The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Jan. 24 1999 3:30 AM

Today's Clintometer:


1/22/99 Former Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., wows the media with his closing argument in Clinton's defense. Republicans groan at anti-Clinton televangelist Pat Robertson's admission that the battle to remove Clinton is "over." Buoyed by Clinton's impressive poll numbers following his widely acclaimed State of the Union address, Senate Democrats press Republicans to scrap their plans for witnesses. Chance of removal from office: 2 percent.

William Saletan William Saletan

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

For the complete Clintometer and links to all Slate's Flytrap coverage, click here.


A Mexican judge convicted Raul Salinas, the brother of Mexico's ex-President Carlos Salinas, of ordering a murder and sentenced him to 50 years in jail. It's the first time a Mexican court has punished a close relative of a powerful politician for a major crime. The spins: 1) This proves Mexico's judicial system is finally becoming honest and independent. 2) Honest? There was no jury, no interrogation of witnesses in court, and the judge admitted there was no "direct proof." The supposed evidence was hearsay from biased witnesses. Salinas had been held in harsh confinement without conviction for years, and the prosecutor previously assigned to the case had tried to plant a corpse on Salinas' property to frame him. 3) That's OK, they framed a guilty man. (1/22/99)

C onservative Republicans attacked Gov. George W. Bush, R-Texas. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Steve Forbes ridiculed "compassionate conservative" rhetoric, "mushy moderates," "mealy-mouthed rhetoric and poll-tested clichés." Former Gov. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was full of "weasel words." Conservative activist Gary Bauer called himself a "Reagan Republican," unlike the 2000 derby's "Bush Republican" (George W.) and "Dole Republican" (Elizabeth). The conservatives also noted that the Bushes and Doles had lost the last two presidential elections. The rebuttals from George W. Bush's camp: 1) He's not mushy, he's conservative. 2) The attacks show he's the man to beat. (For more on the CPAC meeting, click here.) (1/22/99)


The National Basketball Association opened a wild player-trading session. Having lost nearly half the season to a labor standoff, the NBA is compressing the trading and signing period in order to begin the season quickly. This has produced a mad scramble for players over a period of hours rather than weeks, with stars hopping from one team to the next. The big stories: 1) With Michael Jordan's retirement, the Chicago Bulls are dissolving. Scottie Pippen has jumped to Houston. Dennis Rodman threatened to retire, then said he would play only for the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers, both of which said they didn't want him. 2) Star forward Antonio McDyess, who had been traded from Denver to Phoenix, decided to go back to Denver, then got cold feet amid rumors that he might go back to Phoenix. 3) Golden State guard Latrell Sprewell, who had choked his coach, was traded to New York. The cynical spin: The Knicks won't tolerate a violent old veteran (Rodman), but a violent young prodigy (Sprewell) is OK. (1/22/99)


President Clinton delivered his State of the Union message. His proposals included using the federal surplus to bolster Social Security, raising the minimum wage, and suing tobacco companies. Newspapers noted congressional Republicans' tepid reactions and carried obligatory references to the "surreal" juxtaposition of the widely acclaimed speech with Clinton's embarrassing Senate trial earlier in the day. Republicans oohed and aahed over Clinton's rhetorical prowess. The New York Times played up remarks from televangelist Pat Robertson, who said Clinton "hit a home run" and "won" the PR contest and that the Senate "might as well dismiss this impeachment hearing and get on with something else, because it's over as far as I'm concerned." Political analysts praised Clinton's speech because it offered goodies to everyone. Policy analysts criticized it for the same reason. (1/21/99)

President Clinton proposed big changes to Social Security. He proposed 1) to devote 62 percent of the federal surplus to shore up Social Security; 2) to invest up to a quarter of the transferred funds in stocks; and 3) to spend another 11 percent of the surplus to set up voluntary 401(k)-style "Universal Savings Accounts." Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan applauded the first idea but shot down the second, on the grounds that making the government a shareholder in companies would create dangerous conflicts of interest both ways. Other criticisms: 1) Clinton is using the surplus to avoid proposing benefit cuts, which will eventually be necessary. 2) The stock investment idea is nationalization in disguise. 3) Workers, not Social Security administrators, should get to choose their investments. Pro-Clinton rebuttals: 1) Workers would squander their money if they chose the investments. 2) By devoting the surplus to Social Security, Clinton is keeping congressional Republicans and Democrats from squandering the money on tax cuts and spending, respectively. (1/21/99)


