Today's Papers

Starr Crossed

Everybody leads with a federal judge’s dismissal yesterday of the tax fraud case recently filed against Webster Hubbell by Kenneth Starr. The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post headlines put the matter flatly, speaking only of the dismissal itself. The USA Today headline goes further, stating, “Hubbell Ruling Hurts Starr on Whitewater.” The New York Times goes further still, with the headline “In Slap at Starr, a Judge Dismisses Hubbell Tax Case,” and a second front-page piece flagged “New Rebuke, And Harsher.”

The federal judge, James Robertson, whom all the papers note is a Clinton appointee, ruled that in pursuing the tax case against Hubbell, Starr exceeded his authority and strayed too far from his original mandate of investigating President Clinton’s Arkansas real estate investments. Additionally, ruled the judge, Starr turned Hubbell into an informant against himself in basing the tax charges on records that Hubbell provided to him under a grant of immunity. The view of some of the papers that the ruling was a quite personal assessment of Starr is based in large measure on the judge’s description of this records seizure as “the quintessential fishing expedition.”

The papers note that the adverse ruling is the latest in a string of setbacks for Starr: his failed attempt to eradicate the postmortem lawyer-client privilege, the death of cooperating witness James McDougal, the release from jail of the non-cooperating Susan McDougal, and his failure thus far to delve into communications between Clinton and his government-supplied lawyers or into the observations made of Clinton by his Secret Service detail. Most of the stories get a little lost among all these trees, with the LAT alone in high up clearly sighting the forest: the ruling will probably “make it more difficult for [Starr] to obtain evidence of alleged criminal wrongdoing by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton,” Hubbell’s former law partner. But, the NYT notes, according to the judge, the ruling doesn’t affect the Lewinsky branch of Starr’s inquiry.

The NYT front reports that President Clinton taped an interview for play today on Chinese television in which he signaled to ordinary Chinese citizens his support of continued greater personal freedom and to the Chinese leadership that the U.S. has no wish to impose its will on their country. A Times piece inside says the show that will run the interview, the popular state-owned news magazine “Daily Focus,” resembles “60 Minutes” in that it features hard-hitting investigations (mostly of local, not national officials) unthinkable just a few years ago. Two differences though, according to the Times: the program has an audience of 300 million viewers, and young reporters.

A few weeks back, the LAT reported that a women in the advanced throes of childbirth asked for an epidural anesthetic to relieve her pain, only to be told by the attending nurse that she couldn’t have one unless she paid for it on the spot. The suffering woman offered to write a check or use a credit card, but no, said the nurse, it had to be cash. So the woman went without. Today, the paper’s front reports that the hospital has apologized to the mother and has promised the state of California that it’s instituting a policy of epidural anesthesia to women in labor on demand, regardless of their ability to pay.

The Wall Street Journal “Business Bulletin” reports that the growth of registered trademarks using such words as “cyber,” “link,” and “web” was off 14 percent last year. Two exceptions that remain on the rise are “tech” and “power.”

In a LAT “Column Left,” Alexander Cockburn reports on a survey recently filled out by 141 Washington journalists. Among the results: While 77 percent of the general populace think too much power is in the hands of a few large companies, only 57 percent of the reporters asked think this. And for information for a story on economic issues, over half the respondents usually call someone in the government, while 31 percent usually call someone in the corporate sector. Only 5 percent contact someone in the labor movement.

Back to Clinton in China: The president, reports the NYT, visited a housing development illustrating the very recent Chinese phenomenon of privately owned residences, and told families there that home ownership is an investment in society, the bedrock of middle-class life. Wonder if the Times had trouble resisting the observation that it’s an investment Clinton’s never made, a bedrock he’s never stood on.