Today's Papers

Hi, Fidelity

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with the likely easing today by the Clinton administration of some restrictions governing U.S. interactions with Cuba. The Wall Street Journal also flags this story in its front-page news box. USA Today reefers the Cuba story at the bottom of its front, while leading with the endorsement by new California Governor Gray Davis in his inaugural address of a plan to increase diversity in the state’s university system by admitting the top 4 percent of each California high school graduating class. The paper notes that the proposal would counter the effects of Proposition 209–which among other things banned affirmative action in state university admissions–by raising the numbers of minority students admitted at the expense apparently of other higher-achieving students elsewhere. The state Board of Regents, of which Davis is a member, could take up the idea next month. The biggest mystery of the day has to do with the Los Angeles Times lead, which also covers the Davis inaugural. The story somehow manages not to mention the 4 percent solution. (“Specific policy proposals,” explains the LAT, “will be saved for release later in the week.”)

Is this merely faulty reporting or a conscious attempt not to alert the majority of its readers that a law they voted for–but that the LAT is against–is about to be undone? Similar news tailoring seems to be going on at the WP, which in an inside story on Davis, delays until the second-to-last paragraph word of his 4 percent plan and never mentions that it threatens to undo Prop 209.

The main upshot of the Cuba moves, say the NYT and WP, is that Cubans would be able to receive more money from American friends and family members, there’d be more direct flights between the two countries, and direct mail service would be reestablished. Additionally, the Baltimore Orioles would be allowed to play the Cuban national baseball team, once here and once in Cuba. The papers report that Madeleine Albright recommended the Cuba ease-up to President Clinton yesterday and that he is expected to announce it today.

The papers all note that despite the new measures, the Clinton administration is nonetheless resisting bipartisan calls for a more sweeping opening to Cuba, such as dropping the 37-year-old economic embargo altogether. The WSJ offers a domestic political reason for this continued intransigence: a desire not to hurt Democratic prospects in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. “That’s something Gore can do right after he’s elected,” the paper quotes a “senior White House official” as saying.

The WP emphasizes the baseball angle a bit more than the others, even working that detail into its headline, “U.S. Ready to Play Ball with Cuba.” The NYT mentions the Orioles’ losing record last season, leading the reader to wonder why they, rather than the World Series-winning Yankees, were tapped for this bit of diplomacy. The Post advances a plausible answer: unlike the Yankees, the Orioles don’t suit up any Cuban defectors. None of the papers mention why baseball may be especially well suited to this particular irenic cause: Castro was once a very good pitcher, even drafted by the Washington Senators.

A front-page WP story reports on the latest impeachment defense thinking at the White House. One example according to the Post: The president’s lawyers are planning to argue that when their client denied he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, he could have been focusing on the role of intent made relevant by the definition of sexual relations he was given. That definition referred to fondling certain parts of the anatomy “with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person,” and it could be argued that no one has proved that Clinton had any such intent even if he did in fact touch Lewinsky as she testified. In other words, if Clinton’s earlier position was that he didn’t have sex with her, this new move is that he didn’t have sex with her on purpose. Note that for this to work, the president’s lawyers have to argue that not only was Clinton not trying to gratify Lewinsky, but he wasn’t trying to gratify himself either. Puhhhhleeeeze.

The Post front features a story recounting horror tales of domestic servants brought to the D.C. area by various foreign diplomatic employers and then treated horribly. A separate story inside focuses on one Ethiopian woman’s tale of working for years without any time off for three cents a day for an IMF staffer, who also beat her. A question: Before doing these stories, did the Post look into whether or not any of its employees are likewise underpaying, or otherwise mistreating their servants? Not to mention making sure they have proper visas and legitimate Social Security withholdings.

The WP TV column reports that Al Franken, in preparing a new spate of shows for his about-to-be-resuscitated news spoof “Lateline,” reached out to various political types to do some script doctoring. For a show having to do with something called the “Moral Coalition,” for instance, Franken got former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed to vet the script. Reed added two jokes. The NBC censor cut one for being too racy.