Today's Papers

Dress Rehearsal

The expected grand jury testimony today of Monica Lewinsky leads at USA Today and gets subhead billing in the Washington Post’s lead, which is about the Clinton administration’s revival of the claim of executive privilege in the Lewinsky matter. The New York Times plays Monica’s imminent testimony below the fold (as does the Los Angeles Times), leading instead with the Iraqis’ umpteenth snit over U.N. weapons inspections, which is the LAT’s top national story, and which also gets top front placement at USAT. (But doesn’t make the Post front.)

The USAT lead states that Lewinsky is prepared to testify that she and President Clinton had a sexual relationship and that although she was never directly told to lie under oath about it, she was given suggestions it should be kept secret. And “prepared” here, the paper specifies, means that Lewinsky spent Wednesday going through a “final rehearsal” of her testimony with Ken Starr’s people. USAT somehow refrains from calling it a “dress” rehearsal. Spending the day this way raises a question not addressed in any of the coverage to date: How come it’s ok for lawyers to do all these dry runs? Isn’t this just coaching the witness? The Nation’s Newspaper makes the nifty observation that yesterday marked the beginning of Starr’s fifth year of investigating Clinton.

The NYT oversells its Iraq lead in saying that the latest developments mark “the first time” Saddam Hussein said he was ending all cooperation with U.N. inspectors. Especially since just a few paragraphs in, the story quotes chief inspector Richard Butler as saying “…there is a syndrome here–going around the same track again and again.” And a little further below that, it quotes a National Security Council spokesman saying, “We’ve heard this bluster before.”

Now that Clinton staff attorney Lanny Breuer is invoking executive privilege to keep from having a Starr grand jury sit-down, the WP usefully documents the White House’s legal tacking by quoting White House counsel Charles Ruff’s comments from two months ago: “We have no intention of asserting the privilege, executive privilege, in any situation that I’m aware of.”

The LAT’s “Column One” says that Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” ends years of silence about the horrors experienced by American soldiers in World War II. Last week, USAT ran a big front-page piece saying the same thing. But what of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Paul Fussell’s Wartime and Doing Battle, or Ronald Reagan’s (Peggy Noonan’s) 1984 “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech? Isn’t this just another annoying example of Boomers mistakenly thinking they discovered, nay, invented, something that’s been around for quite a while? (You know, like having children and working hard.)

The LAT follows up its front-page scoop that World War II was horrible with its front-page David Shaw scoop that as internet and cable news outlets proliferate, the pressure to be first is, in the quoted words of Dan Rather, “greater and stronger.” Other talking heads brought on board include Bill Kovach, the “Curator of Neiman Fellowships in Journalism at Harvard University” (point: working fast leads to mistakes) and Marvin Kalb, “executive director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy” (point: being first is profitable). When was the last time Shaw did a piece that didn’t quote all these media mafiosi? And would it be too much to ask that their ideas be more substantial than their job titles?

The Wall Street Journal reports that Golden Books, off of disastrous first-half results, has hired a media investment banker to explore “strategic opportunities.” It’s not just that Toys “R” Us isn’t stocking as many books as it used to–hey, there’s also the Shari Lewis death to contend with.

One of the bigger challenges faced by contemporary journalism is convincingly dressing up its desire to dig dirt in the clothes of some principle or other. Consider the WP’s editorial on Monica’s imminent grand jury appearance, which states that her testimony “offers a welcome opportunity to turn this investigation away from the fascinating but tangential privilege questions about Secret Service agents and White House lawyers in which it has so long been mired. It is a chance to get back to the core issues Mr. Starr was asked to address.” Fascinating privilege questions? Core issues Mr. Starr was asked to address? Yeah, right.