Trial and Error

Trial and Error

Trial and Error

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 8 1999 6:59 AM

Trial and Error

Day 1 of the Senate impeachment trial leads all around. The coverage reflects the event's two contrasting sides: Austere formal procedures cloaking raucous partisan disputes. The LAT especially emphasizes the rigmarole, with the top half of its story sprinkled with time hacks and scene-setting ("A few minutes after 10 A.M., Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, leader of a 13-member House GOP team that will present the case against Clinton, entered through the chamber's back double-doors.") and a top-front featuring a magisterial wide shot of Chief Justice Rehnquist swearing in the senators as jurors. But in all the papers the in-fighting eventually prevails--it may be a very old sausage recipe, but they're still making sausage. The House managers and many Senate Republicans want a plan that allows the calling of witnesses, while most Democrats and the White House want one that does not. The attendant complications make it seem that this could well turn out to be the trial of two centuries.

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At times the papers' tick-tocks descend into such inside baseball that it's unfathomable that they're of any interest to any reader who's not a member of the Senate. Thus we find the NYT reporting, "At this point Daschle said he was learning for the first time, in phone calls from puzzled Democrats, that he was being blamed for blocking the bipartisan caucus. 'I was flabbergasted,' Daschle said. 'I didn't know about any plans for any meeting.'" The leadership finally agreed to a closed meeting today of all 100 senators to try and iron out the trial's procedural rules. None of the papers, by the way, explains how it can be that the entire Senate can go into closed session. What is there to prevent the Senate from doing the whole trial in closed session? Or for that matter, all the rest of its business? The papers don't say.

The UNSCOM/US espionage story, broken two days ago by the WP and Boston Globe, appears to have legs. The NYT front says the U.S. government admitted Thursday that a U.S. spy went into Iraq in the guise of a UN weapons inspector and left an eavesdropping device behind that for ten months allowed the U.S. and "a select elite" within the UN team to monitor the communications of the officers who protect Saddam Hussein and conceal his weapons of mass destruction. The LAT runs a front-page story on the matter that says the government denies that it ever placed spies on the UNSCOM staff, although the story also says the take of the eavesdropping operation almost certainly helped the Pentagon plan last month's bombing campaign. That paper adds that the exposure of the gambit is thought by some diplomats to have handed Iraq a short-run propaganda victory.

The papers don't really get into it, but it's hard to see how this use of an international body with special privileges is any different than say Saddam's use of hospitals to house bioweapons production, or the already widely accepted practice of the U.S. military relying on the information provided by Baghdad-based TV crews to monitor its air offensives. In short, everybody in the Iraq situation has exploited "dual-use" technology for privileged institutions. The only difference that could justify approval of U.S. dual use and condemnation of Iraqi dual use is that Saddam is evil and the U.S. is not. If this point is accepted, the controversy disappears and if not, then why is the U.S. taking steps against his weapons it's not taking against say, China's?

The USAT "Money" section front reports that AT&T and Microsoft have recently discussed an AT&T buyout of the latter's media properties, including the Microsoft Network ISP, the MS portal Web site and Slate. In return, says the paper, MS would want money from AT&T and also a deal to have AT&T promote Windows NT software. (And to have Paul Risor killed.) USAT says that although Bill Gates has held talks at his house regarding this matter with AT&T execs, the phone company has since cooled on the deal because "it may not want to be an owner of Microsoft's money-losing Web sites." Sniff.

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The WSJ "Washington Wire" reports that in an email recently, the U.S. Air Force general in charge of enforcing the northern Iraq no-fly zone wrote "It's a good day for bombing." The paper says he "exulted" in saying this. What proof is there of this? The paper doesn't say. And it needs to, because the statement is one that could be made quite straightforwardly (as part of a briefing, say), by a military professional without any untoward implications, like "It's a good day for driving."