The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Jan. 2 1999 3:30 AM

The Clintometer is back. Click here for the latest update.


A House committee report says China has finagled and stolen sensitive U.S. military technology for 20 years. The committee says the technology includes nuclear weapons designs. The conservative spin: The report proves the Clinton administration hurt U.S. national security by giving China access to high technology. The liberal spin: The report shows the Reagan and Bush administrations did the same thing. The nonpartisan spin: Congratulations to the committee's Democrats and Republicans for reporting the ugly truth on both sides. (12/31/98)

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Two Khmer Rouge leaders defected to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in exchange for protection from trial. The defectors, who played key roles in the Cambodian genocide of the late 1970s, have been put up in luxury hotels. Cambodia's figurehead king refuses to grant them amnesty, saying they should face an international tribunal. The defectors' spin: "Sorry, very sorry. ... Let bygones be bygones." Hun Sen's spin: They deserve "bouquets of flowers, not prisons and handcuffs." The cynical spin: Hun Sen is protecting them to consolidate the power he won through a coup. The idealistic spin: They should be tried for crimes against humanity, which are far worse than those of Chilean ex-dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The backup idealistic spin: We'll catch them and try them if they leave their country, just like Pinochet. (12/31/98)

U.S. and Iraqi forces exchanged fire again. For the second time since the U.S. bombing campaign two weeks ago, Iraqi anti-aircraft outposts tried to shoot down U.S. and British planes that were patrolling "no-fly zones" over Iraq. Once again, the U.S. planes returned fire. Each side claims to have fired in self-defense. This time, U.S. military officials say they hit an Iraqi missile launch site. Iraq claims they killed a farmer. President Clinton says U.S. planes will continue to enforce the no-fly zones to prevent Iraq from using air power to prey on its domestic or foreign enemies. Meanwhile, much of the U.S. force in the Persian Gulf began to leave the area as scheduled. The spins: 1) The bombing campaign failed, and the United States is slinking away with its tail between its legs. 2) Is not! 3) Is too! (12/31/98)


Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is forming a presidential campaign exploratory committee. The media's spins: 1) He announced his decision just before the end of the year in order to steal the "first candidate" title from other Republicans who were about to launch their candidacies. 2) Extra! Extra! McCain becomes first candidate! 3) He proved his virtue by leading the fights for tobacco regulation and campaign finance reform. 4) He ruined his chances in the Republican primaries by leading the fights for tobacco regulation and campaign finance reform. 5) He worries that the press will dig into his personal life. 6) Let's go dig into his personal life. (12/30/98)

One of the Houston octuplets died. The smallest, who was less than 10 inches long and weighed 10.3 ounces at birth, died of heart and lung failure. The other seven remain in critical condition, though four are now breathing without ventilators. Each one who survives will require two months ($250,000 worth) of hospital care. Meanwhile, two sextuplets born in China on Dec. 23 died of lung hemorrhages. Spins on the octuplet's death: 1) How tragic. 2) It's OK, she's in God's hands now. 3) Cut the God talk, and stop usurping his place by popping fertility drugs like candy. 4) On the bright side, the former octuplets are still only the second surviving set of septuplets. (12/28/98)


The latest attempt to circle the globe in a balloon failed. British mogul Richard Branson, American millionaire Steve Fossett, and Swedish colleague Per Lindstrand made it halfway before adverse weather forced them down near Hawaii. The spins: 1) They failed. 2) Adding injury to insult, Branson will lose the $300,000 he had bet (against British bookmakers) that the trip would succeed. 3) "It's a glorious failure," says a Branson aide. 4) Seven more crews are preparing to attempt the same feat and, sooner or later, one of them will succeed. (For the British media's reaction to Branson's failure, see "International Papers.") (12/28/98)

The National Football League playoffs are set. The top stories: 1) The New York Jets won their division for the first time since joining the NFL. (Their 1969 Super Bowl triumph under Joe Namath predated the AFL-NFL merger.) The heroes are Coach Bill Parcells, who lifted the team from 1-15 record two years ago to 12-4 this year (beating his former team, the New England Patriots, twice this year), and quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who staged one of football's greatest individual comebacks by winning 12 of 13 games he started, passing for a Jets-record 29 touchdowns and leading the conference in passing. 2) The Arizona Cardinals made the playoffs for the first time in 16 years by winning their final game the same exciting way they won three other games down the stretch: on a field goal as time expired. They will face the Dallas Cowboys with a chance to achieve the first Cardinals playoff win since 1947. 3) Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis ran for 178 yards, becoming the fourth player (along with O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, and Barry Sanders) to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. (12/28/98)