Today's Papers

Fox in the Henhouse

USA Today, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times lead with President Clinton’s comment yesterday that he found the government’s treatment of Wen Ho Lee “quite troubling.” The Washington Post fronts this just above the fold but goes instead with the agreement reached between the George W. Bush and Al Gore campaigns on a fall schedule of debates, which is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal front-page worldwide news box. It is also the off-lead at the NYT and LAT, but runs inside at USAT.

All the Clinton leads have this key comment from him about the case against Lee: “I always had reservations about the claims that were being made denying him bail. So the whole thing was quite troubling to me and I think it’s very difficult to reconcile the two positions that one day he’s a terrible risk to the national security and the next day they’re making a plea agreement for an offense far more modest than what had been alleged.” USAT contrasts this comment with its implied criticism of Janet Reno with President Clinton’s characteristic support for her decisions, giving as an example the Elián González controversy. The LAT sees it rather as an example of the “ongoing tensions” between the two.

The LAT spends most of its ink on the nature of the White House-Department of Justice relationship, even to the point of swerving to hit the JFK-RFK and Ronald Reagan-William French Smith duos, but misses the more relevant point of the authenticity of Clinton’s misgivings. But the other two Clinton leads don’t. (The WP’s effort doesn’t miss it either.) USAT observes that Clinton did not say whether he ever expressed his worries to the law enforcement officials under him. The NYT adds that neither the White House nor Justice would say whether Clinton and Reno ever discussed the case and that there is no indication that White House officials ever complained to the DOJ about it, even though several of them knew in advance about the charges to be filed against Lee and had met with Reno in the White House about them.

The Gore and Bush camps have agreed to four debates, three presidential and one vice presidential, all to last 90 minutes, all to start at 9 p.m. ET, all to be run under the auspices of the same commission that has administered such matchups since 1988. As the papers point out, this represents a switch for Bush, who just 10 days ago was holding out for debates held outside commission control to include some outside prime time and some in nontraditional formats like 60 Minutes. The NYT makes the most of this aspect, describing the development high up as a “wholesale retreat by the Bush campaign” and putting the story under the headline “DROPPING ALL HIS OBJECTIONS, BUSH AGREES TO PANEL’S DEBATES.” Commission control, the papers report, almost surely means no participation for Ralph Nader or Pat Buchanan, because the group requires participants to pull 15 percent across a range of national surveys.

According to an Associated Press dispatch running inside the papers, an FDA advisory panel narrowly rejected easing the current ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with men. What had been contemplated was going to banning only those men who’ve had sex with another man in the preceding five years, a change that would have produced an estimated additional 62,000 blood donors.

The WP has word inside that the Congressional Budget Office says in a new report that the U.S. military is “woefully underfunded.” By the CBO’s lights, the DOD would need $50 billion a year more than it’s getting now (far more of an increase, the Post notes, than either Bush or Gore is calling for) to maintain its current size and commitments. Most of this gap is alleged to be in the procurement (read: new toys) area. Here’s a challenge to poli sci grad students in need of a thesis: Apply the same methodology to the U.S. military as of V-J Day. Wanna bet it’ll turn out to have been “woefully underfunded”?

The Post also runs an AP quickie saying that Hillary Rodham Clinton “denied charges that her fundraisers have offered overnight stays at the White House in exchange for donations to her Senate campaign.” The only way this item could have less context would be if it were left out of the paper. Who is making these charges and on what evidence? After all, HRC would no doubt also deny, if asked, charges that she’s a murderer. Is the Post being murky here because the charges are being disseminated by Matt Drudge and investigated by the New York Times (which hasn’t published anything about them yet)? Is the reader served by snobbery about the Internet and jealousness of competitors? As to the latter, it’s only fair to note that on its editorial page today, the NYT sort of returns the favor. It’s not till 13 words from the end of a 640-word editorial against Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s recently revealed sub rosa attempt to get the ban on honoraria for federal judges lifted that we are told that the revelation came in the WP.

The front page of the WP business section informs that Barry Diller–the man who gave us Jerry Springer, Sally Jesse Raphael, and the Fox network–will be joining the paper’s board. At one point, Diller is quoted describing himself as a “newspaper fool,” meaning, it is hoped, that he likes them a lot. The piece chimes in that Diller is “widely respected as a deep intellect.” This calls for a contest. Readers are invited to fire up their search engines and pass along to Today’s Papers any documented example of anyone on the planet not employed by Mr. Diller ever at any time in any media respecting his intellect.