Today's Papers

Annan-omous Threat

USA Today

, the Washington Post, and the New York Times lead with the U.N. Security Council’s OK of the weapons inspection deal agreed to last week by Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein. The Los Angeles Times goes with President Clinton’s criticism of the congressional movement towards a radical overhaul of the tax code.

The Security Council voted 15-0 to approve the Annan deal, which opens up eight of Saddam’s presidential sites to U.N. inspectors. The papers report that debate focused mainly on what would happen if Saddam reneges. The U.S. and Britain wanted the Council to authorize automatic military action as part of the accord, while other member countries, led by France, Russia, and China, did not. In the end, there was no mention of automatic military moves, but merely a warning of “the severest consequences.” USAT and the WP stress the U.N.’s warning, while the NYT stresses the U.S. failure to get inclusion of an automatic attack. Despite this difference, everybody reports that the U.S. position is that it doesn’t need further approval for a strike if the deal is abrogated.

The Post reports that the U.N.’s resolution reiterates the intention to consider ending the economic sanctions on Iraq once its weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated. This news seems too important to leave to the last paragraph, though.

The LAT lead reports on a speech President Clinton gave Monday in which he denounced the current vogue for wiping out the U.S. tax code in favor of a radically new system. Clinton called the approach “misguided, reckless and irresponsible,” warning that it could imperil the economy. “No one concerned about fighting crime would even think about saying, ‘Well, three years from now we’re going to throw out the criminal code and we’ll figure out what to put in its place,’” the paper quotes Clinton as saying. “But that is exactly what some people in Congress are proposing to do.”

This sounds like an important story–Zeitgeist and president on collision course over taxes. Why then does the WP put it on p. 5, and the NYT national edition bury it on p. 15?

A Wall Street Journal editorial on Internet taxation takes the position that Bill Clinton is right to support a sales tax moratorium, and Trent Lott wrong to oppose it, because the Internet is “the business infrastructure of the future,” and hence its growth shouldn’t be “stifled” by taxes. Along the way, the editorial asks a fun tax question: “If a man in California buys a birthday present for his mother in Illinois from a company located in Georgia, in which state did the transaction take place?”

Today’s appearance of Vernon Jordan before the Starr grand jury gets front-page coverage at the WP and a “Politics and Policy” piece at the WSJ. USAT uses the occasion to do an informative front-page primer on grand juries. The Tony Mauro/Kevin Johnson effort reviews such basics as that the lawyers of those summoned have to wait outside and that grand jurors can pose questions. There are also the nuggets that England did away with grand juries fifty years ago and that in Hawaii they have their own lawyer as a counterbalance to the prosecutor. And there’s this grand juror’s question to Sidney Blumenthal during his appearance last week: “Do you believe the public should be fully informed about the character of the president?” Blumenthal’s answer: “Yes, I do.”

In a WP front-page interview, Bill Gates says, referring to the Justice Department’s lawsuit, “If we can’t innovate in our products, then you know we will be replaced.” The paper is struck by how far Gates’ behavior is from “the usual cautious demeanor of business leaders visiting Washington,” and finds him “roaring with indignation and disdain for those who question his business practices.”

One of the key causes of press overkill of the sort we’re now witnessing in l’affaire Lewinsky is the papers’ tendencies to do stories about anything that has to do with Topic A, even if it would otherwise merit virtually no news play. A good example is found in today’s LAT “Column One” feature, which tells us that Walt Whitman, “the poet of democracy, the poet of the body and soul,” commands a loyal and expansive following, and quotes a talking head from USC to drive home the point. The real reason for the piece isn’t revealed until the fifth paragraph: Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass “has a cameo in the investigation involving President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.” What’s next–a “Column One” about Leo Rosten and the history of “schmucko”?