The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Feb. 14 1999 3:30 AM

Today's Clintometer:


2/12/99 Amid expectations that neither impeachment article will get majority support in the Senate, both sides gear up for the aftermath. Everyone agrees censure is doomed. Thursday's New York Times leak: Clinton is furious at House Republicans for impeaching him and is determined to drive them from office. Friday's Times leak: Clinton is furious at the "advisers" who leaked that story before the Senate vote and is determined to drive them from office. 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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A New York jury found gun makers liable for several deaths and injuries inflicted with illegally obtained weapons. The jury concluded that negligent marketing and distribution of handguns by nine companies was a "proximate cause" of three recent shootings, despite the absence of proof that any particular company's product was involved in any of the shootings. However, the jury awarded damages in only one case. Gun control advocates hailed the verdict as the first in a wave of lawsuits against gun manufacturers, likening their movement to the one against tobacco companies. Libertarians and gun industry lawyers condemned it for the same reason. (2/12/99)


Linda Tripp kicked off her image rehab tour. In a New York Times interview, she says 1) she acted in Monica Lewinsky's "best interest" by saving her from President Clinton's abuse; 2) she had feared that the affair would cause Lewinsky to harm herself; 3) she regrets any pain she has caused Lewinsky; 4) "As a mom, especially with a daughter close in age to Monica, I would hope some other mom would do for my daughter what I did for Monica"; and 5) taping Lewinsky, giving her name to Paula Jones' lawyers, and giving the tapes to the independent counsel were Lucianne Goldberg's ideas. The Times dryly offered that Tripp's self-portrayal "might strain credulity." Biggest surprise: Tripp says that while Clinton should be censured, expelling him from office would be excessive. (2/12/99)


The Olympics scandal is spreading to Japan. Japanese Olympic Committee members issued an investigative report on possible shenanigans in Nagano's successful bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics. They say nine International Olympic Committee members may have violated minor rules by visiting Nagano more than once to evaluate the site and/or bringing too many guests. The investigators say 1) they found no other problems (contrary to previous reports that IOC officials were given meals, geishas, and other favors); 2) they regret that Nagano's bid committee burned its records years ago; and 3) the fact that all the investigators sit on the Japanese committee and that some served on the Nagano bid committee posed no conflict of interest. The upbeat spin: Nagano's bid was more honest than Salt Lake City's. The cynical spin: Japan's investigation is less honest than Salt Lake City's. (2/12/99)

The Academy Award nominations were announced. Shakespeare in Love gathered 13 nominations, beating Saving Private Ryan (which won 11) and coming within one of the record. Critics agreed that the big theme is World War II: Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line (about Guadalcanal), and Life Is Beautiful (about the Holocaust) were nominated for best picture. Hollywood figures concocted shallow theories for this revival: 1) Americans want to learn from history; 2) we want to understand the century because it's now ending; 3) boomer filmmakers are revisiting the great world events of their childhood; and 4) they're visiting the war because they didn't fight it. Private Ryan director Steven Spielberg says his current film helped veterans come to terms with the war, just as his 1993 movie Schindler's List helped Holocaust survivors: "I feel privileged to be in the driver's seat for two films that helped people to speak the truth." Hollywood commentators added the obligatory ethnic spins, noting that "black-themed movies" were overlooked and that "British actors seemed to have colonized the acting categories."(2/10/99)

The Justice Department is examining whether Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's prosecutors misled the DOJ a year ago when they sought approval to investigate the Monica Lewinsky affair, according to the New York Times. Previous reports have said that beginning in November 1997, one of Starr's prosecutors had conversations with an attorney affiliated with Paula Jones' lawyers. However, "newly disclosed notes" indicate that when Starr's prosecutors sought the DOJ's approval in January 1998, they claimed to have had "no contact with the plaintiffs' attorneys." The DOJ wants to know whether this assertion concealed a conflict of interest. The Times also reports that Starr's office has challenged the DOJ's authority to look into Starr's files. The spins: 1) Attorney General Janet Reno should fire Starr because he's become a self-protecting monster. 2) If Reno fires Starr, the Clinton administration will have become a self-protecting monster. (2/10/99)


The Rev. Jerry Falwell says one of the T eletubbies is gay. Teletubbies are characters in an eponymous TV show for preschool kids. Falwell's National Liberty Journal notes that one of the ostensibly male characters, Tinky Winky, carries a purse, "is purple--the gay-pride color," and "his antenna is shaped like a triangle--the gay-pride symbol." Falwell says these "subtle depictions" are deliberate and that "role modeling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children." A Teletubbies spokesman says 1) Tinky Winky carries a "magic bag," not a purse; 2) the magic bag "doesn't make him gay"; 3) "to think we would be putting sexual innuendo in a children's show is kind of outlandish"; and 4) Falwell is besmirching "something sweet and innocent" to advance his right-wing agenda. (2/10/99)


King Hussein of Jordan died. The media praised him as a great statesman, "man of peace," and friend of the United States. The Washington Post called him "everyone's favorite Arab moderate." Speculation turned to whether his son Abdullah, the new king, can shore up Jordan's ailing economy, retain the allegiance of its Palestinian majority, and advance the Middle East peace process. While acknowledging Hussein's misdeeds--attacking Israel in 1967, hosting Palestinian terrorists over the years, and siding with Iraq in the Persian Gulf War--editorialists lavished excuses on him: He feared a Palestinian revolt if he didn't attack Israel in 1967, atoned for the 1967 war by sitting out the 1973 war against Israel, and allied himself with Iraq in 1991 because he feared an Iraqi invasion or collateral economic damage from the war against Iraq. Commentators politely overlooked the fact that Jordan is still a monarchy. (Click here to read Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter on Hussein's inflated reputation.) (2/9/99)


White House aide Sidney Blumenthal is in the hot seat for testifying that he never mentioned President Clinton's "stalker" description of Monica Lewinsky to reporters. Last weekend, journalist couple Christopher Hitchens and Carol Blue signed affidavits claiming that Blumenthal told them last March that Lewinsky was a stalker. Blue says Blumenthal claimed Clinton had told him that Lewinsky had made unwanted "sexual advances." House prosecutors urged the Senate to subpoena Hitchens and Blue, but the Senate declined. Pundits now think the Justice Department or Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr will look into the matter. Cynics groaned that Hitchens was aiming at Clinton but has clumsily shot Blumenthal instead. Hitchens' spins: 1) I was aiming at Clinton. 2) I said no more than Blumenthal has already admitted. 3) I said no more than I had already written. 4) I'll go to jail rather than testify against my friend Sid. 5) Clinton will offer Blumenthal as "another human sacrifice" to appease the forces of impeachment. (Click here for Chatterbox's take on "Snitchensgate.") (2/9/99)

The impeachment trial is spinning off new stories. 1) Republican senators are inviting Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to investigate a rumor that a White House taping system may have recorded President Clinton's phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky. The White House says there's no such system. 2) The Justice Department asked Starr to look into allegations that his prosecutors improperly tried to cut an immunity deal with Lewinsky during their January 1998 sting without her lawyer present. Starr's defenders note that a judge has already ruled his office broke no laws. 3) The American Bar Association voted overwhelmingly to oppose the renewal of the independent counsel statute, concluding that it forces prosecutors to spend too much time and money examining "minor matters" in pursuit of a single target. (2/9/99)