Today's Papers

Assume the Position

Banner headlines all around for the drizzly inaugural ceremony that left George Walker Bush America’s 43rd president and William Jefferson Clinton unemployed. Unfettered by forecasts calling for snow, demonstrations, and lingering resentment from the bitter election contest, the procession went off with only the usual minor glitches–a rowdy protester here, a fashion aberration there–and was followed by a soggy parade down Constitution Avenue. Everyone fronts glorious photos of the event.

The papers disagree a bit on which of Bush’s buzzwords make for the best headline (New York Times: COMPASSION AND CHARACTER; Washington Post: UNITY AND CIVILITY), but everyone gets across the speech’s inclusive tone and uncontroversial theme. Bush touched lightly on the traditional policy positions of his campaign but emphasized  his pledge that he will lead with “compassion and character” and his vision of an expanded role for a private sector of “citizens not spectators.” The WP opines that Bush spoke with “a confidence and precision that had so often eluded him on the campaign trail,” and the NYT gushes at the speech’s “elegant locutions, artful syntax, and alliterative phrases.” A more reserved Los Angeles Times says simply that the speech was “brief but graceful.”

All the leads agree that, at least for a day, Bush successfully reprised the role of conciliatory moderate, stepping out of the contentious political climate that surrounded many of his Cabinet appointees. Still, each paper makes prominent mention of Bush’s loss in the popular vote (the NYT gives the exact numbers) and anemic support in the black community. And everyone’s coverage notes that the presidential oath was administered by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, he of the “5” in the 5-4 Supreme Court decision that settled Bush v. Gore.

The leads all go low with George W. Bush’s post-inaugural executive order staying many of Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour directives–mostly environmental protections, monument commissions, and Medicare guidelines–a move that will not affect yesterday’s barrage of last-minute Clinton pardons (more on that later). The order gives the Bush administration 60 days to “review any new or pending regulations.” The WP joins the LAT in reminding that this type of tactic follows “something of a tradition” given that both Clinton and Ronald Reagan made similar efforts to undo the final actions of their Oval Office predecessors. None of the papers explain whether this move was anticipated or preventable by Clinton.

Everybody fronts word that hours before leaving office, Bill Clinton granted 140 pardons and commuted 36 sentences. Notably among those benefiting from presidential generosity are Susan McDougal, John Deutch, Henry Cisneros, Patty Hearst, and former first half brother Roger Clinton. Both the NYT and LAT headlines pay equal attention to the lack of pardons for Michael Milken and Webster Hubbell. The LAT reports that Milken’s pardon was nixed by strong objections from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York U.S. Attorney’s office. Pardoning often rests on a tenuous ethical premise and is tricky business, destined to look all the flimsier when it is done in yesterday’s unusual mass format. The WP conveys none of this in the following one-sentence paragraph: “Some of his wide-ranging pardons provoked swift denunciation, although relatives of people whose prison sentences he lifted praised him lavishly.” According to the NYT, Clinton’s issuance of nearly 400 pardons while in office is “a smaller number per year than his recent predecessors.” But the WP counts differently, finding that Clinton used the pardon “almost six times” as often as the elder Bush did (during his single term) and pardoned “about as many” as Reagan.

In an amiable and brief session yesterday, the Senate unanimously confirmed seven of Bush’s Cabinet appointees, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. The WP reports that the more controversial votes on John Ashcroft and Gale Norton will likely take place next week.

The LAT fronts and the NYT reefers Saturday’s other new president (and offspring of a president), Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines, who yesterday formally succeeded the beleaguered Joseph Estrada. On Friday, Estrada resigned, having lost the support of both the military and the public. Arroyo ascended with the heavy backing of most of the nation’s elite and an outpouring of public support. According to the LAT, Arroyo “has one overriding virtue: She is not Joseph Estrada.” 

When it comes to Inauguration Day, any casual dialogue between the parties involved apparently qualifies as news. The NYT lead reports on the riveting exchange between the Clintons and the Bushes in which George W. asked the outgoing first lady “How are you doing?” and Hillary responded “great.” And the WP lead informs that Laura Bush greeted her soon-to-be predecessor with the line “Good morning, Senator.”

At the bottom of the NYT corrections page is a curious editor’s note centering on an interviewee’s reference in an April 9 (note the long-ago date) article. The young man abandoned his platinum-blond hairdo for fear of fitting a sinister German stereotype “like my name was Diddo Ramm or something.” Here’s the Times’ response, which seems aimed at someone with an extraordinarily long memory: “The author understood the name to be fictional. The Times has since learned that someone bears that name–while not fitting the description in the article. The description should not be taken as a reference to the actual Diddo Ramm.”