bad feeling). And yet much of the reportage describes how, at the eleventh hour, the White House is striving to meet those needs. Votes are being promised to the administration in return for pledges of campaign funds, and for assurances about vintners’ and tobacco farmers’ and peanut and citrus growers’ rights, and those of cattle ranchers too. The Post notes a signal drawback of all this attention going to the last-minute pole sitters: those who took a stand early are pissed. “I should have held out for $1billion for wetlands restoration,” says one such congressman.

Even though the run-up to the fast-track vote probably should be the lead today, the story fits a recent LAT trend that’s worth noting: on Sundays, the paper has a weakness for leads straight out of the president’s Saturday radio address, no matter how un-gripping the topic. No doubt because that sure simplifies the Saturday reporting–just turn on the radio and type.

Just wondering: Why didn’t Bill Clinton’s speech to a gay group–the first ever by a president–get on anybody’s front page? (The WP puts it on p. A18.)

Seymour Hersh’s about-to-be-released book on John Kennedy gets plenty of ink: front page at the LAT, a front-page “reefer” to a piece inside at the NYT, and a long inside piece at the WP. The overall point of the book is familiar–the NYT headline is “Book Depicts JFK as Reckless and Immoral”–but the details and sourcing are new. Although this book was said at one point to depend crucially on the recently discredited Kennedy papers, it’s apparently still plenty lurid without them. Details the papers mention include: a) The Chicago mob’s help in the 1960 election was secured in a JFK-Sam Giancana face-to-face meeting arranged by JFK’s father; b) Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s personal secretary, tells Hersh that she knows the West Virginia election was “bought”; c) Four ex-Secret Service agents describe the large numbers of sex partners–many of them prostitutes–ushered into the White House and hotel rooms; d) General Dynamics was able to parlay its discovery of JFK’s affair with Judith Campbell Exner into a huge fighter plane contract. Hersh even pulls in Nixon, mentioning that the Kennedy-era CIA discovered he had taken a $100,000 bribe.

Sleaze in high places seems to be the order of the day: the NYT runs an op-ed by historian Michael Beschloss about the pros and cons of Oval Office taping that includes a conversation between LBJ and Abe Fortas in which the married Fortas tells the president that he’s out with a “beautiful lady in red” who’s not his wife and that “We’re doing good, and I’m going to try to do bad before the evening’s over.”