Today's Papers

Mills for Their Grist

Defense, of two different kinds, dominates today. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times go with Wednesday’s effort before the Senate by President Clinton’s defense team. And the New York Times and USA Today go with the U.S.’ renewed interest in erecting a missile defense system.

The papers report that the Clinton lawyers yesterday waged an aggressive attack on the perjury and obstruction of justice charges lodged against their client. The day’s arguments are widely seen as a continuation of the Clinton team’s willingness to not only question whether the prosecution’s facts mandate impeachment but also to question the facts themselves. But for the most part the coverage makes it clear that the weapon of the day was nonetheless not the scalpel but the broad brush.

The papers’ consensus star of the day, Clinton attorney Cheryl Mills (the papers want whenever possible to have heroes and villains and they love new faces), responded to the House prosecutors’ charge that Clinton had violated Paula Jones’ civil rights with what the LAT calls a “spirited defense” of Clinton’s civil rights record, referring along the way to Bill Clinton’s shopkeeper grandfather’s penchant for selling to blacks when few whites would. Mills also put her client firmly in the civil rights pantheon of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The WP plays Mills’ civil rights salute high, while the NYT puts it at the very bottom of its account. The LAT also plays it high, but then late in its story flatly states that in making this response “Mills strayed considerably from the facts of the case.” And the Post dings Mills for saying that the Jones case was thrown out without mentioning that the president paid $850,000 to make it go away.

All the papers report that Pat Robertson said Clinton’s State of the Union speech was a “home run,” mooting his impeachment. And they all quote Clinton attorney Gregory Craig’s claim that “if you convict and remove President Clinton, then no president of the United States will ever be safe from impeachment hearings.” But none of them wonder, Why would we want that? Obviously, impeachment was designed as a sanction that would regulate presidential conduct, a feature utterly lost if it were to become a dead letter.

The USAT lead flatly states that the Pentagon plans to construct a primarily ground-based anti-missile defense system by 2005 and that the next federal budget, due out on Feb. 1, will plan for $10.5 billion spread out over six years for just that purpose. The paper goes on to point out that most of the hardware that would go into such a system has never been tested. The NYT says that although the Pentagon is sure the new system will be developed, President Clinton has not given final approval. And the Times emphasizes not the hardware but the legal constraints, noting that Clinton last week wrote to Boris Yeltsin broaching the topic of renegotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty the U.S. and Russia have signed so as to allow the development of the system. Both stories emphasize that the renewed interest in missile defense has been prompted by the rather sudden development of long-range missiles by rogue states, such as North Korea. The WP also fronts the story.

Another Rashomon effect is on display in the papers’ treatment of Alan Greenspan’s congressional testimony yesterday about the just-announced Clinton proposal to allow some Social Security funds to be invested in the stock market. The WP calls him “wary” and the NYT says he sees a “possible threat.” Meanwhile, USAT says he “opposes” it and the LAT says he “assails” it.

The Wall Street Journal front-page news box and the LAT front report that a California jury has ordered the insurance company Aetna to pay $116 million in punitive damages for refusing to cover an experimental treatment for a patient who later died. The papers say the award is another sign that the public feels health care companies are too bottom-line oriented.

Inside USAT is a great example of a piece that gets beyond the oft-repeated facts. It’s a commonplace now that the Brady Bill has kept thousands of guns out of the hands of felons. But it turns out, reports the paper, none of the more than 13,000 people (mostly convicted felons) stopped so far from buying guns by the FBI’s recently instituted instant background check has been arrested, even though trying to buy a gun by lying about one’s background is a federal crime.

Back to Cheryl Mills for a minute: None of the papers note that two of the civil rights heroes she compared Clinton to were also secret philanderers.