The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Feb. 7 1999 3:30 AM

Today's Clintometer:


2/8/99 The prosecution and defense deliver closing arguments, but everyone agrees that neither impeachment article will get the requisite 67 votes, and some senators think the perjury article won't get even a majority. Speculation turns to whether: 1) conservative senators will be able to filibuster a post-trial censure resolution to death; and 2) Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal committed perjury when he denied peddling nasty stories about Monica Lewinsky to the press. The naive scenario: Rather than let Clinton escape unpunished, the Senate will prolong the trial to subpoena more testimony about Blumenthal. The sophisticated scenario: Clinton will escape unpunished and, in his stead, Blumenthal will be prosecuted afterward. 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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Jordan's King Hussein has gone home to die. He left the Mayo Clinic after his body rejected a bone marrow transplant (to stave off cancer) and his organs began to fail. Now that everyone realizes how ill the king was when he recently dumped his brother as heir and replaced him with his son, Abdullah, analysts are marveling in retrospect at the king's decisiveness, resolve, and composure. Meanwhile, the media are rushing to suck up to Abdullah. The old spin: Is he competent to run the country, and will he maintain Jordan's role as Middle East peace broker? The new spin: Of course. (2/5/99)


Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams decided to rehire a white aide who had resigned for using the word "niggardly." The word means "stingy" and is unrelated to the "N word," but some people had misunderstood it. The aide, David Howard, had then resigned, saying his use of the word was insensitive; and Williams had accepted his resignation. Williams now says he "acted too hastily." The spins: 1) Bravo to Williams for admitting his error and refusing to bow to ignorance. 2) Howard should take a less visible job because his rapport with black city residents is crippled. 3) Howard says the episode was "really not about me or the use of the word niggardly. ... It was about feelings underneath the surface. ... I used to think it would be great if we could all be colorblind. That's naive, especially for a white person." 4) Shut up and take the job. (2/5/99)


The White House rebuked People magazine for running a cover story on Chelsea Clinton. The profile, while essentially positive, dwells on a negative context: how the Lewinsky scandal is stressing out Chelsea and affecting her personal life (e.g., the headline is "Grace Under Fire: An intimate look at the deep bond of love that sustains the Clinton women through their painful family ordeal"). The White House reportedly tried to spike the story on security grounds, then condemned it as an invasion of Chelsea's privacy. The spins: 1) The Clintons are good parents who are trying to protect their daughter. 2) They're hypocrites, since they've used People and other popular magazines for publicity about their family when it suits them. 3) Chelsea is fair game because she's an adult and a public figure. 4) The article was nice to her. 5) Well, at any rate, it could have been a lot meaner. (2/5/99)

President Clinton presented his 2000 budget. Highlights: a 2.3 percent spending hike, offset by an even greater revenue hike (thanks to economic growth), leaving a $117 billion surplus. Clinton proposes to set aside 62 percent of surpluses over the next 15 years for Social Security. The GOP wants an across the board tax cut, but Clinton proposes smaller targeted tax breaks (e.g., for long-term health care) instead. Clinton calls his budget "progressive but prudent." The GOP calls it more big government. Editorial spins: 1) Clinton should be applauded for spending less and saving more than the "big government" critique admits. 2) Republicans are right that he's using the surplus to avoid adjusting Social Security taxes and benefits so the program will remain solvent. 3) But their tax cut would only make things worse. (2/3/99)

An Oregon jury ordered anti-abortion activists to pay $107 million in damages for running a Web site that tracks the murders of abortion providers. The site, called "The Nuremberg Files," identifies the doctors ("baby butchers") in the format of a "most wanted" list, along with their home addresses, license plate numbers, and the names of their spouses and children. The doctors' names are crossed out as they are murdered. The plaintiffs' spin: The site is "a hit list for terrorists" and is also intended to scare doctors out of the business. The defendants' spin: The site doesn't explicitly advocate violence against doctors, and the damage award violates the First Amendment. Legal analysts look forward to an ultimate resolution in the Supreme Court. (2/3/99)


