Today's Papers

War of Contrition

The Washington Post leads with President Clinton’s profession of post-Lewinsky contrition and renewal before an audience of ministers in an Illinois church. The paper also highlights the president’s political message: Voters shouldn’t hold Al Gore responsible for Clinton’s sins. The USA Today lead provides the other half of this equation: an interview with Al Gore in which the vice president promises “a fresh start.” (The paper runs Clinton’s remarks deep inside.) The New York Times goes with the raucous split of the Reform Party into dueling factions at the party’s national convention, which is also the top national story at the Los Angeles Times .

The WP lead calls Clinton’s remarks “the most discursive public tour of his inner life that any president has ever given,” passing along such comments of his as “I’m in the second year of a process of trying to totally rebuild my life from a terrible mistake I made.” The paper suggests that some Gore loyalists were hoping that Clinton would make comments like this at next week’s Democratic convention instead, but that Clinton has no intention of doing so. The NYT, in its inside story on the talk, has a different take–one in line with the paper’s lead yesterday–suggesting that it annoyed the Gore camp because it will just grab more headlines for Clinton on the eve of the convention.

The USAT lead says that Gore’s nomination acceptance speech next week will cast the election as a choice between continuing economic prosperity and the risk of a return to the recession of the early 1980s, when unemployment topped 10 percent. The paper’s Gore package sprawls into profile mode, very much the rage at all the papers in recent days, where flipping around you can watch the candidates’ hairlines progress and their waistlines recede as you read slightly shopworn anecdotes from friends and colleagues. USAT’s top contribution to the genre today: Gore went to the first Beatles concert in the U.S. and threw jelly beans at Ringo’s drums.

The news of the NYT lead is that Pat Buchanan has managed to out-organize the Perot wing of the Reform Party, which under the leadership of its candidate, a physicist who’s previously run for president on the Natural Law Party ticket, withdrew in protest to another venue to run its own rump convention. But the real question is: Why is the NYT leading the paper with 1,300 words about this? And indeed, why is the paper’s Gail Collins dedicating a column to it? Ditto for the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot. Collins correctly dismisses the Reform party as “not only a cheesy fringe operation, but a fractionalized cheesy fringe operation” and Gigot gets off a good line about how Buchanan’s following–about one percent and change of all voters, no more of a force than the Libertarian Party–is now smaller than his Crossfire audiences. (Far less significant, for instance, than Ralph Nader. So where’s the full-force coverage of him?) Because of such facts, Today’s Papers hopes that the front sections have gotten Buchanan out of their systems but also fears that journalists’ special hatred for him will keep him inordinately in the game.

The NYT fronts a new move by Hillary Clinton in an attempt to blunt Rick Lazio’s insistence that she has no record of political service: Her reclusive image after the defeat of her effort at health-care reform was just that, an image, and actually she continued to function as a kind of stealth senior presidential advisor, actively working on such policy areas as child care, children’s health insurance, adoption and foster care, foreign aid, and national service.

USAT fronts a scooplet about last fall’s EgyptAir crash. Today, when the National Transportation Safety Board releases its files on the episode, it will, the paper reveals, include evidence that in the days preceding the crash, the pilot who would be at the controls at the fatal moment had been investigated by a New York hotel’s security force for at least two incidents of sexual misconduct. One was harassing women in hotel hallways, the other was exposing himself at a hotel window. This conflicts with the view of the pilot’s family and of EgyptAir that he was a steady family man with no reason to take his own life.

The WSJ runs an op-ed by conservative radio commentator Michael Medved that complains of liberal bias in the media’s coverage of Joe Lieberman’s religion. Compare, says Medved, the press ridicule of George W. Bush for saying his favorite philosopher was Jesus with the awe inspired by Lieberman’s first campaign appearance, during which he mentioned God 10 times in the first three minutes. And more pointedly still, Medved (himself also an Orthodox Jew) contrasts the abuse Bush got for his visit to a university that forbids interracial dating and expresses disrespect for Catholicism with the free ride Lieberman gets despite not just visiting but adhering to an institution that refuses to recognize marriages between its members and any non-members, insists on separate worship accommodations for the sexes, and refuses to ordain women.

The WP reports that CIA headquarters has mounted an exhibit (closed to the general public) of spy-related artifacts from popular culture, which includes Emma Peel’s leather pants, the Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s cigarette case radio, and Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. But lest you think the agency has become just too adorable for words, the Post also informs–way too deep inside, on Page 23–that the CIA director, despite promising for months to come clean on CIA covert operations in Chile, especially around the time of the rise and fall of Salvador Allende, has decided not to cough up hundreds of relevant documents because, he says, disclosure would reveal too much about CIA sources and methods.

The NYT runs several letters–some pro, some con–in response to its recent front-pager regarding whether or not mentally retarded murderers should be exempt from the death penalty. But none of the letters nor the original story focus on the most obvious angle of the issue. Even if, as in the most recent example in Texas, the condemned person has an IQ in the 60s and can barely read or write, the key is the way he or she carried out the crime. In that Texas case, for instance, the man kidnapped a woman off the street before raping and stabbing her to death. If he truly were in the relevant sense out of his mind, he would have done all of it right there on the street in plain public view. Pulling the woman into a protected place first proves a concern about getting caught, which in turn implies a knowledge of doing wrong, which in turn implies knowing the difference, which is the relevant mental capacity. The papers have been profoundly silent on the obvious fact that the using of tools (like guns and knives), the making of threats, and the attempts at concealment and escape involved in almost all murders register a person as a moral agent, even if a stupid one.