Pilot Error

Pilot Error

Pilot Error

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 14 1999 5:40 AM

Pilot Error

While the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post all have big impeachment trial post-mortems, the actual lead in the NYT and the WP is something different.

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The Washington Post goes with the blistering crackdown by a no-nonsense Dallas district court judge, Joe Kendall, on the American Airlines pilots who've been calling in sick for the last week. (It's illegal for them to actually strike.) The Post story, much more colorful than the NYT and LAT front-pagers on the same subject, has the judge comparing the pilots to Mafia extortionists, promising the union that its assets will fit in the "overhead bin of a Piper Cub" after he got through with it, and even pointing out that many of the pilots had learned their trade while in the U.S. armed services. (That last is a cheap shot; as the paper notes, some of the pilots are combat veterans who risked their lives for the country at the time.)

The New York Times leads with President Clinton's conditional decision to participate in a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. The paper says about 4000 Army and Marine soldiers will be stationed in the southern part of the Serbian province--if the two sides fighting a civil war there can come up with a cease-fire agreement in the negotiations currently under way in Paris. That's not for certain. The NYT, ever suspicious of the president's motivations, goes out of its way to report that White House aides "expected Clinton's announcement to draw concentrated news coverage and commentary to compete with lingering musings over the trial"; the WP, playing the story just below its one-column lead, details the complex and delicate planned mobilizations and postings of the multinational troops.

But back to Clinton. The Los Angeles Times lead is just a poll story, the old news that Americans didn't like impeachment, want to get back to business, etc., etc. The companion story, a news analysis by Janet Hook, sees "the makings of a honeymoon" in D.C. Both sides, Hooks reports, want to get down to legislating. The WP analyzes the scandal's effect on the 2000 elections. In a nice passage Dan Balz writes, "Virtually every candidate contemplating a presidential campaign will look in the mirror this weekend and see a possible answer for what the country wants after Clinton"--Al Gore the Eagle Scout, Elizabeth Dole the antidote to Clinton's locker-room antics, and so forth. Those who make it to the end of the story will probably say amen to the closing quote, from a Steve Forbes adviser: "I think [the public] probably will not want to hear the word impeachment for another 120 years."

The WP also has a very long, intensely reported recap of the political phenomena that, all along, seemed systematically to help the Democrats and hurt the right. It includes a trenchant "for want of a nail" tale explaining how an early Dick Gephardt-Newt Gingrich agreement to keep the Starr Report under wraps broke down. (Gingrich was incommunicado the day the report was unexpectedly delivered to Congress, even as an overheard remark of Barney Frank's enraged a Republican representative, leading him to introduce a motion to make the report public.)

The NYT's main impeachment post-mortem--pace Janet Hook--is a pessimistic one. Democrats and Republicans hate each other, the paper says. (This is a follow-up to a ferocious inside story the paper ran yesterday, in which Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott got a full year of pent-up disgust at Clinton off his chest.) The most telling point of analysis in the piece comes from a Republican adviser, who says that since Clinton won't be able to get anything done anyway, he might as well concentrate on electing Gore and a Democratic House of Representatives next year.

The WP fronts a look at how certain Salt Lake Cityans went nuts to get their burg an Olympics. The conclusion: "The decision to go low, to do what ever it took to win, was a step-by-step and relatively open process involving large numbers of people." A major report on the LAT front page details how tobacco companies strong-armed smoking-cessation-aid manufacturers to keep them out of the smoking wars.

The NYT has a classic obit to show off today, about the best polo player ever, Cecil Smith; the piece, by Frank Litsky, effortlessly takes the reader back to the days when the sport was played by the likes of Walt Disney and Will Rogers, and tens of thousands watched games. In 1933, Smith, a Texan, led a dusty group of cowboys to take the national championship away from the hoity-toity East Coast. He continued to ride up until he was 92, three years ago. The NYT Magazine's cover look at Steven Spielberg is marred by banal, sycophantic writing ("...within a few minutes, [Spielberg] has put them at ease. He has that effect on people"), writer Stephen Dubner's tiresome injections of himself into the story ("We first meet up early Thursday morning..."), and minor irritants like referring to Spielberg's assistant by her first name. (A female movie exec gets the same treatment.) In this context, it's not clear whether the writer or the subject appreciates the irony of the profile's key scene--Spielberg fatuously defending the behavior of his close personal friend Bill Clinton ("Morality is defined not just by a sexual dalliance") as he puffs contentedly on a cigar.