The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
April 25 1999 3:30 AM


Two students killed 13 people and wounded two dozen others with gunshots and explosives in a Colorado high school. The two shooters evidently killed themselves as well. It is the worst school massacre in U.S. history. All reports identify the killers as members of a local clique known as the "Trenchcoat Mafia," whose members are variously described as nerds, misfits, Marilyn Manson followers, gun nuts, and racists. The killers allegedly referred to "jocks" and "niggers" as their targets and said they were punishing people who had been "mean" to them. Editorialists and politicians debated whether to blame the massacre on 1) guns; 2) violence in the media; 3) secularism and cultural decline; or 4) inadequate monitoring and counseling of troubled students. (The assailants were allegedly devotees of shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. Click here for the Slate"Assessment" of Manson and here for an analysis of the wave of PR opportunism that followed a similar slaughter in Oregon last year.) (4/21/99)

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 concluded that some New Jersey state troopers pulled over drivers and searched their cars because they were black or Hispanic. At least 77 percent of drivers who were asked by troopers for permission to search their cars were minorities. The ostensible reason for this racial "profiling" is that New Jersey highways are a conduit for drugs and that the troopers think blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be culprits. One consequence of the study could be to help black and Hispanic defendants get the results of their car searches thrown out of court as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The spins from Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, R-N.J.: 1) I'm surprised. 2) This is awful. 3) The vast majority of troopers are not racist, and I'm issuing orders that will stop this practice right away. The reactions from blacks and Hispanics: 1) Duh. 2) This is the way the world is. 3) Right. (4/21/99)

Kosovo update: 1) NATO began bombing Serbian broadcasting facilities, starting with a building that houses not only the offices of Yugoslavia's ruling party but also transmitters for eight broadcast stations, including one owned by the daughter of President Slobodan Milosevic. NATO officials said they are now targeting sites that will hurt Milosevic and his cronies. 2) Apache helicopters began arriving in Albania, enabling NATO to attack Serbian tanks and troops in Kosovo more easily. 3) Amid reports that the Serbs are trying to purge ethnic Albanians from neighboring Montenegro, the United States warned the Serbs not to mess with Montenegro. 4) Some reports indicate NATO may use its upcoming 50th birthday party in Washington to hash out a plan for blocking deliveries of oil to Yugoslavia. The happy-warrior spin: Now we're getting serious about the war. The cynical spin: Tell it to the dead and homeless Kosovars. (4/21/99)


India's government collapsed. The ruling Hindu nationalist coalition lost a no-confidence vote because a small party pulled out of the coalition. Now the opposition Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi (former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's widow), is trying to form a parliamentary coalition large enough to support a new government. The early betting is that this will prove impossible and that new elections will have to be called. The key questions at stake are 1) whether Gandhi will become a candidate for prime minister; 2) whether the new government will sign the nuclear test ban treaty; and 3) whether India will seek to cool tensions with Pakistan. (4/19/99)

CNN is dumping Peter Arnett. Having kept Arnett on its payroll but off the air for months, the network will reportedly use an escape clause in his contract to get rid of him in July. Everyone assumes the reason is Arnett's role as correspondent in last year's CNN Newsstand report that alleged use of lethal nerve gas by the U.S. military in Vietnam. CNN had retracted and apologized for the report but let Arnett stay on the job after he argued that he had played no substantive role in the report and had simply performed as an on-air mouthpiece. The pro-Arnett spin: It's unfair to treat a reporter this way after 18 years of loyal service. The anti-Arnett spin: His reputation has been dead for months, and it's about time CNN mercifully pulled the plug. (4/19/99)


Kenyan runner Joseph Chebet won the Boston Marathon. The heartwarming spin: He finally won the race after finishing second in his last three marathons. The cranky spin: Now that nine consecutive Kenyans have won the Boston Marathon--and four of them finished among this year's top 10--how about giving some other country a chance? Ethiopian runner Fatuma Roba reinforced the theme of dominance by a single country, winning the women's marathon for the third straight year. (4/19/99)

Astronomers found another solar system. It consists of at least three huge planets around a star 44 light-years away. The spins: 1) We are not alone! 2) There can't be life on these planets, because they're too big, too gaseous, and too close to their star. 3) Maybe they have moons capable of supporting life. 4) Among the 200 billion sunlike stars in our galaxy, we're certain to find other habitable solar systems. (4/16/99)


Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is retiring. Known as "The Great One," he holds the National Hockey League records for goals (894), assists (1,962), and most valuable player awards (nine). As of Friday morning, his decision wasn't yet official, but he indicated he would retire "unless a miracle happens between now and Saturday." Hockey pundits lauded him in terms reminiscent of Michael Jordan. The happy spin: Gretzky built hockey into a popular sport in the United States. The sad spin: He's going out on a low note because his team, the New York Rangers, is mediocre. (4/16/99)

President Clinton was held in contempt of court for lying in the Paula Jones case. Judge Susan Webber Wright called his testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky "false, misleading and evasive" and "designed to obstruct the judicial process." The judge ordered him to pay court costs and Jones' legal expenses that were caused by his lying. Pundits agreed that materially the ruling is just a slap on the wrist (and therefore Clinton won't appeal it) but that symbolically it's a huge blow to his legacy, since he's the first president to be held in contempt of court. Conservatives hailed the ruling as history's verdict on Clinton. Liberal editorialists paired it with the acquittal/mistrial of Susan McDougal, which they portrayed as a similar rebuke to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Cynics expressed satisfaction that each man is being repudiated without vindicating the other. (4/15/99)


Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr testified against renewal of the independent counsel law. He argued that it had failed in its stated purpose, which is to assure the public that investigations of the government would be nonpartisan. Democratic senators blamed Starr for discrediting the law by injecting politics into his investigations. Starr replied that the courts had repeatedly rejected assertions that he and his staff had "conducted ourselves inappropriately." Elite opinion is divided into three camps: 1) in favor of Starr and the independent counsel law; 2) against both; and 3) against Starr (as a bad example) but in favor of the law. After Starr's testimony, all three camps took a break from their quarreling to make fun of Starr for being the only advocate of the fourth position--against the law but in favor of himself. (4/15/99)


Dr. Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison for injecting lethal drugs into a terminally ill man with the man's consent. The case was based on a videotape of the man's death, which was brought to CBS by Kevorkian and aired on 60 Minutes. He can't be paroled until he has served at least six years. Kevorkian's lawyer's spin: The death was a victimless crime, the verdict is an injustice, the sentence was too harsh, and Kevorkian will starve himself to death in prison. The prosecutor's spin: Kevorkian forced the issue by taking the tape to CBS. The judge's spin: The case wasn't about assisted suicide, it was about a flagrant challenge to the rule of law. The new liberal spin: Kevorkian was an embarrassment to the assisted suicide movement, and we're glad he's out of the way. (4/15/99)