House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., decided not to run for president in 2000. Instead, he will campaign for Democratic House candidates in the hope that Democrats will recapture the House and he will become speaker. This leaves ex-Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., alone against Vice President Al Gore. The official spin: Gephardt is sacrificing his ambition for the good of the party. The unofficial spin: He smells blood on House Republicans who have antagonized their districts by crusading for President Clinton's impeachment. The unspoken spin: He's getting whipped by Gore in the polls. (2/3/99)


The Rev. Jerry Falwell apologized for saying the Antichrist must be Jewish. At a prayer breakfast, he said, "I apologize to my Jewish friends here and around the world and I apologize to the Christians here for having created any kind of rift. ... I apologize not for what I believe, but for my lack of tact and judgment in making a statement that served no purpose whatsoever." The spins: 1) Falwell is an anti-Semite. 2) No, the only reason he had said the Antichrist must be Jewish is that Jesus was Jewish, and the Antichrist is supposed to resemble Jesus. 3) So Falwell had nothing to apologize for other than insensitivity--another triumph of political correctness. 4) If resemblance to Jesus were the only issue, why didn't Falwell say the Antichrist must be a carpenter? (For more on the Falwell Antichrist flap, see this piece in Slate.) (2/3/99)

Scientists say they have found the source of HIV. They traced HIV-1, the virus that has caused most of the AIDS epidemic, to a related virus carried by an African chimpanzee subspecies. They theorize that humans contracted the virus by hunting these chimps and handling their meat. The spins: 1) By studying how the chimps' genes or immune system defeat the related virus, we can learn how to defeat HIV in humans. 2) By tracing the virus's journey from chimps to humans, we can learn how to recognize dangerous viruses earlier and prevent another HIV-type epidemic. 3) We'd better move fast before African hunters and meat merchants finish slaughtering the chimps in question. (2/1/99)


The Denver Broncos won their second straight Super Bowl, beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-19. The hero was 38-year-old Broncos quarterback John Elway, who passed for 336 yards and ran for a touchdown to put the game away. The goat was Falcons safety Eugene Robinson, who was arrested the night before the game for allegedly trying to buy oral sex from a prostitute. Sports writers mercilessly scrutinized Robinson's errors in the game (notably, getting burned on an 80 yard touchdown pass) and partly blamed the Falcons' sloppy performance (several muffed touchdown opportunities and four second-half turnovers) on the attendant dismay and distraction. The runner-up goat was Falcons Coach Dan Reeves, whose defeat at the hands of his former quarterback (Elway) and an assistant coach he fired seven years ago (Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan), made Reeves 0-4 in the Super Bowl. The postgame hype revolves around whether Elway will attempt a "threepeat" next year or will retire on top as Michael Jordan did. (2/1/99)

Family-values activist Gary Bauer announced he would form an exploratory committee to run for president. The political spin is that Bauer will be the Pat Buchanan of 2000: He lacks experience in elected office and is too conservative for most voters (he plans to make anti-abortion legislation a cornerstone of his campaign), but he will have plenty of diehard donors, volunteers, and caucus-goers from the religious right. The media spin is that his announcement illustrates how long-shot candidates milk attention by dragging out their announcements. (Bauer hinted at his candidacy in speeches, then announced he was taking a leave of absence from his job, then set up an "announcement" interview on Meet the Press, then persuaded newspapers to write preview stories about the TV announcement--all before he had even filed the papers to set up the committee that would set up his eventual campaign.) The New York Times punished Bauer's milking of the media by publishing a follow-up story about how he milked the media. (2/1/99)

Saddam Hussein has offered a huge bounty to any Iraqi citizen who shoots down a U.S. or British war plane, according to an Iraqi newspaper. The reward for downing a plane is 25 million dinars, with a bonus of 5 million dinars for capturing the pilot. This is only $16,000, but in Iraqi terms it is a fortune. (2/1/99)