Early Verdict on Executive Privilege

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President Clinton's controversial claim to executive privilege may be months from its day in court, but the press's verdict -- from both sides of the political spectrum -- is already in: bad move.

"William Milhous Clinton," proclaimed the Wall Street Journal's editorial headline, making the ubiquitous Monicagate-to-Watergate connection that was popular in print pieces Tuesday. "[The privilege claim] is a sure sign that, despite the Monica-sex furor of the past few weeks, the worst is yet to come."

Special Report The usually left-leaning New York Times seconded that emotion in its editorial "The Abuse of Privilege, Again," which accuses Clinton of selfishly putting his presidency before the presidency. (William Safire had opened the week on an even shriller anti-executive-privilege note, declaring in Monday's Times that "if Clinton can get away with this, any future President would be able to get away with anything.")

Where there was opinion on Clinton's gambit Tuesday, it was unfavorable. But the President knows well that the press's attention span -- like that of the American public -- is famously short. By the time the months of closed-door legal wrangling are over, the Nixonesque ugliness of the move, like every other aspect of the scandal, may eventually become matter-of-fact.