Pontifficating

Pontifficating

Pontifficating

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 22 1999 7:26 AM

Pontifficating

All the majors lead with the last day of the White House's defense in the Senate and lavish most of their attention on the concluding speech given by former Arkansas senator Dale Bumpers.

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The consensus is that Bumpers' aw-shucks style and his rhetorical flourishes were viewed by the Senate audience as a refreshing contrast to the lawyerly nit-picking (such as that displayed by Clinton private attorney David Kendall, who also spoke yesterday) that had heretofore carried the day. The New York Times's R.W. Apple assesses Bumpers' effort as "rare eloquence" and the Los Angeles Times calls it an "extraordinary appeal." The Washington Post plays high Bumpers' challenge to the Senate not to vote for impeachment in order to avoid heightening people's alienation from their government. The NYT plays this much lower. The papers note that Bumpers made no effort to defend President Clinton's conduct, calling it "indefensible, outrageous, unforgivable, shameless." The LAT goes high with Bumpers' view that nonetheless, Clinton's actions "do not even come close to being an impeachable offense" because they were not "political offenses against the state."

The NYT notes Bumpers' observation that Clinton should have thought about the consequences of his actions beforehand. But the paper leaves out what happened next, which is however reported by the WP: Bumpers pointed at his former colleagues, saying, "Just as you and you and you and you, and millions of other people who have been caught in similar circumstances, should have thought of it before." The Post is also alone in noting that Bumpers broke new ground for President Clinton's defenders by explicitly citing Clinton's high poll numbers as a reason to acquit.

The coverage suggests that in the wake of Bumpers, momentum is building among senators to press for a quick resolution of the trial, even to the point of omitting all witnesses. USA Today emphasizes this more than the details of Bumpers' speech. And the LAT's lead editorial calls for bringing the trial to a rapid end. It's recognized all around that today the proceedings will enter a far more spontaneous stage, with senators submitting their questions in writing to Chief Justice Rehnquist. The WP runs questions submitted by readers. It will be interesting to see if the actual questions posed are equally sharp.

The off-lead at the two Times and the WP is yesterday's murder conviction in Mexico City of Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of a former Mexican president. Salinas was found guilty by the trial judge of being the author of the successful 1994 assassination of a fast-rising political star. He was sentenced to fifty years in prison. The outcome signals, says the NYT, that Mexico's elite no longer enjoys its traditional impunity.

The Wall Street Journal "Washington Wire" runs some poll figures about the budget surplus: 45 percent prefer using it for Social Security, 29 percent want it to go for domestic spending, and only 22 percent favor tax cuts.

The LAT front carries an exclusive account of a particularly twisted computer crime. In the first prosecution ever under California's cyber-stalking statute, an L.A. man (who, natch, lived with his 80-year-old mother) is being tried for using the Internet in an attempt to set up the rape of a woman who had spurned him. The man sent out email and posted online ads purporting to be from the woman suggesting she desired to act out fantasies of being raped. The postings resulted in six different men showing up at the woman's apartment at various times, although no rape occurred. The man was caught with the assistance of the Internet providers involved, which included AOL and Hotmail. It's hard to know what the woman could have done to protect herself, the LAT notes--after all, she didn't own a computer.

The NYT front reports that the Pope is returning to Mexico. But it's an inside piece at the WP that has the most surprising news about the upcoming visit--this time, he has corporate sponsors, including Pepsi, Federal Express, Sheraton Hotels, Kodak, Hewlett-Packard and Mercedes-Benz. Church officials defend the practice, says the Post, as a way of avoiding charging the poor to see the pontiff. Perhaps the wackiest papal product placement is the Frito-Lay promotion that plays off the word "papa," which--thank God--means both "pope" and "potato."