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

The House endorsed sending U.S. troops to Kosovo. The nonbinding resolution backing President Clinton's plan to assign 4,000 soldiers to a peacekeeping force passed 219-191. Forty-four Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., joined Democrats in support. Many Republicans argued that Clinton can't be trusted to bring the troops home on time. Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics and undermining American unity in foreign policy. Clinton's old spin: The House shouldn't endanger the peace talks by debating the troops issue. Clinton's new spin: The "bipartisan" House vote "confirms the strong commitment of the United States." The half-cynical spin: Clinton will fail to fulfill the conditions the House placed on its approval (a timetable for the troops' return; that Clinton will explain to the nation why the troops were sent; that the troops will report to American commanders only). The completely cynical spin: The Serbs and Albanians will kill the peace deal, and the House will withdraw its support for sending the troops. (3/12/99)

William Saletan William Saletan

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


Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr invited the Justice Department to investigate his spokesman for leaking and lying to investigators. The spokesman, Charles Bakaly, says he's innocent but will resign. Background: After the New York Times reported Jan. 31 that Starr thought he could indict a sitting president, Starr launched an internal probe. In that probe, Bakaly denied to Starr's FBI agents that he was the Times' source. Now that the probe has found evidence contradicting Bakaly's denial, Starr is referring his findings to the Justice Department. The Washington Post calls this "an implicit admission that [Starr] suspects serious wrongdoing on his own staff." The spins: 1) This proves Starr is a vicious leaker. 2) This proves Starr won't tolerate vicious leaking. Best tidbit: The Times says Starr's new spokeswoman "did not return a telephone call seeking comment on Thursday's developments."(3/12/99)

Elizabeth Dole launched her presidential campaign exploratory committee. Pundits slotted her as the GOP field's runner-up, trailing Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. Dole staged her announcement with ordinary people, in implicit contrast to Bush's campaign launch days earlier. Together, their announcements sandwiched the candidacy kickoff of ex-Gov. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. The positive spins on Dole: 1) She's the first serious female candidate for president. 2) She's a public servant but not a politician. 3) She'll restore "civility" to politics. 4) She'll listen to voters rather than dictate her views. 5) She's attractive to Democrats and independents. 6) She's attractive to women. The negative spins: 1) She's too tightly wound to handle the campaign trail's surprises. 2) She's too tightly wound to handle the press. 3) She's too tightly wound to handle criticism. 4) Her views are vague and mushy. 5) Nothing is more political than a politician who pretends not to be one. (3/12/99)

Reports indicate that China obtained atomic secrets from a U.S. nuclear lab and may have used them to vastly improve its nuclear missiles. Republicans and the media demand to know why U.S. security was lax and why the Clinton administration didn't recognize, admit, or aggressively investigate the problem when the first signs of trouble appeared in 1995. The White House says it got wind of the problem in 1997 and responded promptly. Republicans plan to hold a hearing. The spins: 1) Clinton didn't want to believe there was a problem because he knew it would disrupt his policy of constructive engagement. 2) He knew there was a problem but hid it anyway. 3) He hid the problem so it wouldn't stop him from helping U.S. companies sell technology to China under the guise of constructive engagement. 4) He hid the problem so it wouldn't stop him from being nice to China in exchange for 1996 campaign contributions. 5) Republicans are blaming Clinton in order to hide similarly lax security under Presidents Reagan and Bush. (3/10/99)

RJR Nabisco is breaking up. Nabisco will jettison the company's tobacco interests and will sell its foreign cigarette business to Japan Tobacco to shore up the severed domestic unit, known as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. The media spun the story in two directions with two different villains. Story 1 is about the excesses of the leveraged buyout era--exemplified by the RJR Nabisco merger--and the comeuppance of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., which saddled the merged firm with unbearable debt. Story 2 is about the rise of tobacco litigation and regulation and the gradual financial buckling of evil cigarette companies. The convergence story is that RJR merged with Nabisco in the hope of escaping its "tobacco taint" but found instead that the taint simply spread to Nabisco. (3/10/99)


Joe DiMaggio died of complications from lung cancer surgery. News accounts recited his résumé--the Hall of Fame, nine World Series championships, 11 All-Star games, and three American League Most Valuable Player awards--but focused on his record 56 game hitting steak in 1941, which still stands today. While sports analysts compared his greatness on the field with that of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, commentators traced his celebrity to his courteous, humble, all-American, son-of-immigrants personality. The spins: 1) DiMaggio represented the grace and dignity of the good old days. 2) Ruth and Ty Cobb represented the pugnacity and decadence of the good old days, and DiMaggio was the exception. (3/8/99)


Gov. George W. Bush, R-Texas, announced he is forming a presidential campaign exploratory committee. Though he won't officially declare his candidacy until June, he paraded notable supporters such as former GOP Chairman Haley Barbour and House GOP Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. before the press. His aides also listed scores of governors and members of Congress who are backing him. Everyone agrees his strategy is to create an air of inevitability and suffocate his competitors. The spins against him: 1) He's inexperienced in public office. 2) He's inexperienced in national politics. 3) He has no base. 4) He lacks organization in early states. 5) He's had it too easy and is due for a fall. 6) His expectations are too high. 7) Elizabeth Dole's entry into the race will kill his momentum. 8) His supporters don't know what he stands for. 9) He doesn't know what he stands for. (3/8/99)

Film director Stanley Kubrick died. Obituaries recalled his movies' eight Academy Awards, focusing on Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, also mentioning Lolita and The Shining. Commentators debated the significance of the bleak fantasies in which he portrayed human recklessness, madness, brutality, murder, and nuclear holocaust. The half-cynical spin: He hated people and portrayed them as savages. The completely cynical spin: He hated people and portrayed them as savages because they deserved it. (3/8/99)