The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
April 11 1999 3:30 AM

Kosovo update: 1) Yugoslavia declared "peace," said it had negotiated a political accord with ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, urged ethnic Albanian refugees to return to their homes, and called further NATO bombing an assault on "peace, unity, and understanding." NATO and the United States ridiculed the statements as lies, inadequate concessions, and a "charm offensive." 2) NATO said the bombing has now cut off supplies to Serbian forces in Kosovo. Skeptics said the news comes too late, since Kosovo has already been ethnically cleansed. 3) Having closed the borders through which refugees had been fleeing, the Serbs sent the refugees back into Kosovo. The official Serbian spin: We're welcoming the refugees back. The half-cynical NATO spin: This is part of the Serbs' pretense of reconciliation. The completely cynical NATO spin: The Serbs need the refugees as human shields. (Check out "The War in Kosovo" for Slate's latest coverage.) (4/9/99)


Russia is ratcheting up its threats against NATO over the bombing of Yugoslavia. President Boris Yeltsin said Russia would "not permit" NATO to send in ground troops to make Yugoslavia its "protectorate." Then the speaker of Russia's parliament said Yeltsin had directed the targeting of Russian nuclear missiles at NATO countries. This raised alarms throughout the world, until the speaker's office retracted the claim and explained that Yeltsin had merely discussed the targeting option. The spins: 1) Yeltsin is pretending to entertain this option to placate Russian hard-liners. 2) He's nuts. 3) He's playing his usual cagey game. 4) He doesn't understand that you don't play games with nukes. (4/9/99)

William Saletan William Saletan

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


President Clinton and Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji failed to agree on terms for China's admission to the World Trade Organization. Backstage reports say that the deal is nearly complete but that the hostile atmosphere in Congress, particularly over reports of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear labs, makes it futile for Clinton to push WTO admission now. Zhu, who is visiting Washington, told reporters that 1) he has "no knowledge" of the alleged nuclear espionage; 2) he is "impatient" to improve China's human rights practices; and 3) if he had meant to influence the 1996 U.S. presidential election, he would have shelled out a lot more than the $300,000 China is accused of funneling to the Clinton campaign. While holding out against lucrative trade concessions demanded by Wall Street and Hollywood, Zhu is offering to let American telecommunications firms own Chinese cell phone and Internet companies, which presumably would undermine China's ability to quash domestic dissent. The spins: 1) America will take this deal because we care about freedom. 2) We'll reject it because we care about money. (4/9/99)

The Y2K "conceive-a-thon" is on. Medical experts have declared April 9 the conception date most likely to lead to the first baby born on Jan. 1, 2000, and many couples are reportedly competing for the honor/shame. The most charming/egregious case is a contest among four couples, selected by a Boston radio station from among hundreds of contestants, to conceive the "millennium baby" in separate rooms of the same hotel today. If any of the couples succeeds, the radio station will pay a $1 million prize. One contestant says she asked her mother, "How does it feel to have a daughter that's going to be in the public and everybody knows that she's going to have sex tomorrow?" Meanwhile, CNN offered interested viewers advice about ovulation and timing, concluding: "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines." The spins on the race: 1) It's grand and fascinating. 2) It's sick and pitiable. 3) It's sick and fascinating. (4/9/99)

Missouri voters rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed citizens to carry concealed handguns. The National Rifle Association had spent $3.7 million to promote the measure. The sunny spins: 1) It's a victory over the gun nuts. 2) It's a victory over big money. The cynical spins: 1) It's a victory for the anti-militia Zeitgeist spawned by the Oklahoma City bombing. 2) It's a victory for a well-funded scare campaign led by Hillary Clinton. The political analyses: 1) It's a victory for suburban whites and urban blacks over rural dwellers. 2) It's a victory for women over men. (4/7/99)


Scientists found three 500-year-old Inca mummies on top of a volcano in Argentina. After the Incas were ritually sacrificed, their corpses quickly froze in the cold weather, leaving them so well preserved that their internal organs remain intact and the hair on their arms is still visible. Religious artifacts that were evidently part of the sacrifice were also recovered. The anthropological spin: The mummies will teach us all about Inca religious practices. The medical spin: They'll teach us all about Inca diet, health, and genetics. The cynical spin: We owe it all to human sacrifice. (4/7/99)


Libya finally handed over the suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing case. The bomb blew up a Pan Am plane over Scotland, killing 270 people, most of them Americans. The suspects, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, were sent to the Netherlands, where they will be tried under Scottish law. In exchange, the United Nations has lifted sanctions it imposed several years ago to punish Libya for sheltering the suspects. The spins, in order of descending optimism: 1) It's a landmark in the establishment of effective international law. 2) It's a triumph of negotiating perseverance by South African President Nelson Mandela and the United Nations. 3) Even if the suspects are convicted, the bombing's true mastermind, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, will escape justice. (4/5/99)

Serial HIV spreader Nushawn Williams was sentenced to four to 12 years in jail. He was accused of infecting at least nine women with HIV by knowingly exposing them to the virus through unprotected sex in exchange for providing illegal drugs to them. His sentence is part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to statutory rape and reckless endangerment. Williams' excuse for continuing to have unprotected sex after a nurse told him he had the virus is that he didn't believe the nurse. His attorney's spin: "He's not an evil person. ... He feels badly that he's ill. He expressed to me the concern he may not live out his sentence." The naive retributive spin: He should have been sentenced to death. The sophisticated spin: He has been. (4/5/99)


The alleged author of the Melissa virus was busted. David L. Smith, a New Jersey computer programmer, was arrested on charges of conspiracy, theft of computer service, and interruption of public communications. The virus jammed up the Internet by replicating itself in multiple e-mails it transmitted from infected computers. The dramatic spin: Smith is an ingenious villain, and the computer security companies that pursued him were ingenious sleuths using sophisticated technology and techniques. The boring spin: Smith is a 30-year-old bankrupt nerd, and America Online turned him in by letting law enforcement officials see the log that showed which phone line had been used to post the virus. (4/5/99)