On a typical news day, the felony conviction of a sitting governor is news leader stuff, as is the Department of Justice's decision to look into the Vice President's fund-raising practices. But when these stories break on the same day, and under the pall of the sudden death of a princess who was probably one of the most famous people on the planet, everything changes.
The Los Angeles Times leads with the conviction yesterday of Arizona Gov. Fife Symington on seven counts of fraud having to do with his business practices as a real estate developer. The paper explains that the verdict means that Symington must resign immediately, and also probably means lots of jail time. The LAT points out, referring to former Governor Evan Meacham, that Symington thus becomes the state's second governor in a decade to be ousted. But the Washington Post is a little stronger on context, pointing out that Symington was a major player in the impeachment and removal from office of Meacham. The Post and the New York Times also note that Meacham, while impeached under a criminal cloud, was eventually acquitted of the charges against him. The WP adds that, in this century, eleven governors have been indicted while in office and six have been convicted or pleaded guilty. The NYT observes that Symington is the third governor in the 1990s to be forced from office because of a conviction.
Yesterday's WP revealed that more than $120,000 of the money Al Gore raised in those phone calls from his White House office ended up in an account for "hard money" subject to federal election laws, and today's Post leads with the news that this has prompted Janet Reno to authorize the initial stages of an investigation into Gore's fund-raising that could result in a special prosecutor being named in the matter. The Gore phone call controversy was first broken last winter by the WP, but yesterday in their stories on this latest development, neither the LAT nor USA Today (which placed it prominently: front page, column six, above the fold) could bring themselves to acknowledge this. The former states that the cause of Reno's action was "news" and the latter goes with "accusations."
The Di story has shifted into thumbsucking mode. USAT, the NYT, the WP, and the LAT all have front pagers today about how the British royal family appears to have underestimated the public affection for Di and the papers worry that, as a result, the royals may never again enjoy true mass appeal.
It's bad enough that we had to take Yakov Smirnoff, but now comes word from the WP that retired Soviet espionage ace Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin is seeking a green card. The trouble is that Kalugin helped plan the kidnapping of Nicholas Shadrin, a former Soviet naval officer who was a highly-valued double agent for the CIA. And not only did Shadrin die in Kalugin's custody (accidentally, he says) but Kalugin helped create the cover story that kept the CIA from finding out what really happened to Shadrin for many years. A number of retired CIA operatives are very unhappy about Kalugin's effort to gain permanent residence status and want to know why the CIA would help him get it.
The LAT reports that a growing number of members of Congress are coming to the view that the proposed $368.5 billion tobacco settlement is too big and too complicated to be enacted by Congress this year. Nobody's saying so yet, but there are four little words that should come to mind with this news: Clinton health care plan. On that one too, there was great initial enthusiasm, followed by earnest pronouncements that more time was needed, followed by a slow legislative death. The only difference would be that this time, it's the forces of reform that might well harness the traditional mechanisms for gumming up the works. Don't be surprised if David Kessler and C. Everett Koop become this season's Harry and Louise.