Today's Papers

Still the One

USA Today

, the Washington Post, and the New York Times lead with the illegal gifts acquittal of Mike Espy, the first Clinton Administration Secretary of Agriculture. The story is also the top national story at the Los Angeles Times. Pictures of a happy Espy adorn the NYT and WP tops.

Independent counsel Donald Smaltz had prosecuted Espy–and the papers all hold that the not guilty verdict fuels a growing consensus that the statute under which the likes of Smaltz and Kenneth Starr operate must be at the very least substantially amended. Referring to Espy’s own remarks, all the papers raise the question of the ineffectiveness of the OIC by mentioning that the non-conviction took four years and cost $17 million. Nobody mentions that Starr is on the verge of a similar low-bang-for-the-buck result, but the thought is inescapable. The NYT quotes Espy saying that when Congress holds hearings on the IC statute, “I would like to be the first witness.”

Since there is no dispute that Espy received some $35,000 worth of goods and bennies from parties with interests before Agriculture and since some of those parties pleaded guilty to making illegal gifts, it’s easy for the reader to wonder how the clean-sweep verdict was possible. The NYT and LAT do a good job of laying out the legal complications: both explain that the usual rules don’t apply if the gift giver has a prior personal relationship with the giftee, and the NYT also notes that the courts are still struggling with whether or not the illegal gratuity statute requires a concrete quid pro quo (either past or promised). There could have been another factor, which the LAT gets into far more than the others: race. The top half of the paper’s story explains that Espy is black as were 11 of the jurors and that at one point, Smaltz asked the judge to tell jurors that race could not be taken into account in deciding the case. Which, the LAT adds, he declined to do. USAT doesn’t mention the racial composition of the jury until the third-to-last paragraph. The WP waits until the second-to-last. The NYT never mentions it.

And none of the papers mentions the oddity of a Secretary of Agriculture leading a continent-hopping lifestyle that included trips to the U.S. Open, and Dallas Cowboy and Chicago Bull home games and a taste for expensive luggage and crystal.

Word comes today that President Clinton’s lawyers intend to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to offer a vigorous defense of their client, who will not appear. The story off-leads at the WP, but in a sure sign of scandal fatigue, it’s below the fold at USAT and the LAT, and runs inside at the NYT.

According to the WP, executives at Mobil and Exxon forgot one thing while they were crafting their merger into the world’s largest corporation: to register their new corporate Internet address. And yesterday, the two companies discovered that a Korean entrepreneur with no connections to them had beaten them to it. Such “cyber-squatting” is legal and can be quite profitable. For instance, notes the Post, earlier this year, Compaq paid $3 million to secure “” from a squatter.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the chief economist of the Conference Board says next year, Europe could overtake the U.S. as the world’s strongest economy. She thinks that while the U.S. economy will continue to grow healthily, Europe has more unused capacity than the U.S. and its interest rates are comparable or lower. The only big question is whether the move to the euro common currency will create service jobs, the sector where Europe still clearly lags behind the U.S.

If you think the Clinton scandal has dragged on and on, consider this inside WP story: Yesterday, lawyers for Richard Nixon’s estate demanded up to $213 million in compensation for the government’s Watergate-related seizure of Nixon’s tapes and papers. The lawyers compared the value of the tapes to that of the Gutenberg Bible and the Declaration of Independence.