Today's Papers

Jury Dullification

Day One of the Senate impeachment trial leads all around. Banner headlines are the order of the day. The Los Angeles Times and New York Times headlines focus the most on President Clinton’s alleged conduct, with the former citing charges of “perjury” and “obstruction,” and the latter charges of “egregious and criminal conduct.” USA Today’s big print emphasizes procedure, with “Prosecutors: Call Witnesses Against Clinton.” The Washington Post header combines form and substance with “Prosecutors Lay Out Clinton’s ‘Scheme’” running over a reference to their request for witnesses. But only the NYT headline mentions what this is all about–the House’s attempt to remove Clinton from office.

The Wall Street Journal observes that three of the four House prosecutors who spoke yesterday have substantial courtroom experience with the Justice Dept or as local prosecutors, and that they emphasized the more difficult to prove of the two impeachment articles, obstruction of justice.

The NYT excels today at focusing on clear detail. The paper notes a new argument from prosecutor Rep. James Sensenbrenner on the topic of whether or not perjury counts as a high crime or misdemeanor, namely that bribery is listed as a high crime and under federal sentencing guidelines, perjury and bribery carry the same penalty. Also, it’s the NYT that makes the striking point that despite all the day’s presentations and those to come, the rules of impeachment leave senators “free to vote as they choose for whatever reasons they cho[o]se or for no stated reason at all, without regard to the usual rules of evidence.”

Among the House members who pressed the case against Clinton, The NYT gives the highest marks to Rep. Asa Hutchinson. The Times says Hutchinson made some fresh points out of familiar details, and then the paper clearly states them: 1) In response to the White House claim that any help given to Monica Lewinsky in her job search was not a quid pro quo because the help preceded Lewinsky’s role in the Paula Jones case, Hutchinson showed how nonetheless the job search assistance effort became markedly more urgent once she did have such a role; 2) To the White House claim that President Clinton could not have been attempting to sway Betty Currie’s testimony because his odd conversation with her took place before she was called as a witness, Hutchinson observed that Clinton had just been questioned at length in the Jones deposition about Currie and hence it was clear to him then that she was likely to be called; 3) To the White House claim that President Clinton’s denial of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky was literally true because of the odd definition of such relations he was presented with, Hutchinson points out that Lewinsky’s denial predates the appearance of that definition and hence should be considered a common sense falsehood that Clinton encouraged. By contrast, the Post spares the reader these details, saying only that Hutchinson presented his case “with a bit of folksiness and some narrative drive.”

The difference here is an important one. The Post’s assessment occurs in the off-lead, a piece lamenting the absence of cross-examination and witness breakdowns. The reporter, David Von Drehle, immediate past honcho of the paper’s “Style” section (not, please note, its “Substance” section), marvels that senators could sit still and pay attention to all this. His piece runs under the headline, “On The Floor, The First Day Wore On, On, On.” The paper’s television critic, Tom Shales, is similarly restless: “Who’d have thought,” he asks, “that making history could be such excruciatingly ponderous torture?” In other words, by the Post’s lights, it’s not that the House Republicans are mean-spirited, unfair, or immobilizing the government. It’s much worse than that: they’re not entertaining.. This confusion of merit with style is catching on. The LAT lead editorial, arguing that Clinton’s misdeeds are not impeachable, is headlined “We’ve Heard it Before.”

Meanwhile, the WP reports that every day this week, U.S. fighter jets have attacked Iraqi anti-aircraft and surface-to-air missile batteries. But the majors’ editors have consistently stuffed these incidents inside. Indeed, the Post dispatch is on page…25.