The offices of the American pollster for the leading challenger to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were broken into twice in one week. The burglars targeted disks and files relating to the campaign of Ehud Barak, the leader of Israel's Labor Party. Meanwhile, in Israel, four Labor Party campaign officials reported break-ins at their homes, in addition to three previous such break-ins. The Israeli press is calling it Barakgate, a play on Watergate. In this analogy, the Nixon character would be Netanyahu. But spokesmen for Netanyahu's Likud Party have denied involvement, condemned the break-ins, and threatened to sue those who imply that Likud is responsible. (1/21/99)


A new study indicates that fiber doesn't prevent colon cancer. The study followed 88,000 women for 16 years. The spins: 1) There goes the latest faddish cancer prevention theory. 2) The study is flawed because it didn't include men. 3) The study is flawed because it assumes the participants correctly recalled their dietary habits. 4) Even if fiber doesn't prevent colon cancer, it does prevent other cancers and heart disease. (1/21/99)


The Kosovo crisis erupted again. First, Serb forces massacred 45 ethnic Albanians, including women and a child. When the American diplomat who supervises the international peace monitors in Kosovo accused Serb police of the massacre, the Yugoslav (i.e., Serbian) government denied responsibility (claiming the victims were rebel fighters) and ordered the diplomat to leave Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia refused to let a U.N. war crimes official into the country to investigate the massacre. Then the Serbs, in defiance of a cease-fire and NATO and U.S. warnings, shelled the area around the massacre site. When two NATO generals tried to schedule a meeting to tell Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to stop the assaults, Yugoslav officials said Milosevic was too busy to see them. Editorialists agree that Milosevic is a treacherous butcher, but nobody knows how to stop him without a major bombing campaign, for which Europe and the United States lack the stomach. (1/19/99)

The Atlanta Falcons will meet the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. The Falcons upset the Minnesota Vikings 30-27 after 1) the Vikings' kicker, who hadn't missed a kick in 122 consecutive attempts, botched a field goal with two minutes remaining; 2) the Falcons drove back down the field for the tying touchdown in the closing seconds; and 3) the Falcons drove for the winning field goal in sudden-death overtime. In the other bracket, the Broncos beat the New York Jets. The spins: 1) The Super Bowl will be a grudge match between Broncos quarterback John Elway and former Broncos coach Dan Reeves, who now coaches the Falcons. 2) No, it'll be a grudge match between Reeves and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, whom Reeves fired as the Broncos' offensive coordinator years ago for "insubordination." 3) The Falcons, who have stunk perennially, are football's best Cinderella story in years. (1/19/99)

The American Medical Association fired the editor of its journal for publishing a study about oral sex. The 8-year-old study says 59 percent of a sample of college students think oral sex doesn't constitute "having sex." This coincides conveniently with President Clinton's view. The AMA executive who fired the editor accused him of "interjecting [the journal] into a major political debate" by "publishing that article in the middle of the congressional proceedings" in order "to extract political leverage." The spins: 1) The editor published the study to help Clinton. 2) The AMA fired the editor to mollify congressional Republicans who control legislation on HMOs and Medicare payments to doctors. 3) Publishing an oral sex article during Clinton's trial is sensationalism. 4) Actually, it's standard journalistic practice. (1/19/99)


Delaware lawyer Thomas Capano was convicted of murdering his mistress. He is a former chief counsel to the governor; she was the governor's secretary. The trial had transfixed the state and attracted national attention for months. Capano claimed he had dumped the victim's body after his other mistress accidentally shot her. The jury didn't buy it. Capano's lawyer called the case "O.J. Jr., but with the opposite verdict."(1/19/99)