Today's Papers

The Truman No-Show

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with details from yesterday’s questioning of Monica Lewinsky by a House prosecutor under Senate supervision at a posh hotel suite. USA Today puts this as its very-top-of-the-page “talker” but leads with a federal judge’s ruling blocking Congress’ recently passed Internet porn law, which would have made it a crime for commercial web sites to purvey material harmful to minors without employing the “electronic brown wrapper” of first collecting information off an adult ID or credit card. The Los Angeles Times, in a front-pager on the ruling, notes that the plaintiffs in the case include sex advice sites, a woman’s health site, and those of major media companies, but doesn’t say whether the list also includes XXX web outfits. (It’s a little suspicious if it does and nobody mentioned them.) The paper leads with a morning-after on President Clinton’s proposed budget.

The coverage goes high with word that in the Lewinsky deposition, after the House interviewer was done, the president’s legal team didn’t question her–a sign they saw no fresh challenges in her remarks–but instead issued a one-sentence expression of regret “on behalf of the president” for all that she’s been through. The WP says that although Lewinsky didn’t provide any new information (to the “dismay” of the prosecutors, says USAT), she also didn’t retreat in any way from her past testimony. In fact, the NYT says that more than once she answered a question simply be referring to her prior accounts before the grand jury. The Post finds her demeanor more guarded and coached than previously, so much so, one Senate lawyer tells the paper, that she should teach corporate executives how to testify.

The papers make it clear that the scandal’s B-plot is now the controversy over last Sunday’s NYT story, allegedly based on information from an associate of Ken Starr, revealing that Starr has concluded he has the constitutional authority to indict Bill Clinton while he’s still president. Indeed, right before the Lewinsky interview, one of Clinton’s personal attorneys filed a motion in federal court charging Starr with “illegal and partisan leaking.” The LAT lead editorial says that with this story, Starr’s office “appears once again to have skirted legal proprieties and invited further disrespect for its motives by clumsily trying to manipulate the political climate.” But why can’t this be said also of the press–morally, if not legally? After all, every bit of information in the papers today about the Lewinsky interview is there because reporters pressed attendees to violate laws about leaking. Not surprisingly, today’s NYT editorial on Ken Starr says that “the issue of who leaked news of Mr. Starr’s indictment research to The New York Times is a phony one.”

The LAT lead summarizes the Clinton budget proposal as channeling the preponderance of forecasted surpluses into fixing Social Security and Medicare as well as to new expenditures in the areas of defense and social spending. A companion story says that under the budget, over the next five years, senior citizens would get more than 40 cents of every government-spending dollar. (Question left unanswered: how many cents is it now?) The paper says that Republicans quickly derided the plan as a big government strategy that unfairly preempts across-the-board tax cuts.

A front-page NYT effort illustrates the military’s current personnel crunch via the situation aboard the Navy’s newest ship, the $4.5 billion aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman–meant to be run with nearly 400 more crewmembers than it could muster for the warm-up cruise currently underway in the Atlantic. The ship has come up short despite such amenities as TV sets in almost every sailor’s berth, a daily newspaper, a store, a barber shop and automatic teller machines. The main problem is the vibrant civilian economy with its array of high paying and terrestrial jobs for many of those trained to work in aviation and engineering specialties. The piece seems a little credulous about the military’s staffing plight. For instance, one question it doesn’t raise, but seems worth asking: If the Pentagon can, over a number of years, make the plans necessary to design and build an aircraft carrier, how come it can’t, over that same length of time, plan for the personnel demands caused by the likely ebb and flow of the outside economy?

The Wall Street Journal “Work Week” column reveals yet another sign of the strong economy–the job of butler is making a comeback. And leave it to the Journal to explain that the annual honchofest in Davos, Switzerland, despite sounding like a cushy getaway, is actually well, brutal. Featured atrocities: Big shots have had to do without email or limos, and the conference exerts strategic entourage control, meaning that Mary Robinson, the U.N. commissioner for human rights, has had to scrape by with one personal assistant instead of her usual twelve.