The Week/the Spin

Solution or Semantics?

The “Group of Eight” (the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia) approved “general principles onthe political solution to the Kosovo crisis.” They include 1) “withdrawal from Kosovo of military, police and paramilitary forces,” 2) “deployment in Kosovo of effective international civil and security presences,” and 3) “substantial self-government for Kosovo.” The upbeat spin: Russia has agreed with our conditions. Yugoslavia is isolated and will have to cry uncle. Peace is at hand. The skeptical spins: 1) Russia hasn’t agreed with us on the meaning of “forces,” “effective,” “international,” “security,” “presences,” “substantial,” or “self-government.” 2) The price of winning Russia’s endorsement was that we had to put the interpretation of these terms under U.N. rather than NATO jurisdiction (thereby giving Russia and China veto power) and that we had to remove “all” from the description of Serb forces that must withdraw.

Kosovo update: 1) Two U.S. helicopter pilots died in a crash during a training mission in Albania. They are considered the war’s first U.S. casualties. 2) A U.S. warplane shot down a Yugoslav MiG-29 fighter. 3) A Greek medical aid convoy in Kosovo was reportedly struck by a bomb but without causing any injuries. Yugoslavia blamed NATO. NATO denied responsibility. 4) Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova left Yugoslavia and arrived in Italy with his family. Everyone wants to know whether the Serbs had forced him to pretend on television that he was seriously negotiating with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. 5) The Wall Street Journal reported that NATO had developed a plan to put tens of thousands of ground troops into a “semi-permissive” environment in Kosovo–i.e., with or without Milosevic’s approval–by July. NATO denied it.

Huge tornadoes killed at least 43 people, injured at least 500, and destroyed more than 1,500 homes and businesses in Oklahoma and Kansas. Of the 76 tornadoes reported, the largest was said to be a half-mile to a mile wide, with winds surpassing 260 mph, and reportedly raked the ground for four hours. The Associated Press line on Wednesday was that Oklahomans were comparing the devastation and trauma to the Oklahoma City bombing. “There was a sense that the storm was occurring right in front of a nationwide audience, and it undermined once again the persistent naïve feeling … that what we can watch so closely we can somehow control,” proclaimed the New York Times. “We have perpetuated the myth of a kind of visual coexistence with twisters. But to watch your own tornado is a little like watching your own funeral.”

Kathleen Willey testified that President Clinton made a “very forceful” unwanted sexual advance toward her in 1993. Speaking under oath in the Julie Hiatt Steele trial, Willey said Clinton grabbed her breasts, kissed her, and put his hands “all over me.” Clinton has testified previously that he made no such advance on Willey. The trial is officially about whether Steele obstructed Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton when she denied knowing about the alleged advance, but the media’s unofficial interest is in whether Clinton did it and how much lurid detail the trial will provide.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 11,000 just 24 trading days after its first close above 10,000. The media yawned.

Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby. At 30-1, he was the longest long shot to win the Derby since 1940 and was only the second horse to win from the 16th post in this century. The horse-racing world was shocked. The media’s feel-good story lines focused on 1) the underestimated horse, who was offered for sale in February but had no takers; 2) trainer Wayne Lukas, who got the victory despite the fact that rival trainer Bob Baffert had three favored horses in the race and had won the last two Derbys; and 3) jockey Chris Antley, who had been thinking of quitting the sport after a bout with drug abuse in the late ‘80s and a weight problem last year.

David Duke lost his race for Congress in Louisiana. He got 19 percent of the vote in a special election to fill the seat vacated by former House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston, R-La. The top two finishers, who got 25 percent and 22 percent, respectively, will compete in a runoff. The New York Times played up Duke’s showing, saying he “fell just short” of making the runoff and suggesting that he would have made it if a rival hadn’t cut into his vote. Republican leaders expressed relief that Duke won’t become their “Y2KKK” problem. Duke’s spin: Now that everyone knows my views, the sizable vote I received shows how many people agree with me. Duke’s critics’ spin: Now that everyone knows his views, the sizable vote he received shows how many people agree with him.