Today's Papers

Not Without a Hitch

Everybody leads with the wrap-up of yesterday’s impeachment trial closing arguments and the set-up of today’s deliberations. The Los Angeles Times headline suggests the drama associated with a criminal trial: “President’s Fate is Now in Hands of Senate Jurors.” Down below in the body type, though the stories get more real. The LAT says there is “virtually no chance” President Clinton will be removed. The New York Times says his acquittal is “all but assured.” And the Washington Post says the House Republican prosecutors face “near-certain defeat.” Perhaps USA Today is the realest: “It’s also unclear whether the Senate will formally reprimand Clinton once he’s acquitted.”

And USAT’s headline isn’t even about the what of the verdict–it’s about the how: “Closed Senate Debate Likely.” That’s because there don’t appear to be the 67 votes required to suspend the rules, a point that the WP and NYT also cover in additional front-page stories. The NYT lead editorial finds the prospect of closing the doors on the impeachment deliberations “inconceivable.” For the LAT, the main unanswered question is whether enough Republicans would join the Democrats to keep either of the two impeachment articles from winning a simple majority.

In light of the presumed outcome, the WP sees the rhetoric coming yesterday from both sides–each of the 13 House prosecutors and President Clinton’s lawyer Charles Ruff–aimed not so much at the Senate jurors as at the history books. The NYT notes that Ruff worked in references to peace in the Middle East and that Henry Hyde dipped into Henry V’s Agincourt speech, as well as quotations from de Gaulle, Septimius Severus, Horace Mann, Edward Gibbon and Saul Bellow. The WP notices the cumulative effect of this hot air front moving through: One senator after another getting up from his desk to stretch and wander to the rear of the chamber.

The only thing resembling impeachment news is the Hitchens/Blumenthal saga. The LAT and WP leads report that Henry Hyde wrote a letter to the Senate asking for a postponement in the start of deliberations to allow the new questions about Sidney Blumenthal’s truthfulness to be addressed. He was turned down. Christopher Hitchens himself makes an appearance on the WP op-ed page: “What a fuss! What a load of phony differences without distinctions! Blumenthal has already told the grand jury that Clinton concocted this foul story, with its equally foul implications. He has now admitted to telling some such version to ‘friends’ of his as well as journalists (and I still consider myself to be both). That story got into the press, a lot. The message was therefore delivered to Ms Lewinsky. QED.” Hitchens goes on to say that he devoutly wishes he’d written an intended column on the matter a week earlier, so that he “could have been a truer friend” by warning Blumenthal off making “any unguarded statement.” But that having not happened, he sees Blumenthal as “being readied to be used as yet another human sacrifice by his employer.” One question about all this: Was it fair for the Post to give Hitchens the room to defend himself when the legal constraints Blumenthal is under no doubt kept him from being able to write a column of his own about the matter?

Last summer, when the U.S. destroyed a purported pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan with cruise missiles, saying that it was in fact making nerve gas for Osama bin Laden, the NYT quickly raised doubts about the government’s account of the facility. Today it raises more, with an inside piece stating that chemists hired by the plant’s owners examined soil samples from the plant and found no traces of chemical weapons compounds. One problem though: although the piece makes it clear that these chemists have the same monetary tie to an interested party as any expert witness, the headline does not. It simply says, “Experts Find No Arms Chemicals at Bombed Sudan Plant.” Not a false headline, to be sure, but a misleadingly un-nuanced one.

A NYT front-pager warns that the social ill effects of fearing the Y2K problem–such as bank runs, hoarding of food and gas, fires caused by newly acquired wood stoves and a rise in gun violence accompanying the upsurge in gun sales to those fearing post-millennial-bug civil unrest–could end up being much worse than any pure outcome of the problem itself, especially since the actual problem is being attacked with billions of dollars of remediation. According to a story flagged on the Wall Street Journal front, not all of the hoarding will be done by cammoed guys in Montana cabins either. It turns out that in anticipation of possible Y2K-driven supply interrupts, companies like Xerox are planning to take on more inventory than usual in the last part of 1999. Which is driving a search for extra warehouse space and could even effect the GNP. And wait, that doesn’t include the 1.999K problem! For that, check out the WSJ’s “Work Week.” It seems that certain older software systems use “9999” to signal an error or the end of the program. Which means September 9, 1999 may be a bit of a glitchfest. There are, says the paper, nine such problematic dates this year.