Free Willy

Free Willy

Free Willy

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 13 1999 6:43 AM

Free Willy

Banner headlines in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post announce the acquittal of President William Jefferson Clinton. All three papers feature prominent subheadings emphasizing that the two articles of impeachment failed to muster a simple majority. Article 1, alleging Clinton committed perjury in the grand jury, was defeated by a vote of 55 to 45. Ten Republicans crossed party lines in rejecting the charge. Article 2 garnered five fewer Republican cross-overs and failed on a 50-50 vote. All 45 Democrats voted for full acquittal.

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The Post devotes its entire front page to Clinton's acquittal, yet the Times is the only paper of the big three to headline the sinking of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein's attempt to force a vote on censure. Although the Senate voted 56 to 43 to consider the motion denouncing Clinton's "shameful, reckless and indefensible" conduct, pro-censure Senators fell short of the two-thirds required. The Post provides great detail on the staging of the drama's denouement. Its overview story reports that Senate staff members scripted each stage of the final day's proceedings, down to the language Chief Justice Rehnquist used to announce the President's acquittal.

The predictability of the proceeding is noted in a front-page trial journal in the Post. This piece reports that the solemnity of the voting was disturbed by murmuring in the press gallery only when Republican Senators Stevens, Thompson and Warner voted not guilty on the perjury article. The NYT overview notes that "Democrats and some Republicans argued that the votes signaled that the House had erred in sending forth impeachment articles." The story does not say which Republican Senators advanced this view.

The LAT highlights the collegiality that marked the closing of the trial, headlining its scene-setter "Bipartisan Spirit Soars." The Post quotes lead manger Henry Hyde saying "the genuflection to bipartisanship has a certain ring of civility to it, but it means one side is disadvantaged, and we were." The LAT reports that back slapping abounded after votes were cast. The WP takes note of the presentation of a plaque to the Chief Justice (surely an extra-constitutional action.)

The Post and the Times front separate features on the President's rose garden apology and expression of "profound sorrow" for triggering the events of the past year. The Times story emphasizes that the speech struck a conciliatory and hopeful tone. Though the paper reported two days ago that Clinton had vowed to exact retribution from House prosecutors at the ballot box, it does not pause to compare and contrast.

All three papers front separate articles on the reaction of the House impeachment managers, particularly Hyde's statement that he does not think Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr should indict President Clinton. The Post notes that Rep. Asa Hutchinson also expressed the opinion that it was "time for [Starr] to finish any report and move on." Perhaps that was what Rep. Lindsey Graham was getting at when the stated, "the President has been cleansed."

In other news, according to a story reefered on the front page of the Times and reported inside the Post and the LAT, Clinton will announce on Saturday that American troops will be deployed to Kosovo if a satisfactory agreement is reached between the "warring parties" currently negotiating in a chateau outside Paris. The tentatively planned 4,000 Americans troops would form a small part of the "predominately European" force totaling 28,000. The President and Secretary of State Madeline Albright floated this plan last week, but promised to consult with Congress before making any formal commitments. The Times notes that the mission would probably be headed by a British general. What will Congress think about this?

While all of the papers devote much space to the long-run ramifications of the impeachment trial, the WP and the LAT bury what could represent an important change in Presidential elections. The National Association of Secretaries of State adopted a plan that, if implemented, would reverse the increasing compression of presidential primaries, and the importance that they place on early fundraising. The plan preserves Iowa and New Hampshire as the first caucus and primary respectively. The remaining states would be grouped into four regions: East, South, Midwest, and West. The states in these regions would hold their primaries in early March, April, May, and June - with the order of the primaries rotating each Presidential election. The story notes that getting the necessary approval by the states and political parties could be difficult.

At the close of yesterday's drama, Congressional players were confronted with the bittersweet question of what they would do next. According to the WP, Sen. John Breaux planned to head home for Mardi Gras and Rep. James Rogan exulted "I'm going to Disneyland! On ice." Rep. Henry Hyde seemed to have less well-formed plans, he simply declared: "You're looking at a free man!"