Today's Papers

Starr Gazing

Everybody leads with the expected near-simultaneous release today to the Congress and the American people of the Starr report. You can’t tell from the USA Today and Los Angeles Times headlines what the report says Clinton did. And indeed, the LAT lead never says. For that you have to turn to the Washington Post and New York Times headlines, which make it plain: lied (both papers), obstructed justice (the Post) and abused power (the NYT).

The LAT lead emphasizes the struggle yesterday between get-it-out-now House Republicans and pro-delay Democrats over the timing of the report’s release, a battle, say the papers, the Republicans have won. The LAT cites one argument Democrats wielded, but to no avail: when the House Ethics committee reprimanded Newt Gingrich last year, he was given an advance copy of the report. Only the WP notices that in describing the Starr report as one-sided, White House lawyer David Kendall was analyzing a report he hadn’t read.

USAT also tells of the pre-release battle and repeats its account of the report’s charges from yesterday’s edition: that Clinton obstructed justice in trying to find Monica Lewinsky a job and lied twice under oath about his relationship with her. These charges are expounded at much greater length in the NYT and WP. Oddly, USAT buries until the third-from-the-bottom paragraph the news that a source says Starr concludes Clinton committed eleven offenses that could warrant impeachment, a detail the WP rightly puts in its lead’s first sentence.

USAT says the report includes “graphic details about sexual encounters” between Clinton and Lewinsky but leaves it at that. The LAT goes a little farther with such titillating non-titillation, quoting a source telling the reporter, “I don’t know how a newspaper like yours will be able to handle some of this material.” But the NYT and especially the WP wade into the details, and even though Bill Clinton told Senate Democrats yesterday at a White House meeting that Starr’s report would contain “no surprises,” some of the details are new: Lewinsky testified that on two occasions she engaged in a sex act with Clinton while he talked on the phone with members of Congress (say both papers) and the WP prints the Dutch Master-bator tale of Drudge Report fame that according to her, the two once used a cigar as a prop in a sex act.

All the papers have comments from Cabinet members and Democratic senators who met yesterday with Clinton behind closed doors. Most describe a repentant Bill Clinton. (In a sort of Atonement Watch, the NYT runs a chronology with excerpts of the six Clinton apologies to date.) But the WP reports that at the Cabinet meeting, when HHS Secretary Donna Shalala asked Clinton if he didn’t think he had an obligation to provide moral leadership, Clinton “let her have it,” saying that if her logic had prevailed in 1960, Richard Nixon would have been elected instead of John Kennedy. After that exchange, says the Post’s source, no other Cabinet member had anything critical to say.

The off-lead at the LAT, the WP and NYT, which USAT plays on the front below the fold, is Boris Yeltsin’s decision to name Yevgeny Primakov, his current foreign minister, as his new prime minister. The papers all note that the choice met with the communists’ approval and hence is likely to be approved by the parliament, possibly resolving the country’s leadership crisis. Also widely noted is that Primakov, an experienced diplomat, has no expertise in the area of the country’s burning problem, economics. The WP seems particularly down on the move though–an editorial describes him as a “KGB veteran and friend of dictators everywhere.”

Inside pieces at both the WP and the NYT report that the Senate yesterday killed an attempt at campaign finance reform, probably tabling such efforts for the rest of the year. The arguments of the corruptions of money vs. the freedom to contribute and raise it were the same-old same-old, but this time, notes the Times, there was also the deepening distraction of possible impeachment proceedings. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal “Washington Wire” says the Starr report means the chances of a managed care overhaul coming out of Congress this year are zero.

The USAT front features a poll that says two-thirds of Americans think Bill Clinton should stay in office. But Martha Stewart may not be one of them. The WP says today’s broadcast of “Martha Stewart Living” was supposed to be a lunch get-together with Bill Clinton the hostess had taped back in June. But instead, viewers will see a rerun.