Today's Papers

Tape Measure

Everyone leads with the presidential tape, although true to its Rashomon spirit, no two papers see in it quite the same thing. The Washington Post flags it as “Clinton Decries Attempt to ‘Set Me Up.” The New York Times says, “Tape Shows Nation a Clinton Irate and Sad.” The Los Angeles Times and USA Today play it somewhat straighter, with their top headlines merely stating that the tape was nationally aired, although the papers use their sub-headlines to interpret the event. The LAT sees a “composed” chief executive offering “new insights” into his version of events, while USAT stresses that the initial reaction of the public and Congress prompted by the tape suggested that Clinton’s risk of impeachment was not thereby increased. Indeed, USAT cites a post-tape poll finding that two-thirds of Americans don’t want President Clinton impeached, up from 60 percent the day before the tape’s airing.

To varying degrees, the papers all note that the taped testimony did not feature the politically explosive emotions or over-the-top sex talk that had been rumored last week. USAT notes that contrary to leaks, the tape contained no angry eruptions. And the NYT’s R.W. Apple makes the point that the grand jury appearance was marked by Clinton’s fuller and more convincing expressions of personal regret, plus more fondness for Monica Lewinsky than the nationally televised speech he gave a few hours later. Apple writes that if the speech had been more like the testimony in this regard, Clinton might well have put the whole matter to rest.

A key to the relative success Clinton achieved in his grand jury appearance is noted by the LAT: unlike ordinary witnesses, Clinton was frequently allowed by the prosecutors to go on at great length without directly responding to questions. (Which, given that Clinton had agreed to appear for only four hours, also meant he was able to avoid some lines of questioning altogether by “eating the clock.”) Or just as unusually, note all the papers, Clinton simply didn’t answer some questions at all. For instance, the NYT reports that when Clinton suggested that the grand jurors themselves wielded a definition of sex, that like his, required sexual intercourse, some of the jurors sent back word that no, they wanted him to address more specifically what he and Lewinsky did, but Clinton politely refused.

Everybody suggests that the among the most implausible moments in Clinton’s testimony came when he tried to save his testimony from perjury by advocating arcane definitions of such words as “is” and “alone.” In conjunction with Clinton’s attempt to fine-tune the notion of sexual relations so that it required intercourse, the WP helpfully notes that in a recent Time-CNN poll, 87 percent of the respondents said they consider oral sex sex. Clinton’s answers included the enunciation of his own philosophy of such testimony: be truthful but not helpful; say what’s true, but if possible make it misleading. But Clinton came out of such logic-chopping to a peroration pitched primarily to the grand jurors that was, notes the NYT, worthy of a campaign speech.

A WP editorial says that the videotape does not change the “unfortunate fundamentals of the case.” And so the paper maintains that the only thing to do is for Congress to open a formal impeachment inquiry. The NYT editorial on the subject says the performance might have done Clinton some good, but is still “one of the most low-rent moments in White House history.” The editorial concludes that any short-of-impeachment resolution requires that Clinton stop demanding that the American people “endorse his lying.” We can afford, says the editorial, to be a nation of forgivers, but not of enablers.

Everybody picks over the new Lewinsky material released yesterday. The biggest new news everybody has is that keeping the dress unwashed was Linda Tripp’s idea, one which she implemented by convincing Lewinsky she’d gotten too heavy to wear the dress and hence didn’t need to wash it. There’s also the word that Lewinsky’s notes of her Clinton visits and calls are so extensive that they even included a spread (so to speak) sheet. USAT’s account says her memory for details was so good that she rattled off for prosecutors what she and Vernon Jordan had to eat at their breakfast meeting some months prior.

World record-holder and 1988 Olympic champion Florence Griffith-Joyner died in her sleep yesterday. The story makes the LAT, USAT, and WP fronts and runs inside at the NYT. The widespread rumors about her use of steroids during her career, made relevant by her death of heart failure at age 38, are mentioned prominently by USAT and the NYT, not at all by the WP.

The Wall Street Journal “Work Week” column says that the Clinton testimony tapes were a big distraction in the American workplace yesterday. Trouble is, the column cites just a single workplace–that of something called Amcat Corp. in New Britain Conn. Why this outfit and no other? But the item does go on to mention that about half of the 300,000 people who used the Internet on Monday to view CNN’s testimony download were at the office at the time.