Today's Papers

Courting Disaster

The Washington Post leads with the ruling by Britain’s highest court that Augusto Pinochet cannot be tried in England for anything he did while president of Chile. (The story makes everybody’s front.) The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times go with Brazil’s unveiling of its economic reform plan, thought to be crucial for keeping the world’s spreading economic downturn from taking hold in the Western Hemisphere. USA Today leads with a story first fronted yesterday by the NYT: the Republicans’ eleventh hour decision to unleash anti-Clinton campaign ads that refer to the Lewinsky scandal.

The British court, reports the WP, supported Pinochet via the ancient British common law precept that a sovereign is immune from prosecution, and held that the Nuremberg principles did not apply because there is no international tribunal handling charges that Pinochet ordered mass murders and torture. The prosecutors are left with the sole option of appealing the decision to the House of Lords, which with its aged and conservative make-up, is not likely to reverse the decision when it takes up the matter as early as next week. Until then, Pinochet remains a patient at a luxury London hospital, sufficiently medicated, reports the paper, that he is probably unaware he is under arrest. Yes, he’s still under arrest, which is why USAT’s front-page reefer headline “British Court Frees Chile’s Pinochet” is a bit off.

The two Times report that the Brazilian plan generates $23.5 billion in additional government funds via roughly equal parts tax increases and spending cuts and proposes reducing the expenditures of the country’s lavish social security system. The LAT says the austerity moves are “likely to produce a punishing recession,” but suggests this cure isn’t as bad as the disease of a currency devaluation, which it says, the government is determined to avoid. The LAT emphasizes an aspect of Brazil’s financial plight that should be familiar to American readers: the question of whether or not the National Congress has the will to pass it.

“Clinton can’t be trusted” is how USAT sums up the message of the new GOP ads, one dominated by the famous finger-wag that accompanied the president’s denial of having sex “with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” The paper goes on to quote Clinton responding yesterday by accusing the Republicans of trying to distract the American people from the GOP record. The NYT, in its front page follow-up today, reports that despite previously telling his party’s candidates to steer clear of the scandal, Newt Gingrich personally approved the ads. And the Times also reports that the Democrats are gleeful because they think the ads will create a big backlash against Republicans.

It’s become a commonplace of the debate over the Starr investigation that it cost more than $40 million, but until this morning, there’s been no public nail-down about where the money went. But the LAT, fed information by Judiciary Committee Democrats, fronts some Starr expenditures. Starr ethics consultant Sam Dash, for instance, gets a meta-Socratic $400 an hour, putting together, says the paper, many five-hour $2,000 weeks. And there was the $729,000 for five private investigators. The $1 million on travel. Not to mention the $19,000 per month to put up eight staff members in a luxury apartment building. And the real oral obscenity of the whole case may be this: Linda Tripp’s lunch with Monica Lewinsky came in at $127.42.

Last summer, when the U.S. attacked training camps associated with terrorist Osama bin Laden and government officials stressed that the incoming cruise missiles were not targeting bin Laden himself, Today’s Papers wondered why, since bin Laden is not protected by this country’s policy against assassinating heads of state, since he’s not one. Well, according to the LAT front, Clinton administration officials do not in fact believe the policy constrains them in their dealings with terrorists. The officials add however that U.S. acts against terrorism, unlike say, the CIA assassination plots against Castro, must be publicly acknowledged afterwards.

A front-page Wall Street Journal feature describes the advent of a new kind of for-pay Internet venture: sites that, using FAA data, track the comings and goings of the nation’s 10,000 corporate aircraft. And companies, says the paper, are not pleased, concerned that their activities will be exposed to everybody from stock traders, to terrorists, to stockholders’ watchdog groups (just what are all those planes doing in the Hamptons anyway?).

The WP TV column reports a Manhattan criminal defense lawyer is suing Geraldo Rivera in connection with on-air comments Rivera made. The lawyer says that during a September show about the Clinton sex scandal, Rivera promised to pay $10,000 to anyone who could find a case brought against someone for lying about sex. The lawyer claims he sent in information about five such cases. Rivera is refusing to pay because, he says, he had offered the bounty for “cases like the president’s, of a federal prosecution of a sex lie told in a dismissed civil case.” The Post reports that the cases submitted by the lawyer include a federal case, but involving a lie sworn to in a criminal case. Guess it depends on what “case” means.