The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
June 15 1997 3:30 AM

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The Oklahoma City bombing jury began deliberating whether to sentence Timothy McVeigh to death. The jury reportedly showed little interest in the defense's explanation of McVeigh's actions as retaliation for the federal assault at Waco. Analysts expressed perplexity at this strategy and theorized that its purpose, perhaps dictated by McVeigh, was to broadcast his propaganda rather than save his life. Legal experts were intrigued by the defense's plea to keep McVeigh alive so that he might divulge the identity of his accomplices later. However, they doubt this argument will ultimately sway the jury. The betting line as of Thursday night was that the prosecution has at least nine votes for execution. (6/13)

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National and American league baseball teams played regular-season games against each other for the first time in the sport's 120-year history. Supporters of interleague play believe it will ignite local rivalries (e.g., Mets vs. Yankees, Cubs vs. White Sox) and showcase the sport's stars in more cities, thereby boosting attendance and merchandise sales, which, in turn, will enable owners to satisfy players' skyrocketing salary demands. Traditionalists complain it will dilute ancient rivalries, screw up the year-to-year continuity of statistics, obliterate the quaint differences between the two leagues (principally, the designated-hitter rule), and spoil the climactic, virgin mystique of the World Series, which, until now, was the leagues' only intercourse. Results so far are uneven: The Mets-Yankees series opener sold three times as many seats as the Padres-Angels series. "Already, [interleague play] has restored one of baseball's grandest traditions: the passion for arguing about the game," observed the Chicago Tribune. Things could be worse: The Los Angeles Times reports that, thanks to the popularization of baseball in Poland, bats have "emerged as a weapon of choice for hooligans, thugs, [and] extortionists."(6/13)

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The National Basketball Association fined Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman $50,000 for insulting Mormons. This doubles the NBA's previous record fine, also earned by Rodman, for kicking a photographer earlier this year. Rodman's first offending remark, June 7, in Salt Lake City: "It's difficult to get in sync because of all the [expletive] Mormons out here." His follow-up remark, June 10: "Mormon people don't like me either, right? That's a given, right? So what the hell." His apology, June 12: "If I knew it was like a religious-type deal, I would have never said it." Bulls coach Phil Jackson explained: "To Dennis, a Mormon may just be a nickname for people from Utah. He may not even know it's a religious cult or sect or whatever it is."(6/13)

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Another New Jersey high-school girl faces possible charges for secretly delivering and abandoning a baby. This is the third such case in New Jersey in recent months. First, two students were charged with killing their infant in a motel room and dumping it in the trash. Then, a few days ago, another girl gave birth in the bathroom at her high-school prom and dumped the baby in the trash, where it would later be found dead. (She then checked her makeup in the mirror, went back to the dance floor, and asked the disc jockey to play a heavy-metal song--"Unforgiven"--for her boyfriend.) Moral indignation over the incident was almost overshadowed by disbelief that nobody had noticed her condition. The Wall Street Journal declared it the latest sign of an American moral apocalypse littered with condoms, fear of school prayer, hysteria over Gen. Joseph Ralston, and "Robert Mapplethorpe's bullwhips." Now comes the third case, in which a girl gave birth in her parents' garage and left the baby there. Again, family members say they had no idea she was pregnant. (6/13)

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The Democrats whipped the Republicans at budget politics again. In 1995, when President Clinton and Republicans failed to agree on spending levels, Clinton shut down the government, and voters blamed Republicans. This year, to avoid repeating that debacle, Republicans selected a must-pass bill (relief aid to flood-stricken farmers and homeowners) and attached to it language to keep the government running should such an impasse recur. Republicans figured Clinton would get the blame for hurting flood victims if he vetoed the bill, as he did this week. Instead, Clinton, Vice President Gore, and Senate Democrats forced a shutdown of the Senate and launched a media blitz successfully (according to both parties' polls) blaming the Republicans for holding disaster victims "hostage." Republicans eventually cried uncle and allowed the relief bill to pass without amendments. The whole fiasco has raised ire and grumbling among Republican backbenchers over their leadership's incompetence. (6/13)

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The Dow Jones industrial average roared past 7,500 and closed above 7,700. It has now risen about 50 percent in the past year and a half. Analysts cited the usual factors: strong profits, low inflation, expectations of a sound budget agreement. The media have become so blasé about Dow milestones that they hardly noticed this one. The Washington Post, while warning that a recession is inevitable, acknowledged that such warnings have lost almost all credibility: Economists "worry that the news is too good to last--and then it does." Related headlines: "Economists See Rosy Long-Term U.S. Future" (Los Angeles Times, June 10); "The Golden Age" (Jim Glassman, the Post, June 10). (6/13)

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Other sports news: The Detroit Red Wings swept the vaunted Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 42 years. Among the story lines: The Red Wings feature a quintet of Russians, some of whom led the fight a decade ago to let Russians play pro hockey abroad. Silver Charm lost the Belmont Stakes to Touch Gold by three-quarters of a length, blowing his chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The French Open tennis tournament was dominated by upsets. Brazilian player Gustavo Kuerten, ranked 66th in the world, won the men's final, and Croatian player Iva Majoli ended the 37-match winning streak of top seed Martina Hingis in the women's final. Michael Jordan overcame the flu to score 38 points, capped by a three-point shot that gave the Chicago Bulls a 3-2 advantage over the Utah Jazz in the National Basketball Association finals. Sportswriters, who had proclaimed Jordan's invincibility when the Bulls were up 2-0--and then hinted at his demise after the Jazz tied it at 2-2--resumed proclaiming his invincibility. (6/13)

