1. Newsweek reported that a still-secret memo by FBI Director Louis Freeh argued Justice Department lawyers went soft on Al Gore.
U.S. News & World Report arrived late with a report on former Justice investigator Charles
LaBella, and was the only magazine to give a report on independent counsel Robert Ray’s investigations of the White House.
2. Time and Newsweek deplored National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre for claiming President Clinton exploits school shootings, but ignored Clinton’s March 2 claim that other countries have fewer gun deaths "because they don't have an NRA in their country."
U.S. News revealed "The administration is refusing to fund a Secret Service program to help educators and local cops identify potential school killers."
3. Time and Newsweek offered a more balanced assessment of the state of education policy.
Time’s Eric Pooley listed pluses and minuses of the George W. Bush approach, while
Newsweek’s Lynette Clemetson explored both sides of the school-voucher debate.
4. Newsweek film critic David Ansen’s political take on the Oscars: "The likely triumph of ‘American Beauty’ -- the Al Gore of the race -- bodes well for the Democrats."
On the covers of the March 27 news magazines: Time (with "Do It Yourself.com") and U.S. News & World Report ("Porn.com") explored the potential of the Internet, while Newsweek assessed how Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists have "Visions of Jesus." Time columnist Margaret Carlson and U.S. News columnist Gloria Borger acted like a tag team for John McCain. Carlson typically argued George W. Bush is immature, citing that Bush’s testy response to reporters’ requests for him to grovel before McCain "went too far, suggesting that he might not be mature enough to be President and, worse yet, not mature enough to hide it." Borger announced McCain is now "the only man in America who can lay claim to a new political movement," a force which must be honored by the Death Star, er, the Republican establishment.
Newsweek reported that a still-secret memo by FBI Director Louis Freeh argued Justice Department lawyers went soft on Al Gore. An unbylined "Periscope" item related: "In the November 24, 1997, memo addressed to Attorney General Janet Reno, portions of which were read to Newsweek, Freeh criticized Justice Department lawyers for making ‘factual assumptions’ favorable to the Clinton White House ‘without investigating whether those assumptions were accurate.’ Among the issues Freeh argued needed to be investigated by an independent counsel: Gore's fund-raising calls from the White House, the use of a White House computer database for political purposes and whether Clinton and Gore illegally raised money on federal property during White House ‘coffees.’"
The report added: "Release of the memo could seal Freeh's fate if Gore wins in November. Although the director's term won't expire until 2003, a Gore ally says Freeh won't be welcome in a new Democratic administration."
U.S. News & World Report arrived late with a report on former Justice investigator Charles LaBella, and was the only magazine to give a report on independent counsel Robert Ray’s investigations of the White House. Time’s only nod to Ray’s declaration that we would not prosecute anyone for Filegate was declaring FBI file-procuring former White House heavy Craig Livingstone a "Winner" in "Winners & Losers": "Ex-Clintonite is cleared by indie counsel in Filegate. Where does he go to get his reputation back?"
Reporter Jeff Glasser found: "The ghost of scandals past appeared in Washington last week, just in time for campaign season. Kenneth Starr's successor shipped the first of four final reports to the court that oversees independent counsels. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, a bitter dispute between Justice Department prosecutors and the former top campaign finance investigator spilled out into public, with the leak of a memo that called for an independent counsel to probe possible 1996 campaign shenanigans by Vice President Al Gore. ‘I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out,’ says former top Justice political deputy Robert Litt about the timing of the fundraising leaks. ‘It's politics.’ Democrats made the same argument about Independent Counsel Robert Ray's decision to issue controversial findings in the middle of the 2000 election campaigns. But former independent counsel officials say the timing is understandable given the protracted impeachment battle."
There’s clearly never a time for scandal that isn’t badly timed, but Glasser devoted a few paragraphs to the surface of the two scandals, then concluded: "The bottom line: Do voters care? Gore believes they do; last week he admitted mistakes and vowed to fight for campaign finance reform. His GOP rival, George W. Bush, disagrees, and last week he refused to endorse a ban on soft money. The polls are on his side."
Bush might not agree with Gore-style campaign "reform," but he doesn’t "disagree" that voters care about shaking down Buddhist nuns and Chinese Army officials. The bottom line is voters don’t care about scandals when the news magazines and other media outlets don’t bother to acknowledge they exist.
