A Sorry State of Affairs

A Sorry State of Affairs

A Sorry State of Affairs

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 25 1998 7:15 AM

A Sorry State of Affairs

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leads with that schoolyard shooting in Arkansas, which also makes the front at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. The WP and LAT lead with President Clinton's remarks in Uganda about how, with its slave trade, the U.S. wronged Africa. The NYT goes with the news that the federal government has delayed issuing tens of thousands of permanent residency permits for immigrants because a new machine designed to produce fraud-proof green cards hasn't worked right since it was installed last summer. Few immigrants, says the paper, will suffer dire consequences but the delay is making many of them panicky.

Four students and a teacher, all female, died, and ten others were injured at an Arkansas middle school after two boys--ages 13 and 11--shot at their classmates pouring out of the school in response to the false fire alarm the two had pulled. It was, reports USAT, the third school rampage nationwide in five months. In recent similar incidents, students have killed five and wounded 14.

Rising to give a speech at a village outside Kampala, after listening to one by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, President Clinton, according to the WP, launched into what his aides later said were impromptu remarks about the role the U.S. has played in Africa's tragedies. "Going back to the time before we were even a nation, European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade," Clinton said. "And we were wrong in that." Clinton also admitted that American Cold War policy for Africa too often resulted in mistakenly supporting ruthless dictators just because they were anti-communists.

All the papers point out that previously, Clinton had considered and rejected the idea of making an official apology to American blacks for slavery. It was reported that Clinton thought a mea culpa would distract from the real tasks of racial healing and could alienate white centrist voters. And indeed, reports the WP, aides repeatedly said Clinton would not issue such an apology while on the African tour. But, says the paper, Clinton was apparently taken by the "spirit of the moment." According to the Post, his spur-of-the-moment thoughts caused "consternation among his traveling delegation."

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The papers note this vibe but inexplicably internalize it, and generally try to describe Clinton's speech as something besides what it most obviously is: an apology for slavery. The WP sees, "not strictly speaking an apology, but a remarkably all-encompassing statement of contrition." USAT, in its off-lead, says that with the remarks, Clinton "came as close as he ever has to apologizing for slavery, and in its lead, the LAT says he "stop[ped] short of an explicit apology." The NYT front-pager says he stopped "well short" of one.

Perhaps what underlies the presidential staff's concern is that the episode is a clear reminder that Clinton is prone in the heat of the moment to do things that in cooler moments he very publicly says he wouldn't do. Hoping not to remind folks about this was one of the reasons handlers were glad to get him out of town in the first place. And indeed, such concerns explicitly followed him to Africa: The NYT states that reporters touring the village with Clinton asked if he was invoking executive privilege in the Monica Lewinsky matter. Neither the president nor Hillary responded, even though Museveni called after them to make sure they heard the question.

In light of the slavery speech, "Today's Papers" wonders how long it will be before one of Clinton's critics complains that he apologizes for things he didn't do, instead of apologizing for things he did.

There's a good-news story in the WP business section--let's hope it's true. It seems that the CEO of PepsiCo, Roger A. Enrico, has given his $900,000 salary back to the company and directed that it be used to fund scholarships for children of the corporation's grunt-level employees. Enrico intends to do this indefinitely. True, Enrico's annual bonus, which he is not surrendering, is $1.8 million, but the company says the bonus will not be enlarged to pick up the slack. The arrangement nearly doubles the company's scholarship outlays.

Meanwhile, the WP's "Reliable Source" column reports that on Monday, two Washington D.C. bookstores were ordered to turn over to Ken Starr sales records of purchases by Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky's lawyer, William Ginsburg is quoted in the Post with this reaction: "We have now gone from invasion of the right of privacy to Fahrenheit 451."

And on tour with the president in Africa, Jesse Jackson gives Maureen Dowd his theology of the Lewinsky scandal: "There are nine more Commandments."