As befits the day, the papers are relatively quiet, finally getting to lead with the cold-snap set-pieces they've been denied by months of balm. The Washington Post tells of a nation plagued by cancelled planes and trains, giving us along the way the definitive holiday crisis quote: "How can I tell him he might not get to see his Bubbie in Boca?" Meanwhile, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times home in on California's freeze, which has done serious damage to the state's orange crop--destroying, says the NYT, more than a third of it. Yesterday's LAT said "nearly half," but today's settles on one-third.
A NYT front-pager reports that on Thursday, Sen. Daniel Moynihan came out in favor of censuring President Clinton rather than removing him from office. This despite, notes the Times, his earlier comments criticizing Clinton for not adequately apologizing for his affair with Monica Lewinsky and his opinion that perjury might well be an impeachable offense. The reason Moynihan offered is that ouster would "destabilize the presidency." The paper explains that Moynihan's stance is "particularly credible" because he is not running for re-election.
A piece inside the Times braces with the reminder that a full blown Senate trial could scorch plenty of earth, stating that President Clinton's legal team is prepared to call friends of Monica Lewinsky to testify that she frequently exaggerated the details of her trysts with Clinton.
The LAT front features a take-out on Chief Justice William Rehnquist, soon to preside over the Senate's impeachment trial. The piece notes that Rehnquist wrote a book about impeachment in 1992, in which he discussed the two most significant previous impeachments (both unsuccessful), that of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase and of President Andrew Johnson. The paper notes that the book, for much of this year one of the capital's most sought after, is out of print. And that the publisher has just announced a reprint run of 25,000 copies. According to the LAT, Rehnquist has stamped his Court with collegiality and efficiency--last September, for instance, he led a judicial conference in which 1,701 appeals were considered and voted on before lunch. The story features an anecdote purporting to show how Rehnquist punctures posturing lawyers, in which the pin cushion part is assigned to Kenneth Starr. But the Starr quote cited doesn't seem particularly pompous. In effect, the tale merely serves as a device for taking a swipe at Starr, which may be justifiable, but this piece doesn't bother to justify it. The WP, in its Rehnquist story earlier in the week, used the same anecdote and committed the same sin with it.
The NYT reports on the Air Force's official analysis of that plane crash last year in which a young bomber pilot broke formation and disappeared with a plane full of bombs and was later discovered to have crashed into a Colorado mountain. The report calls it a suicide, ascribing it to the 32-year-old captain's mental turmoil over his mother's religiously based pacifistic disapproval of the military and over a failed romance. The man's parents deny this, claiming instead that something happened on the flight to make their son lose consciousness. The Times notes that the report is silent regarding two widely mentioned rumors--that the pilot was taking the plane off to a militia, and that he committed suicide because he was a tormented closeted gay. The Times itself is oddly silent about some relevant context though, never noting that the sort of speculative psychological explanation indulged in here by the Air Force is strikingly similar to that wielded by the Navy when, in its initial official report on the disastrous gunnery explosion aboard the Iowa, it posited a crewmember's gay-tinged suicide. So the reader missed being reminded that in the Iowa case, a straightforwardly mechanical cause for the mishap was ultimately found instead.
Today, after 36 years, the NYT's Russell Baker files his last "Observer" column. Baker has read tired and grumpy of late, but his best columns have always been wonderful correctives to everybody else's. Today's Papers recommends his book "Growing Up" as an autobiography of the absolute first rank.
The WP runs an AP dispatch inside reporting that a retiring Florida Supreme Court justice has expressed "grave doubts" about the guilt of some of the convicts executed during his tenure. The judge notes that in the past ten years or so, 53 people on death rows across the country have been released on DNA grounds. "But how about before we could rely upon DNA?" the judge is quoted asking. "What happened to those people?"
Another WP AP item reveals that President Clinton pardoned 33 convicted criminals yesterday, for offenses ranging from going AWOL to blowing up a building. The group includes three people convicted of lying.