The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Jan. 31 1999 3:30 AM

Today's Clintometer:


1/29/99 Along party lines, the Senate kills a Democratic plan for the rest of the trial (skip the witnesses and forbid videotaping of their testimony) and passes a Republican plan (witnesses, videotaping, and likely completion of the trial by Feb. 12, with the option of a majority vote to find Clinton guilty on the facts but not remove him from office). Democrats say the guilty-without-removal verdict is unconstitutional. The conventional media spin: It's a partisan meltdown. The conspiratorial spin: Both sides are faking a partisan meltdown so they can each look good to their respective constituencies.. Chance of removal from office: Zero.

William Saletan William Saletan

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

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The United States is worrying about the future of Jordan. King Hussein, who has brokered key peace efforts between Israel and Arab nations for decades, has suffered a relapse of lymphatic cancer. Everyone expects him to die soon. A few days ago, he flew home, dismissed his brother, Prince Hassan, as his successor and replaced him with the king's son, Prince Abdullah. The king accused Hassan and his followers of political intrigue. Supporters of the move say Abdullah will make a more stable leader because, unlike Hassan, he has solid ties to the military and to Jordan's Palestinian majority. Critics say Hassan is older and wiser and an established economic reformer, whereas Abdullah lacks political and economic experience. Some think Hussein has lost his mind. Everyone hopes Abdullah lives up to his father's legacy. (1/29/99)

Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C., accepted the resignation of an aide for using the word "niggardly." Williams is black; the aide, David Howard, is white. Full context: 1) "Niggardly" means stingy. It is totally unrelated to the "N word." 2) In a meeting with two colleagues, Howard said, "I will have to be niggardly with this fund because it's not going to be a lot of money." 3) One of the colleagues, who was black, stormed out, and rumors spread that Howard had uttered a racist remark. 4) Howard resigned because although his remark bore no racist intent, he had failed to consider how it would be perceived. 5) Williams accepted his resignation on the same grounds. Conservative talk radio is having a field day with the story. NAACP Chairman Julian Bond says people shouldn't have to censor their own speech to accommodate their listeners' ignorance. The spins: 1) This is political correctness run amok. 2) It's about sensitivity, not intent. 3) It's about black paranoia. (A leading black lawyer asked, "Do we really know where the Norwegians got the word?") 4) It's political correctness gridlock, because Howard is gay, and gay activists are now pressuring Williams to rehire him. 5) Williams shamefully caved. 6) Williams had to cave because he lacks credibility with blacks, because he's "not black enough."(1/29/99)


Gov. Mel Carnahan, D-Mo., spared a murderer's life at the pope's request. The murderer, Darrell Mease, was scheduled to die Feb. 10. While visiting St. Louis this week, the pope asked Carnahan to spare him. Carnahan commuted Mease's sentence to life in prison but said he still supports the death penalty and made an exception for Mease only because of "the coincidence of the pope being there" and "making a personal request that I chose to respond to." Analysts pondered why the pope's request worked this time, whereas similar pontifical pleas for mercy have failed in the past. The spins: 1) The pope is teaching U.S. politicians that capital punishment is wrong. 2) U.S. politicians are teaching the pope that face-to-face visits and requests for personal favors are more effective than appeals to principle. 3) According to Mease's mother, "God was on Darrell's side and God is the best lawyer you can get. He's never lost a case."(1/29/99)


Pope John Paul II made his fifth visit to the U.S. mainland. His official message was that America must turn away from a "culture of death" that includes abortion, assisted suicide, and capital punishment. The latter issue stirred the most controversy, since Missouri had executed a murderer shortly before the pope arrived in St. Louis. Oddest moment: The pope's comparison of Christian evangelism to the home run exploits of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. President Clinton joined the pope in St. Louis, escorted him, and pledged that the United States would pursue "justice," virtues," and "goodness." The pope clasped Clinton's hands, smiled at him, said nothing about the Lewinsky scandal, and focused on policy instead. Reporters marveled anew at Clinton's ability to change the subject, milk world icons for their moral stature, and repeatedly seduce the country. (1/27/99)

The Supreme Court ruled that the Census Bureau could not use statistical sampling to adjust the population count for congressional reapportionment. Critics of the traditional method (counting each household) argue that this method misses isolated and hard-to-track populations, which are disproportionately black and Hispanic. Since these groups tend to vote Democratic, Democrats want to use sampling, i.e., mathematical projection, to theorize as to how many people the head count missed in various locations. Republicans vehemently oppose this idea. The superficial analysis is that the court struck down sampling and hurt the Democrats. The sophisticated analysis is that the court nixed sampling only for the apportionment of congressional votes among states, not for drawing district lines. Therefore, within states, Democrats will try to use sampling to give black and Hispanic areas more representation at Republican expense. The Democratic spin is that "every individual ought to be counted." The GOP spin is that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for two census methods. (1/27/99)

Colombia suffered its worst earthquake since 1875. The quake killed at least 700 people and left at least 180,000 without homes. U.S. coverage of the story rapidly descended from humanitarian anguish to material cynicism to petty curiosity. Tuesday evening's AP headline: "Colombia Quake Toll Passes 700." Wednesday morning's headline: "Quake Survivors Guard Belongings." Wednesday afternoon's headline: "Quake Won't Hurt Coffee Production." The afternoon story says the chief remaining worry is not that Colombian coffee will be unavailable but that it won't be up to its usual quality. (1/27/99)

The International Olympic Committee expelled six of its delegates for accepting cash and other gifts as part of Salt Lake City's successful lobbying for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Other IOC members have resigned or are still being investigated. Meanwhile, an Australian official said he gave $70,000 to two IOC delegates just before the IOC awarded Sydney, Australia, the 2000 Summer Olympics by a two-vote margin. Cynics, noting that officials in Nagano, Japan, (which hosted the 1998 Winter games) have already burned their documents, predict the expanding investigation will show that corruption has permeated Olympics site selection for years. The IOC promises to stop this corruption by taking away delegates' voting rights and halting their visits to prospective host cities. Critics' spins: 1) The IOC is corrupt throughout, and the expulsions are a cover-up. 2) The IOC won't really be cleaned up until embarrassed corporate sponsors threaten to pull out. (1/25/99)

The first hand transplant in the United States was performed. This follows a hand transplant performed in France last September. Prior to that, an attempt in the 1960s had failed because the patient's body rejected the new hand as foreign tissue. The rosy spin: Potent anti-rejection drugs now make it possible to prevent the body from rejecting a new hand. The grim spin: The anti-rejection drugs can cause infection and cancer, and since a hand isn't an essential organ, it isn't worth that risk. (1/25/99)