This Week

Issue: "Peretti on publishing," Oct. 25, 1997

Java jitters

Why didn't those White House videotapes turn up until months after they were subpoenaed by Congress? On ABC's This Week on Oct. 12, White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff put the blame on officials in the White House Communications Agency, "who pushed the wrong button or asked the wrong questions of the computer." But in sworn testimony a day and a half earlier, the head of the office responsible for videotaping executive mansion events, including President Clinton's DNC political coffees at the White House, said he never received a full copy of the four-page directive requesting the tapes. An hour after the ABC broadcast, White House scandal spokesman Lanny Davis offered this explanation: "We understand the military office, when it was producing copies of the directive, may have inadvertently neglected to photocopy the first two sheets of the directive, in which reference to materials relating to 'coffees' was expressly included." Journalists pored over the tapes after their release Oct. 14, prompting CNN Crossfire host Pat Buchanan to quip that it was like "watching America's Most Wanted." Viewers could see Johnny Chung, John Huang, Pauline Kanchanalak, and Charlie Trie, among a host of other characters who have fled the country rather than testify about their role in the fundraising controversy. Some of the most damaging moments of the tape come from a May 21, 1996, White House luncheon, in which President Clinton lauds donors for giving "soft money" to the Democratic National Committee for use in "this long-running, constant television campaign ... [that] has been central to the position I now enjoy in the polls." Advertisements purchased with money from the DNC's soft account, which is virtually unlimited and unregulated, are restricted to political party advertising, not candidate advertising. Mr. Clinton's admission that the ads were responsible for boosting his campaign bolster arguments that the president's campaign violated federal election laws.

The nation in brief

The plutonium is falling: A handful of protesters showed up at Cape Canaveral in the pre-dawn hours on Oct. 15 to oppose the start of the Cassini spacecraft's 2.2 billion mile journey to Saturn. Environmentalists claimed that the 72 pounds of radioactive plutonium on board to help fuel the craft on its 11-year journey could kill many on Earth if the rocket exploded during liftoff. Cassini safely exited Earth's atmosphere in 40 minutes, but opponents are now worried about 1999, when the craft will again pass within 500 miles of Earth, using the planet's gravity to help "slingshot" it toward Saturn. Dust to dust: The literary world lost an icon last week when 90-year-old James Michener, author of such sweeping sagas as Tales from the South Pacific and Centennial, died of renal failure. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author had asked to be removed from kidney dialysis machines. And folk singer John Denver died last week at age 53 when the experimental plane he was piloting crashed off the California coast.

The world in brief

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Pauline's perils: Wearing face masks and bandanas for protection from the choking dust, residents of Acapulco and other coastal cities began digging out from under tons of rock and mud left in the wake of Hurricane Pauline, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit Mexico. Most of the 230 dead have been buried, but the living face months of hardship. Some 50,000 Mexicans were left homeless, and crowded shelters, like the rest of the hard-hit region, lack electricity and clean water. Tortilla factories have shut down for lack of clean water to mix with the cornmeal, leaving many poor people without a staple of their diet. Shocking aftershocks: Cleanup continued as well in central Italy, as strong aftershocks to an Aug. 26 earthquake continued to threaten the region's historical treasures. Assisi's 13th-century St. Francis Basilica was spared this time around, but residents in neighboring Foligno could only watch as the bell tower of their 500-year-old city hall groaned, tottered, and finally collapsed. Pragmatic communists: In Rome, 100 miles to the north, the Italian government narrowly avoided a similar collapse. Italian Communists, angered by Prime Minister Romano Prodi's plan to slash $3 billion from state pensions and health care, withdrew their support of Italy's first post-War leftist regime. Without Communist support, the center-left coalition could not maintain its majority in the lower house, and the prime minister offered his resignation. But Italian voters, eager to qualify for Europe's monetary union in 1999, reacted angrily to the Communist desertion, which threatened to send the economy into a tailspin. Communist leaders finally agreed to continue backing the Prodi government. In return, the prime minister promised to press for legislation shortening the work week from 40 hours to 35 by 2001.

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