Today's Papers

Starr Tracking

Life after Paula for Ken Starr leads all around. USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times all emphasize Starr’s determination to press on. The New York Times stresses instead Democratic pressure on Starr to pack it in, noting that the White House and Congress were being guided in this by overnight polling indicating nearly two-thirds of those asked thought the Jones dismissal was good for the country.

Starr responded to the Jones result by holding his first extensive meeting with the press since January (which the NYT characterizes as “defiant, sometimes rambling”), in the driveway of his home. Both USAT and the WP report his case for pressing on sans Paula: “If you lie under oath, if you intimidate a witness, if you seek otherwise to obstruct the process of justice, it doesn’t matter who wins and loses in the civil case.”

Later on Thursday, Starr had Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles brought before the grand jury for questioning. The NYT reports that White House aides were “furious” about this because they feel that Bowles has made a particular effort to wall himself off from the Lewinsky scandal.

President Clinton was asked about the Jones decision yesterday and he is widely quoted as saying it “speaks for itself.” Hillary was described as more ebullient, and was quoted by everyone as saying, “Both Bill and I have felt throughout this whole thing that it would turn out fine.” The NYT has Jones confidante Susan Carpenter-McMillan saying that the ruling means it’s “open season on women here in this country.” The WP says Jesse Jackson saw something special about President Clinton getting the news while in Africa: “It’s a convergence that could only be planned by God.”

There is much coverage today of Bill and Hillary’s emotional visit to Goree Island, a slavery marshaling point off the coast of Senegal. Clinton paid tribute there to Americans descended from slaves brought from Africa. Everybody has Clinton’s shock at seeing the size of the iron ball used to immobilize manacled slaves. But there is something consistently missing in all the Goree coverage. While the island was owned at various times by each of the major European colonial powers active in West Africa, the LAT is wrong to describe it as the place “where millions of Africans ended their lives as free people and became captives of white men sending them across the ocean to an unknown future.” What’s left out is that during the four centuries of the slave trade, most of the millions of Africans victimized were first captured by other Africans and then sold to Europeans. They ended their lives as free people before they fell into white hands.

The LAT front reports that teen smoking is on the rise, jumping by nearly a third in the past six years. Especially alarming is the news of a big increase among black teenagers, a group once believed to be curiously resistant to the teen smoking trend. This story also makes the NYT front and is inside at the WP.

More on the rise of Sen. John McCain: The Wall Street Journal “Washington Wire” reports that he will publish his memoirs in the presidential run-up year of 1999, and that an editor who bid on the book says the excerpt he saw brought tears to his eyes.

“Today’s Papers” appreciates the dozens and dozens of responses to the request for a better term for the procedure often described in the papers as a “partial birth abortion.” (Incidentally, there was no political agenda behind the request–it was made purely out of an interest in increased linguistic precision.) An FOTP coffee cup goes to James S. Thompson, M.D., of Newburyport, Massachusetts, for the simple but effective “partial delivery abortion.” TP will essay to use the phrase and commends it to the dailies.

And thanks to the many readers who rushed forward with considerable expertise to answer this column’s somewhat inept question about the NYT’s story concerning that fourth-grader’s “therapeutic touch” experiment. The upshot is that TP was mistaken in suggesting that a random result would have to be a 50 percent score. That would only be true with an infinite number of trials. But in an actual experiment, which involves a finite number of trials, one calculates a range of values above and below 50% that define what would still count as random results. This is the margin of error produced by the sample size. So since the kid’s result of 44 percent was within that range for the number of trials she undertook, the NYTwas correct to say that her result was no better than chance. However, TP would add this: the Times story, like all statistical stories, should have mentioned the margin of error.

Back to Africa for a moment: If Steven Spielberg had tossed just a few more centi-Ks the DNC’s way, Bill Clinton might have made this trip the week before “Amistad” opened.