The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
March 21 1999 3:30 AM

The House and Senate passed legislation to build a national missile defense system. The White House persuaded the Senate, but not the House, to insert a clause saying the system won't be deployed until it's "technologically possible," which could allow President Clinton and his successors to postpone it. If the House accepts the Senate language, Clinton will support their joint bill. If not, he'll veto it. The liberal spins: 1) The system violates the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia. 2) It will anger the Russians and kill arms reduction, which is more important. 3) It's too expensive. 4) It won't work. 5) Clinton caved as usual. 6) Conservatives just want a campaign issue for 2000. The conservative spins: 1) New threats from North Korea and Iran justify building the system. 2) President Reagan is vindicated. 3) The system can work. 4) The ABM treaty is defunct. 5) Clinton will use the Senate's weasel words to postpone the system indefinitely. 6) It's a great campaign issue for 2000. (3/19/99)


The Kosovo peace talks collapsed. The ethnic Albanians signed the peace deal proposed by French and British mediators, but the Yugoslavs (i.e., Serbs) refused, principally because they can't stand having NATO troops in their country to enforce it. The mediators' spin: The ethnic Albanians are good, the Serbs are bad, and now NATO may have to bomb the Serbs. The ethnic Albanians' spin: Now that we signed the deal to end the violence and the Serbs didn't, please bomb them. The Serbs' spin: The deal was a sham concocted by the ethnic Albanians and "their American friends," and we don't believe you'll bomb us. The public U.S. government spin: Now we're really going to bomb you. The private U.S. government spin: Bombing will be harder than we thought, so first let's try begging again. (3/19/99)

William Saletan William Saletan

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

A government study endorsed medical marijuana. The study was commissioned by U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey and conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. It says: 1) pot can reduce pain, anxiety, and nausea in chemotherapy patients and people with AIDS; and 2) its medical use would not increase casual pot smoking or more serious drug use among healthy people; but 3) since pot smoke is toxic, only people whose long-term health is moot (i.e., terminally ill people) should use it. McCaffrey said little about the report, leading everyone to conclude that he'll ignore it. The anti-pot spins: 1) The report shows pot isn't medicine. 2) It shows pot is toxic. 3) Medical pot is a slippery slope to legalization. The pro-pot spins: 1) Pot can help. 2) "Arresting patients is not right." 3) Legal pain-killing drugs (e.g., morphine) are worse. 4) Politicians are just afraid of being called soft on drugs. 5) Recent ballot measures show voters want medical pot. 6) It's not a slippery slope to legalization. 7) Let's legalize it. (3/19/99)


Steve Forbes announced his presidential candidacy on the Internet. He portrayed the new medium as a symbol of his emphasis on individualism, growth, and opportunity, in contrast to old-style centralized government programs such as Social Security. Old platform: pro-choice flat-taxer. New platform: no-new-taxes pro-lifer. Critics' spin on his wealth: wacky billionaire. Forbes' spin: He's "not beholden" to interest groups. Old spin on his experience: He's not a politician. New spin: He can win because he's been campaigning nonstop since 1995. Old spin on his significance: He can't win. New spin: He'll destroy the Republican front-runner again. (3/17/99)

Paula Jones separated from her husband. According to USA Today, "The split followed disagreements over strategy in her sexual harassment case ... how to spend the money they received from their settlement and where to live in the post-lawsuit era." Jones' husband presented himself as the voice of practicality, saying, "My idea is you don't spend money until you know what you're going to have." But USA Today says now that he's been fired as an airline clerk, he "will pursue an acting career and work on a book." The paper also says Paula Jones will accept a job offer as a manicurist while weighing "paid media offers."(3/17/99)


The Rev. Henry Lyons resigned as president of the largest black American religious body, the National Baptist Convention USA. He had been convicted of racketeering and grand theft for 1) selling bogus membership lists to companies that sought access to black consumers; and 2) stealing donations intended to rebuild burned black churches. The sunny spin, from Lyons' attorney: He's "remorseful" and resigned with "dignity." The cautious spin: Black churches are losing their tolerance for leaders who exploit them. The pessimistic spin, from Lyons' possible successor, the Rev. Calvin Butts: Leaders will always be fallible, so structural reforms are needed to make them more accountable. (3/17/99)


Delaware lawyer Thomas Capano was sentenced to death for murdering his ex-mistress. Capano's trial had drawn national attention because he was a member of the Delaware elite and because, contrary to his attorneys' advice, he took the stand and confessed to getting rid of the victim's body but asserted that another of his ex-mistresses had committed the murder. After being convicted, Capano expressed no remorse but asked the jury to consider his wife's feelings in choosing his sentence. The jury chose death, and the judge agreed, calling Capano's invocation of his family further evidence of his selfishness, ruthlessness, and contempt. Headline and caption writers alluded to the irony of Capano, a former prosecutor, being sentenced to death. (3/17/99)

The International Chess Federation anointed its first black grandmaster. Maurice Ashley, a 34-year-old Jamaican immigrant to the United States, earned his place among the world's 470 grandmasters through superior tournament play. He stopped coaching Harlem kids in chess two years ago in order to train himself for tournaments and achieve his dream. The sunny spin: Anyone can succeed with talent and hard work. The cynical spin: Anyone can succeed if he stops wasting his energy on others. (3/17/99)

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., endorsed Vice President Al Gore for president and joined him on the campaign trail. Previously, pundits had downgraded Gore's stock, arguing that he already trails Gov. George W. Bush, R-Texas, in polls; that President Clinton's sleaze is rubbing off on Gore; that Gore's attempt to make suburban traffic jams a presidential campaign issue is frivolous; and that Gore shot himself in the foot last week by claiming to have taken "the initiative in creating the Internet." The spins on Gephardt's endorsement: 1) It's a much-needed boost for Gore. 2) It's mutual back scratching, since Gore will simultaneously campaign to make Gephardt the House speaker. 3) The early Democratic unity will scare the GOP. 4) On the contrary, Democrats are uniting because they're scared by the GOP's early unity behind Bush. (3/15/99)


Cinderella victors shook up the NCAA men's basketball tournament. In the West, 10th-seeded Gonzaga, which has already taken out seventh-seeded Minnesota and second-seeded Stanford, has a good chance of becoming the third double-digit seed ever to reach the quarterfinals. In the Midwest, 10th-seeded Miami of Ohio reached the round of 16 by knocking off seventh-seeded Washington--behind a 43-point onslaught from forward Wally Szczerbiak--and second-seeded Utah. In the East, 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State held fifth-seeded Wisconsin to 32 points--the lowest NCAA tournament score since the inception of the shot clock--and then trounced fourth-seeded Tennessee. This year's round of 16 boast the highest number of Cinderella teams in the tournament's history. (3/15/99)


Boxing officials ordered a rematch of the March 13 heavyweight championship fight between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Fans and sports writers are in an uproar because the judges called the fight a draw--despite a huge disparity of punches in Lewis' favor and the widespread perception of spectators that Lewis won. Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y., said he will ask the state athletic commission to investigate the fight. The spins: 1) The fight was rigged, probably by promoter Don King. 2) The disputed outcome only shows that judging fights is a subjective art. 3) Even so, it's Lewis' fault for failing to put the outcome beyond question by going for the kill. 4) Who cares whether the judges are honest? The real outrage is that boxing is barbaric. 5) The real outrage is that the fight was boring. 6) The real outrage is that boxing officials won't be able to raise enough money to pay the exorbitant sums the boxers are demanding for a rematch. (3/15/99)