Today's Papers

Not Taking the Initiative

The New York Times leads with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the voter referendum process should be maximally free of government-imposed obstacles, a story that also makes the Washington Post and USA Today fronts. The WP leads with word that President Clinton has sent an $850,000 check to Paula Jones as settlement in full of the sexual harassment suit she had brought against him. None of the other papers runs this story on its front, which makes sense since the decision to pay was reached two months ago (the only real news coming with the actual check is that nearly half of the money was Hillary’s). USAT puts it on page 12, thereby enabling it to get on instead with Day Two of Michael Jordan is God and God is Dead, with not just a combination lead and “cover story” but also an 8-page “pullout keepsake” and two other stories inside. The Los Angeles Times goes with an impeachment run-up story.

The NYT points out that twenty-four states, mostly in the West and midwest, provide for voter referenda, and that they have been a particular effective vehicle for pursuing socially controversial positions. Such controversy, explains the paper, had led several states including Colorado to try to stem their use. But yesterday, reports the Times, the Supremes struck down Colorado’s laws requiring that circulators of initiative petitions be registered to vote in the state and wear identifying badges, and have their name, address and pay on file. The mostly 6-3 ruling argued that such regulations conflict with the First Amendment value of uninhibited communication with voters.

The LAT lead, titled “Senate Braces for Days of Judgement in Momentous Trial,” is mostly such desiccata as that “one hundred senators will sit as both judge and jury…” and “Starr’s investigation of possible crimes became a yearlong running national soap opera….” And in an apparent Iron Eyes Cody memorial moment, it claims that last week when Sen. Patrick Leahy first heard the articles of impeachment formally presented, “a single tear coursed his cheek.” Note to readers: if a story’s headline is built around words like “anticipates” “expects,” “awaits” or “braces,” odds are good there’s not much actual news in it. But the second half of this story does include some observations that drive home the oddity of the looming process: one of the prosecutors, Rep. Asa Hutchinson, is the brother and apartment mate of one of the jurors, Sen. Tim Hutchinson, and one juror, Sen. Barbara Boxer, is related by marriage to the accused.

Another sports story getting prominent play today is the auction of Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball. Four of the majors say it fetched just upwards of $3 million, while the LAT says $2.7 million.

The NYT and LAT fronts report that Planned Parenthood and several doctors have brought a private federal civil suit against the proprietors of an anti-abortion Web site that suggests abortion providers are like Nazis and groups the names and faces of some doctors providing the procedure on a Wanted Poster-style list it calls the “Deadly Dozen.” Included in this list was the name and likeness of a doctor shot by a sniper last fall in upstate New York. This is the first such lawsuit brought under the 1994 federal law that prohibits force or threats of force against abortion clients and providers, and the first to wrestle with what exactly on a Web site constitutes an illegal threat.

A piece inside the WP asserts that a speedy impeachment trial will probably not disrupt Congress’ legislative agenda, because “the Senate rarely does much in the first few weeks of a new session.” But why not go further and use some of the Post’s research horsepower to actually document this idea–with a chart covering recent sessions that graphs Congress’ legislative output against the months of the year?

An AP dispatch in the WP states that a new study in JAMA shows that in 1995 an estimated 20,000 people in the U.S. got salmonella from alfalfa sprouts. An epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quoted as suggesting therefore that consumers “should consider this danger when deciding whether to eat alfalfa sprouts.” Now, what exactly is the cash value of that “guidance”? Does one dare eat the stuff or not? Newspapers should avoid passing along scary information nobody can do anything with. Today’s Papers says either get the experts to come across with more info or pass on the story.

At the very bottom of the LAT’s “Commentary” page is a small-print item “For the Record” stating that in a previous article on the page, the Radical Reconstructionist Thaddeus Stevens was “incorrectly described.” But no more detail is given about this. Not explicitly stating previous mistakes in such correction notices is LAT policy. But this seems ill-advised. In this case, for instance, the reader is left wondering what horrible goof is being suppressed, when actually it’s just that congressman Stevens of Pennsylvania was mistakenly described as a senator from Massachusetts.

The National Security Agency has, according to the WP, identified and responded to a new potential threat to its supersupersupersecret spy operations. Henceforth, headquarters are off-limits to Furbys. Spooks who have already brought the toys into their offices are advised to “contact the Staff Security Officer for guidance.”