The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
April 18 1999 3:30 AM


Kosovo update: 1) NATO admitted that one of its planes bombed a caravan of ethnic Albanians. Yugoslavia, claiming that the bomb killed 75 civilians, called it a NATO "atrocity." NATO said the plane's crew mistook the caravan for a Serbian military convoy. President Clinton said that such tragedies are "inevitable" in war and that NATO must fight on to stop far worse Serbian atrocities. 2) The U.S. military is reportedly planning to call up thousands of reservists. 3) U.S. officials changed their definition of victory. Old definition: Driving the Serbs out of Kosovo. New definition: Shifting the "balance of power" from the Serbs to the Kosovo Liberation Army. The sunny spin: Now we have a viable strategy. The cynical spin: Now we're allied with vengeful, ethnic-separatist thugs. (4/16/99)

William Saletan William Saletan

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


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)


Susan McDougal avoided conviction in her Whitewater cover-up trial. She was acquitted of obstructing Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation (by refusing to testify against the Clintons) and got a mistrial on the remaining charges of criminal contempt because the jury was deadlocked. McDougal's spin: The jury agreed that her refusal to testify was based on a reasonable belief that Starr was trying to get her to lie. The prosecutor's spin: She escaped justice by putting Starr on trial, but we'll try her again. Her lawyer's spin: Go ahead, and we'll try you again. (4/12/99)


José María Olazábal won the Masters golf tournament. The sentimental spin: It's the heartwarming tale of a golfer who came back to win one of the sport's biggest prizes after being so seriously injured three years ago that he couldn't walk. The counterspin: It's the heartbreaking tale of third-place finisher Greg Norman, who, after blowing a six-stroke lead in the tournament's final round three years ago, choked away his lead again this year. The completely unsentimental spin: It's the tournament's worst winning score in a decade. (4/12/99)

Two of the Washington beavers were captured. The National Park Service suspects them of gnawing down four cherry trees in the District of Columbia's scenic Tidal Basin. Agents are pursuing a third beaver that is believed to be still at large. The captured beavers were given medical checkups and were then released in a secret location to protect them from public scrutiny. According to the Washington Post, "Officials tried to determine the sex of the second beaver, but the animal did not seem to appreciate the prodding." The spins: 1) Hurray, the feds saved the trees! 2) Hurray, they caught the beavers! 3) Boo, let the beavers eat the trees! 4) This is another attempt to distract attention from the bombing of Yugoslavia. (4/12/99)