The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Jan. 17 1999 3:30 AM

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B razil's economic crisis rattled world stock markets. The Dow Jones industrial average slid nearly 3 percent on Thursday after Brazil devalued its currency and investors pulled out of the country. Analysts agree that the underlying problem is Brazil's failure to implement painful economic reforms and spending cuts. The worst-case scenario is that Brazil's troubles will spread to the rest of Latin America and the United States. But on Friday morning, after Brazil stopped trying to prop up its currency, investors relaxed, and the Dow recovered somewhat. Wednesday's spin from U.S. and International Monetary Fund officials: Our $41 billion bailout package to Brazil two months ago saved its economy and stopped the global financial meltdown. Thursday's U.S.-IMF spin: Don't blame us, it's Brazil's fault for screwing up its economy again by ignoring our advice. Thursday night's editorial spin: It's the Russian collapse all over again. Friday morning's spin: Maybe Brazil can still escape that fate. (1/15/99)

William Saletan William Saletan

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

President Clinton will propose a 55 cent a pack tax hike on cigarettes to finance $8 billion a year in extra domestic and military spending. The programs include long-term health care, after school programs, new cops, and aid to disabled workers. This comes after the tobacco industry killed last year's legislation, backed by Clinton, that would have brought the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars. Now that the states have struck their own settlement deal with the industry, Clinton is considering whether to extract some of that money by withholding Medicaid reimbursements to the states. Old spin: Clinton underestimated the tobacco industry's savvy, resolve, and ruthlessness. New spin: The tobacco industry underestimated Clinton's savvy, resolve, and ruthlessness. (1/15/99)


The 2000 presidential race was shuffled again. On the Republican side, House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, and former Gov. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., formed exploratory committees, joining Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H. The major headline is still the evidently emerging candidacy of Elizabeth Dole. She trails Gov. George W. Bush, R-Texas, 42-22 in the latest national poll of GOP voters, but she edges Bush 31-30 in New Hampshire, with the other candidates eating their dust. On the Democratic side, Vice President Gore and Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., have launched their campaigns, while Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., have bowed out. The big Democratic story is that House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt is reportedly planning to skip the race as well, focusing instead on winning back the House and becoming speaker. (1/15/99)


Michael Jordan retired. He said he was physically fit but mentally "exhausted." The media responded with worshipful saturation coverage, reciting his records (six championships, 10 scoring titles, five Most Valuable Player Awards, and the highest per-game scoring average ever) and replaying highlights, especially his final shot, which won last year's championship. The spins, in order of descending reverence: 1) He was the greatest and most popular athlete of all time. 2) How fitting that he's going out on top. 3) We'll miss his heroism. 4) Without him, we're left with players who kick photographers and choke coaches. 5) Without him, we're left with players and owners whose greed has nearly destroyed the sport. 6) His retirement is final--just like last time. 7) According to Italy's La Repubblica, "America would willingly take Clinton's retirement in exchange for Jordan's."(1/13/99)


H ustler publisher Larry Flynt accused Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., of adultery and hypocrisy. Barr has been one of the House's most aggressive prosecutors of President Clinton's misconduct in the Lewinsky scandal. In an affidavit paid for and released by Flynt, Barr's ex-wife accuses Barr of having an affair with another woman, whom he has since married. She also says he knew of her plans to have an abortion and didn't try to dissuade her. Barr refused to answer questions about the affair during his divorce hearing. Flynt's spin: Barr is a hypocrite for ducking the questions and then prosecuting Clinton for evasive testimony about sex. Barr's spins: 1) He declined to answer questions, whereas Clinton answered them falsely. 2) He "never suggested, urged, forced, or encouraged anyone to have an abortion." 3) "Larry Flynt's money has been used in an attempt to drive a wedge between the mother and father of two wonderful boys." 4) "This is very clearly an effort to take old documents" and "divert attention" from Clinton's trial. 5) "I'm going to do the honorable thing and present the case that I've been elected to present in the Senate."(1/13/99)

The baseball Mark McGwire hit for his 70th home run last season sold for $3 million. The previous record price for a baseball was $126,500. The record price for a baseball card is $640,000. The cost of the McGwire ball before it went out of the park was $10. The spins, in order of ascending cynicism: 1) Isn't it swell that Philip Ozersky, the $30,000 a year medical researcher who caught the ball, is now a millionaire? 2) The bidding went nuts because baseball fever is back. 3) The bidding went nuts because rich people have money to burn. 4) Three million dollars for a baseball makes sense because players are beginning to get $100 million contracts. 5) Now the fans who caught McGwire's other home run balls and returned them for free feel like suckers. 6) Ozersky's spin: "I'm glad I did this. I was just a research scientist; now I'm a media star." 7) At the same auction, the ball Hank Aaron hit for his record-setting 755th career home run drew no bids. (1/13/99)


Egypt and Saudi Arabia called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. First, Saddam urged Arab "masses" to overthrow Arab leaders "who boast of friendship with the United States." Then Iraqi legislators accused Saudi Arabia and Kuwait of complicity in the recent U.S.-British bombing of Iraq and proposed to rescind Iraq's recognition of Kuwaiti sovereignty. The official Saudi press agency responded by urging an Iraqi "revolution" against Saddam, and the Egyptians agreed. This is the first explicit advocacy by Arab governments of Saddam's overthrow. The rosy spin: Saddam is playing with fire. The sober spin: So are Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose governments' moderate, pro-United States policies are unpopular at home. (1/11/99)

Attorney General Janet Reno became the longest-serving attorney general of the 20th century. The spins: 1) It's amazing, considering she was President Clinton's haphazard third choice. 2) It's amazing, considering she oversaw the Waco fiasco barely a month into her tenure. 3) It's amazing, considering she's done nothing of note in six years. 4) It's amazing, considering Clinton doesn't trust her. 5) It's unsurprising, since if Clinton replaced her with somebody he trusted it would look like an attempt to shield himself from further scrutiny by the Justice Department. 6) It's unsurprising, since she's served Clinton well by quashing independent counsel investigations of his scandals. 7) What's amazing is that the press is so bored it's making a fuss over how long she's been in office. (1/11/99)


The National Football League semifinals are set. The Minnesota Vikings will host the Atlanta Falcons in one bracket. The Denver Broncos will host the New York Jets in the other. The Vikings-Falcons winner will be the first team to get to the Super Bowl after playing its home games in an indoor dome. In the on-field tournament, the Vikings have the NFL's best record this year and set a record for points scored in a regular season, but the Broncos are the defending champs and were undefeated until their final three games. However, in the off-field (sentimental) tournament, the Falcons and Jets have more appealing story lines. The Falcons were 3-13 two years ago and are inspired by their coach, Dan Reeves, who had quadruple bypass surgery a month ago. The Jets were 1-15 two years ago and are one win away from their first Super Bowl since the famous Joe Namath triumph in 1969. Both teams' story lines are marred by the fact that their coaches have been to the Super Bowl with other teams. (1/11/99)