Today's Papers

Russian to Judgment

Boris Yeltsin’s dismissal of his entire cabinet leads at USA Today and the New York Times. The Washington Post goes with the Supreme Court’s decision to sidestep a “partial-birth abortion” case. (An FOTP coffee cup for the reader who submits, the best alternative phrase, in TP’s judgment, for the procedure in question. How can someone be partially born? And doesn’t “Partial-birth abortion” seems about as logical as “partial-life execution?”) The Los Angeles Times leads with the main economic reaction to yesterday’s big story about oil production cutbacks: a 13 percent rise in oil prices, the biggest one-day percentage gain since the Gulf War.

Yeltsin explained his move by saying his nation needed a fresh and powerful team in place to pull it out of its social and economic crises. The biggest name casualty was long-time Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, widely viewed as Yeltsin’s heir apparent. In firing him, Yeltsin advised him to concentrate on the next presidential elections, to be held in 2000. Odd or insincere advice, given that the NYT says few give Chernomyrdin much of a chance to win that election without the power of the PM’s office or Yeltsin’s support.

The NYT says theories about why Yeltsin fired everybody “swirled through the capital like a cyclone.” But give the Times credit for putting forward its own clear suggestion: With Yeltsin’s health problems much in evidence of late, Russians were increasingly viewing Chernomyrdin as Yeltsin’s imminent successor, and “nothing infuriates Yeltsin more than the suggestion that he has lost any of his political authority.” The LAT, which runs Yeltsin on its front, also settles on this as the most likely explanation.

Although all the papers agree on the basic facts of the shake-up, their takes on the emotions involved vary. The NYT says Yeltsin made his stunning announcement in a “surprisingly folksy and conciliatory speech,” while WP says the speech was made by a “stiff-looking” Yeltsin, and the LAT says he was “grim.”

The Post has some excellent detail on the mechanics of the firings. Yeltsin, says the paper, met with Chernomyrdin in person and gave him a farewell award for “Services to the Fatherland,” while the other big names got it in the neck on the phone. The Post account makes it clear that there are Russian spin doctors too, by reporting that a Kremlin spokesman said Yeltsin’s moves “had been planned for a long time.”

The WP lead brings word that the Supreme Court, confronted with its first chance to take up the issue of a particular vexed type of late-term abortion, decided to punt, prompting an angry dissent from conservative justices Thomas, Rehnquist and Scalia. On the other hand, abortion rights advocates were cheered by the inaction. The non-move is also the USAT off-lead, but doesn’t make the front of the NYT or LAT. Both of those papers find another judicial story more pressing: The California Supreme Court’s decision that the Boy Scouts can ban gays.

The LAT, NYT, and WP fronts carry the news that the federal government has indeed, as it first hinted over a week ago, decided to try to block the Lockheed-Northrop merger.

President Clinton’s arrival in Ghana is front-page news at the NYT, LAT, and WP. Clinton opened his 12-day tour of Africa, says the NYT, by pledging more American interest and aid while calling for a deeper African commitment to democracy and free markets. The Times describes how the largest crowd Clinton ever spoke to–some half a million Ghanians–surged against the barricades, threatening to “overwhelm the president.” The paper says Clinton, “his face contorted in anger, raged at the crowd to get back.” The picture on the NYT and WP fronts captures the moment: It’s the “Primary Colors” opening handshake gone mad. Clinton in Africa also makes the LAT front.

The WP reports that in the Lewinsky matter, the White House is attempting to use its recently announced claim of executive privilege to cover discussions involving not just presidential advisors like Bruce Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal, but also those involving Hillary Clinton. The paper points out that this indicates how actively involved she has been in the White House response to the scandal. Meanwhile, a NYT editorial calls the attempt to use executive privilege in the controversy “an alarming attempt to extend presidential power.”

The Wall Street Journal “Work Week” column reports that “Eighty-eight percent of CEOs surveyed anonymously report that they see a connection between a worker’s age and productivity. In a poll of 773 chief executives in 23 countries, consultants Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that most think productivity peaks around age 43.” “Today’s Papers” is sorry that the Journal wasn’t curious enough to find out the average age of those CEOs.