The Week/the Spin

Nuclear Infusion

Massive radiation leaked from a Japanese nuclear fuel plant. Three employees were hospitalized, and 300,000 residents were ordered to remain indoors. U.S. experts said the threat to widespread health appeared small. The nuclear industry’s spin: This was no Chernobyl. Environmentalists’ spin: Do we need another Chernobyl to realize that nuclear power isn’t safe?

Vice President Al Gore shook up his campaign. He is moving his headquarters from Washington to Tennessee and challenging Bill Bradley to a series of debates. Gore said he’ll assemble a “leaner, tougher” organization to respond to Bradley, who has recently raised more money than Gore. The rosy spin: The return to his roots will show that Gore is independent from Washington (Nashville Tennessean). The skeptical spin: Put the headquarters where you will, but a vice president is never an outsider.

The Brooklyn Museum of Art filed suit to prevent New York City from withdrawing its funding. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has halted checks to the museum because of its “Sensation” exhibit, which includes a dissected pig suspended in formaldehyde and a painting of the Virgin Mary that’s adorned with elephant dung. Giuliani’s spin: Artists are guaranteed freedom, not taxpayer support. The museum’s spin: When you withdraw support for unpopular views, you violate this freedom. The jaded spin: The debate is less about principles than about self-promotion. (Slate’s “Culturebox” and “Chatterbox” debated Giuliani’s move.)

President Clinton signed a temporary spending bill. It will fund agencies at current levels for three weeks as Congress and the White House negotiate the 2000 budget. Separately, a Congressional Budget Office study concluded that current budget proposals would spend nearly $18 billion of the Social Security surplus. The Democratic spin: Republican promise-breakers are raiding Social Security. The Republican spin: The Democrats are the real raiders since they won’t cut spending.

Dan Quayle quit the presidential race, and John McCain entered it. Quayle said he had insufficient funds to remain competitive with George W. Bush. Pundits variously said Quayle’s withdrawal revealed: 1) moderates’ control of the GOP; 2) the influence of money over presidential politics; and 3) Quayle’s lingering reputation “as a lightweight” (New York Times). McCain framed himself as the candidate of patriotism and integrity, promising to reform campaign finance and strengthen national defense. Pundits debated whether his platform would: 1) differentiate him from Bush; or 2) alienate him from the Republican establishment. (Slate’s William Saletan probes McCain’s messages.) opened its Web site to sales by other retailers. Anyone can list products through Amazon by paying a monthly fee and a percentage of each transaction. Amazon’s zShops began Thursday with 500,000 new products. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asserted that his company was becoming the Internet’s supermall. Skeptics worried that poor products or service from unknown merchants could tarnish Amazon’s reputation ( Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

The Indonesian army is withdrawing from East Timor. U.N. peacekeeping forces now officially control the territory and are encouraging exiled refugees to return home. Australian troops discovered nine charred bodies, the first physical evidence of human rights abuses. The hopeful spin: It’s safe to live in East Timor again. The gloomy spin: Most Timorese don’t have homes to go back to.

Ronald Reagan’s biographer wrote himself into the story as a fictional character. The forthcoming book portrays author Edmund Morris as Reagan’s contemporary. Newsweek featured an excerpt of the book. Former Reagan aides called the book “pure fiction,” and George Will dubbed it “dishonorable” for its distortions. But Gore Vidal said the mixing of fact with fantasy was appropriate for a president “whose life owed so little to Parson Weems and so much to Pirandello.” (Slate’s “Culturebox” examines Morris’ literary device.)

Pat Buchanan will likely switch his presidential campaign to the Reform Party. Buchanan, who sparked controversy with a new book questioning the need for U.S. intervention in World War II, has been increasingly vocal about his frustration with GOP moderates. The Republican and Reform parties are divided over whether 1) Buchanan’s views are too extreme to be included; or 2) his conservative constituency is too valuable to be excluded. Democrats are unanimous: When the dust settles, we’ll come out on top. (Slate’s “Pundit Central” recounts the debate.)

The United States won golf’s Ryder Cup. The Americans’ one-point victory over the European team was the biggest comeback in the tournament’s history. American Justin Leonard’s 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole set off a celebration on the course before his European opponent finished playing. Both teams called the win historic: The United States said it was golf’s “greatest moment” (ESPN); the Europeans labeled the celebration “the most disgusting thing” the sport had seen (ESPN).