Smoke Screen

Smoke Screen

Smoke Screen

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 17 1998 7:49 AM

Smoke Screen

The papers continue to show they're much more interested in Mondo Monica than the American people are--all the majors lead with some aspect of it. USA Today and the Los Angeles Times go with President Clinton's comments Wednesday at his first post-Report press conference that he still has the moral authority required to remain in office. The New York Times goes with a story that led elsewhere yesterday--the imminent release of the Clinton grand jury videotape. The Washington Post combines the two themes in its lead, running under the headline "Clinton Stresses Duties as House Plans Disclosure."

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USAT says that during his joint news conference with Czech President Vaclav Havel, Clinton "sidestepped" questions about whether he'd committed perjury. The LAT reports that most of the questions posed at the conference were about the Lewinsky scandal--including those from Czech journalists (the front-page NYT story on the press conference also observes this). The USAT account depicts a determined, fervent Clinton. The LAT sees political manipulation instead, calling Clinton's remarks "part of a determined effort by the White House to change the subject," and saying it was "stage-managed to put the President in the best possible light," and also referring to Monday's speech on the global economy as "a carefully choreographed appearance." If USAT's and the NYT's quoting of Clinton saying, "I have never stopped leading this country in foreign affairs in this entire year, and I never will" makes the reader think of jut-jawed globalism, by the time the LAT gets around to the remark, the reader is half-way thinking it's actually a coded reference to some as yet undetected frolicking with exchange students. In noting that "Clinton offered no defense of his actions and voiced no protest as the House moved further down the track toward an impeachment inquiry," the WP story limns a third picture: of a man resigned to a process bigger than he is. The Post notes that when asked if he might consider resigning, his response--the voters want him to do his job--was less "steely" than the "Churchillian 'never'" he responded with last February. The NYT agrees, saying his answer yesterday was less confrontational.

The NYT lead stresses the concerns of some Judiciary committee Republicans that some of the material suggested for imminent release is too graphic. The paper reports that at a closed-door meeting with members, Newt Gingrich seemed irritated by such scruples and won "a huge ovation" after reminding attendees that the House had already voted for full disclosure, and that pulling back now would only lead to news leaks. Also, both the Post and USAT report that Judiciary chairman Henry Hyde yesterday acknowledged a 1960s extramarital affair and that the White House denied leaking that information.

A front-page USAT story reports that the Pentagon has ordered a review of all DOD-maintained Web sites out of a concern that they may make too much information--including the names of commanders and the locations of their families--available to terrorists and other potential enemies. The paper reports, for instance, that one DOD site featured the floor plan and photos of the inside of the home of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A very good front-page Wall Street Journal feature by Douglas Blackmon makes the case that America is becoming more cultured. True, the piece admits, "Booty Call" made $20 million and Wonder remains the biggest single selling bread brand, but the cultural common denominator is on the rise. American book-buying is on a dizzying rise, more students are studying abroad, theatrical ticket sales are up, as is opera attendance, plus public radio stations have tripled since 1980--and you can get cappuccino in Arkansas.

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The LAT front runs a piece by veteran tobacco reporter Myron Levin that may presage a whole new dimension of tobacco scandal. Citing internal memos from the world's two largest tobacco companies, the piece details their secret agreement to fix prices in Argentina, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries. The memos surfaced in a lawsuit brought by Washington state and provide the first-ever documentation of tobacco companies' anti-competitive deals. The story demonstrates that it's not just Bill Clinton who can't give a simple answer to a simple question--it quotes a Phillip Morris spokeswoman's response: "Since we must comply with local laws and regulations in every country in which we do business, we expect that there has been no improper conduct in the countries that you have referenced." Not exactly "We didn't do anything wrong."