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Miscellany: Rupert Murdoch bought control of Pat Robertson's cable channel--"a merger of the sacred and profane," cracked the New York Times. Alex Kelly, the rich kid who spent eight years resort-hopping in Europe to evade rape charges in the United States, was finally convicted. Members of Alabama's state pardon board threw out the conviction of former Gov. Guy Hunt--who had appointed them--on charges of diverting $200,000 from a tax-free inaugural fund to personal use. The House overwhelmingly passed--again--a constitutional amendment to ban the desecration of the American flag. Massachusetts Rep.-turned-gubernatorial candidate Joe Kennedy raised eyebrows by speaking in favor of the amendment. Conservative Jews praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall were doused with saliva, trash, and feces--by Orthodox Jews. The Orthodox called the Conservatives "Nazis," "whores," and "goyim," evidently because their men and women were praying together. (6/13)

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Gen. Joseph Ralston withdrew his candidacy for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, completing the latest public execution in the inquisition against adultery in the military. First the Air Force discharged female pilot Kelly Flinn for adultery, lying about it, and disobeying an order to cease. Response: Politicians and the media blasted the military for punishing a woman while failing to prosecute male adulterers. Then the Army demoted and retired a male two-star general for having an affair five years ago while separated from his wife. Response: Politicians and the media blasted the military for prosecuting adulterers. Then Defense Secretary William Cohen defended Ralston, who had committed adultery 13 years ago. Response: Politicians and the media blasted the military for going easy on the top brass. Now that Ralston's candidacy has been shot down, pundits agree that his blood may finally sate the gods of right-wing Puritanism and left-wing anti-sexism. Some members of Congress are proposing an amnesty for adulterers. "There is sex," conceded the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. "Now, can we please change the subject?"(6/11)

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The war over tax cuts is underway. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, released the GOP plan for distributing tax cuts under the parameters to which President Clinton had previously agreed. Clinton, Democratic lawmakers, and liberal editorialists denounced the plan for scaling back tax cuts to the working poor (for raising kids and sending them to college), boosting tax cuts to the rich (for college, capital gains, and inheritance), and disguising the long-term cost. Clinton accused the GOP of violating the budget deal by failing to spend enough on college tax credits. (The Washington Post lamented that Clinton's position, too, is fiscally irresponsible.) Meanwhile, moral conservatives are accusing Archer of shortchanging the child tax credit. Pundits are looking forward to a summerlong political bloodbath. (6/11)

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Irish voters threw out the government of Prime Minister John Bruton despite the country's strong economy--they have done this to every government since 1969. The new government is not expected to differ significantly from the old one: It will focus on reducing taxes, unemployment, and crime. Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, won a seat in Parliament and, for the first time, will take it. The Wall Street Journal continued its unbroken record of blaming conservatives' recent defeats and mixed election results (in the United States, Britain, France, Canada, and now Ireland) on their insufficient conservatism. (6/11)

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Africa is in turmoil. 1) There is now widespread evidence that Congolese boss Laurent Kabila's soldiers have massacred Congolese citizens as well as Hutu refugees. 2) Civil war in the neighboring Republic of Congo (as distinguished from Congo, which used to be known as "Zaire" and before that as "the Congo") has become so intense that France is sending in hundreds of troops, and citizens are fleeing into Kabila's country--from which Congolese (i.e., Zairian) citizens were fleeing the other way just a few weeks ago. 3) Citizens of Sierra Leone are suffering an epidemic of theft, rape, and killing, reportedly at the hands of soldiers and rebels, since the army staged a coup two weeks ago. The New York Times pointed out cheerfully that the Congo and Sierra Leone crises have inspired many African countries to take charge of settling virulent regional conflicts. (6/9)

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Police arrested a former student and an alleged accomplice in the murder of Jonathan Levin, the son of Time Warner chief Gerald Levin. Instead of following in his dad's footsteps, Jonathan taught poor kids in a Bronx public high school. Fingerprints and other evidence indicate that the former student, on parole for a drug violation, killed Levin in his apartment for his ATM card. Initially, reporters lauded Levin for getting close to his students and inviting them to visit him at home (thereby illustrating "the power of gifted and dedicated teachers to transform young lives," according to the New York Times). Later, reporters suggested Levin's fatal mistake may have been getting close to his students and inviting them to visit him at home. The bright side of the story: Widespread coverage of Levin's altruism made the suspect's associates so angry at the suspect that they turned him in. The dark side: Levin's altruism would never have received such widespread coverage if his father hadn't been rich and powerful. (6/9)

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An ethics-commission report solicited by President Clinton recommended that scientists be 1) allowed to clone human embryos for experiments but 2) banned from implanting these embryos in women and developing them into babies. Pro-lifers attacked the proposal for inviting researchers to toy with human life and then requiring them to abort it. Other critics argued that if human-embryo cloning remains legal in the private sector but illegal in government-funded research, unsupervised quacks will control it. But the commissioners decided not to ask Congress to ban human-embryo cloning outright, reportedly because they trust Congress even less than they trust scientists. Analysts have become increasingly skeptical of the near-term feasibility of human cloning, and of Congress' constitutional authority to regulate it. Related updates: "Human Chromosomes Transplanted Into Mice" (the Washington Post, May 30); "Rush Is on for Cloning of Animals" (the New York Times, June 3). (6/9)

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Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat disavowed, denounced, and pledged to prosecute perpetrators of the recent executions of three Arabs who allegedly sold land to Jews. Israeli police claim to have arrested an armed Palestinian squad in the process of abducting a fourth Arab land dealer, and Israel's Jerusalem police chief has fingered a Palestinian security-agency boss in the first two killings. Arafat's remarks conflict with his justice minister's previous endorsement of such executions. Despite human-rights groups' increasing concern several reports indicate that the Palestinian public supports the executions. (For a backgrounder, see Slate's "The Gist" on land sales to Jews.) (6/9)