Time and Newsweek deplored National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre for Clinton exploits school shootings. After lauding the gunmakers at Smith & Wesson for making a deal with the White House to avoid lawsuits, Newsweek's Matt Bai elaborated: "As it happened, the announcement capped the most dramatic -- and least civil -- week in the ongoing political debate over guns. In an unusually harsh exchange, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, said President Clinton had ‘blood on his hands’ for a murder in Illinois, because the killer could have been prosecuted under federal law for trying to buy a gun illegally. ‘He's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda,’ LaPierre said. Seemingly unbothered, Clinton chided him for shedding ‘crocodile tears.’ LaPierre was probably playing, in part, to his own audience; the NRA's annual board meeting is a month away, and his comments about Clinton are likely to go over well with the true believers. But in more moderate Republican circles, the attack on the president was seen as less than helpful."
Newsweek’s "Conventional Wisdom Watch" predictably gave the NRA a down arrow: "Old: The mother of all lobbies. New: So extreme, even Bush is running for cover." Neither Newsweek or Time reprinted Clinton’s March 2 claim that America’s higher gun-death rate is the NRA’s fault: "We have a higher percentage of people in jail than all the other advanced countries, and they have a lower gun death rate. Why is that? That's because they don't have an NRA in their country and they take sensible steps to protect children and society as a whole from people having guns who shouldn't have them, doing things they shouldn't do with them."
In Time, John Dickerson also led with Smith & Wesson, then added: "There was a moment last week, though, when Washington seemed to be descending into an uglier version of its usual gun-control warfare." After replaying how LaPierre "tore into" Clinton, he added: "In the background of this bitter debate played a barrage of television ads in which N.R.A president Charlton Heston, in his full Moses voice, called the President a liar for distorting the N.R.A's position."
Dickerson assessed the political fallout: "Al Gore couldn't wait to tie George W. Bush to the N.R.A's intemperate remarks, but oddly enough, LaPierre may have done Bush a favor with his nasty thrusts toward the President: the presumptive Republican nominee suddenly had a chance to look moderate....But Bush's Texas record may bedevil him as he tries to reach for moderates and independents who approve of some gun control." Time’s "Notebook" page carried an unflattering graphic of LaPierre with wildly shooting guns coming out of his mouth with a caption that suggested "Maybe a mouth safety lock is in order." Time didn’t remind readers of its own intemperate remarks on how conservatives were somehow co-conspirators in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
In the "Washington Whispers" section of U.S. News, Paul Bedard found Clinton handing ammunition to the NRA argument: "The administration is refusing to fund a Secret Service program to help educators and local cops identify potential school killers. Treasury bosses this year nixed the plan in favor of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms law-enforcement initiatives, despite Clinton's claims that prevention programs are also essential."
Time and Newsweek offered more balanced assessments of the state of education policy. Eric Pooley delivered some praise for George W. Bush: "Education, of course, is the Texas Governor's policy home page -- the place where the reformer really does have results, where he seems to speak from his heart and mind, not an invisible set of cue cards. Public schools in Texas have improved dramatically on Bush's watch. And although the structural reforms that made it happen were in place when Bush took office, he has built on them year after year."
Pooley not only praised Bush, but knocked Gore, using other Democrats: "‘Gore has been very, very soft on school accountability,’ says Amy Wilkins, a principal partner at the Education Trust, a center-left school-reform group. ‘He doesn't set consequences for schools that fail. I'm a black Democrat,’ she adds, ‘so it's frightening for me to see Bush more concerned about minority achievement than Gore.’"
Pooley explained that Bush borrowed much of his education plan from the New Democrats at the Progressive Policy Institute, and then added school vouchers for students in failing schools. He allowed critics to complain about vouchers and increased standardized testing, then suggested Gore should get behind a new education plan from Senate Democrats Joe Lieberman and Evan
In Newsweek, Lynette Clemetson explored how black mother Valerie Johnson receives vouchers to put her children in Catholic school in inner-city Milwaukee. She explained the politics: "Voucher experiments are catching the attention of presidential candidates as well as educators. Al Gore opposes them as a drain on the public-school system. George W. Bush advocates vouchers for poor kids in failing schools. Both are sensitive to political considerations: the teacher unions, mainstays of the Democratic Party, regard vouchers as a threat to their livelihoods, while some conservative Republicans see vouchers as a way to fund religious schools."
After running through arguments against vouchers, Clemetson noted "even the most vehement opponents concede one fact: vouchers have scared some public schools into action." Proclaimed Johnson: "I'm not anti public school. I'm anti bad school. To have my children go to a good neighborhood public school would be my ultimate dream."
Newsweek film critic David Ansen offered his political take on the Oscars. "The likely triumph of ‘American Beauty’ -- the Al Gore of the race -- bodes well for the Democrats. Like Gore, ‘Beauty’ is the improbable front runner in spite of its damaging associations with intergenerational sex, adultery and all those other Clintonian vices we can't seem to do without."
Speak for yourself, David.
-- Tim Graham