Today's Papers

Pillory Hillary?

Although the Washington Post off-leads the latest pardon developments (to make room for a local blizzard-induced 128-car crash), everybody else leads with these: 1) Sen. Hillary Clinton held a press conference in which she again deplored her brother Hugh Rodham’s taking of a fee (since returned) on behalf of a convicted drug dealer and a convicted swindler who received pardons from Bill Clinton. Sen. Clinton also revealed that in the final month of her husband’s presidency, “many, many people” seeking clemency or pardons spoke to her or gave her case information. She said that she had no further involvement other than to pass such information along to the White House counsel’s office. Like Sen. Clinton, the coverage doesn’t identify any of these clemency seekers. 2) She also revealed that her Senate campaign treasurer received $4,000 for his legal work on the pardon applications–granted last month by Bill Clinton–of two convicted Arkansas tax cheats. 3) Former White House aides said that Roger Clinton had lobbied his presidential half brother on behalf of some 10 or so pardon requests, none successfully, and that Roger Clinton wasn’t paid for this. 4) Bill Clinton’s presidential library refused to comply with a House committee’s request for a complete list of its donors, a response the committee’s chairman deemed “unacceptable.” The library did confirm that Denise Rich had given the library $450,000 and that her fund-raiser friend Beth Dozoretz pledged to raise $1 million for it.

The WP reports that presidential library materials that were handed over to House investigators included letters sent to Ms. Rich and Dozoretz while Bill Clinton still had not revealed his pardon decisions, asking them for further contributions and other fund-raising assistance.

USA Today notes that Sen. Clinton said that Hugh Rodham was a frequent guest at the White House during the waning days of the last administration. The WP observes that the Clinton library stand on not disclosing donors’ names contrasts with the position Bill Clinton’s lawyers took in the Paula Jones case when they requested a court order asking for the names of all the contributors to her legal defense fund.

The New York Times claims, citing a knowledgeable lawyer, that the origin of Sen. Clinton’s campaign treasurer’s involvement in the effort to get pardons for the two Arkansas tax evaders was an approach to former Clinton White House adviser Harold Ickes by television producer and Clinton friend Harry Thomason. (Maybe the Times should have reminded readers that Thomason was a key figure in the White House Travel Office firings and once held a White House pass?) The Wall Street Journal, in reporting that the tax cheats got their pardons four days after their petitions were filed, notes that this process normally “takes months or years.”

Rather eclipsed on the sheets by all the latest pardonnez moi? is President Bush’s first White House press conference. The Los Angeles Times reefers the event, and it’s missing altogether from the USAT front. The WP puts it just above the fold, emphasizing Bush’s view that last week’s airstrikes against Iraq were a warning to Saddam Hussein that the Bush administration will “remain engaged” in the Middle East. The WSJ puts it atop its front-page worldwide news box, emphasizing Bush’s resistance to any congressional attempts to add further tax breaks to his tax cut proposal and his criticism of China’s apparent involvement in improving Iraq’s air defenses. The NYT off-leads it, emphasizing Bush’s remarks on China’s Iraq help. The coverage reports Bush’s occasional flashes of humor and his advice to his relatives (“Behave yourself”), his heavy reliance on notes, and such fluffs as mispronouncing the key ingredients in the Colombia drug trade as “cocoa” leaves, and mistakenly calling on one reporter twice.

The LAT, NYT, and WP all front the U.N. war crimes tribunal’s rape and torture convictions yesterday of three former Bosnian Serb military commanders. The three men were found guilty of enslaving Moslem women as young as 12 years old in rape camps. This is the first time, the papers note, that rape has been deemed by an international tribunal to be a war crime.

A bottom-of-the-page LAT editorial reports and decries something federal transportation geniuses are about to try out to address the current trucker shortage: letting 18-year-olds drive big rigs on interstates. (The current cutoff age is 21.) The editorial notes that this would put the drivers with the highest crash risk of all age groups behind the wheels of the most dangerous vehicles.

A letter to the NYT makes a sage observation about an aspect of the pardon dust-up that’s become almost a ritual in all such scandals: the return of a tainted fee. Sure, Hugh Rodham shouldn’t be rewarded with influence-peddling money, but why should the influence buyers get their money back, with the result that their gains become free? A better solution in such cases, says the letter writer, is for the chastened peddler to give the money to charity.

A couple of danglies from the pardon coverage: 1) This sort of thing probably hasn’t been much of a journalism problem since the Kennedy administration, but given all the Clintons involved in the story, an ordinarily perfectly adequate headline like today’s USAT effort, “CLINTON DENIES ROLE IN PARDON,” just doesn’t cut it any more. You have to say which Clinton is denying malfeasance. 2) Subliminable word watch: Today’s Papers thinks it’s OK (indeed unavoidable) for news stories to express opinions but also thinks that it’s decidedly not OK for news stories to try to do this covertly. So, for instance, if the NYT thinks Sen. Clinton is being imperious, it should say so and why. It should not just employ descriptive verbs denoting that personality trait, as in today’s “… she swept into a Senate office building. …” And surely the LAT could have found other words for its lead headline besides “FAMILY TIES TO CLEMENCY CASES DOG CLINTONS.”