The Week/the Spin

Money To Spurn

John McCain and Bill Bradley made a joint appearance in New Hampshire. They pledged support for campaign-finance reform and promised to forgo unrestricted donations (“soft money”) if they won their respective nominations. The spins, in order of increasing cynicism: 1) McCain and Bradley crossed a “partisan and ideological divide” for the sake of reform; 2) they strengthened each other’s images  “as political outsiders who speak their minds and could shake up the system in Washington”; and 3) they ganged up to take pot shots at the front-runners.

Israel and Syria agreed to continue peace talks. This week’s negotiations between Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak were the highest-level talks ever. They did not address substantive issues but did set a schedule for discussions next month aimed at ending their 50-year-old disputes. Syria aims to win Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which it lost in 1967. Israel wants official recognition from Syria and increased security along its border. Optimists said 1) the talks so far have achieved their goals, and 2) a successful accord could spread peace throughout the Middle East. Pessimists countered that 1) setting a schedule wasn’t much of an achievement, and 2) both sides signaled little willingness to compromise. (See “International Papers” for more on the talks.)

Linda Tripp lost a court decision on her legal immunity. A Maryland judge ruled that her immunity agreement with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr 1) did not prevent her from facing state wiretapping charges and 2) did not take effect until five weeks later than Tripp’s lawyers had contended. Monica Lewinsky then testified that Starr’s office did not aid her in recalling information that may be used by prosecutors to implicate Tripp. Pundits called it a rough week for Tripp, saying the developments 1) heightened the likelihood she would stand trial and 2) expanded the evidence that could be used against her. Tripp’s lawyers said the ruling was inconsequential in the “war of attrition. Battles will be won and battles will be lost.” Skeptics questioned Lewinsky’s credibility and charged she was just exacting revenge on her former friend.

Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz is retiring. He is 77 and has colon cancer. He said he was leaving “to focus on my health and my family without the worry of a daily deadline.” The comic strip is nearly 50 years old and is carried by 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries. Fans attributed Peanutsenduring popularity to its gentle humor, universal themes, and sympathetic portrayal of the “little man.” Cynics attributed it to the strip’s $1 billion merchandising juggernaut. Cartoonists lauded Schulz as a pioneer.

Willie Brown was re-elected as San Francisco’s mayor. Brown, the city’s first black mayor, won 65 percent of the vote in a runoff election with fellow Democrat City Supervisor Tom Ammiano. Ammiano, who would have been the city’s first openly gay mayor, forced the runoff after launching a write-in campaign just three weeks before the November election. Ammiano ran on a platform of tenants’ rights and reduced gentrification. But Brown painted him as ” an inexperienced free spender.” The gloomy liberal spin: Even in San Francisco, a true liberal can’t win. The rosy liberal spin: Only in San Francisco would Brown not be considered a true liberal.

Colorado police showed the Columbine killers’ videotapes to the press. The two hours of home movies show Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planning their attack and expressing rage at their families, classmates, and community for allegedly mistreating them. Two days after the showing, Columbine High School was closed down when a student threatened to “finish” the job. Police said they showed the tapes reluctantly after Time violated its agreement not to use direct quotes from them. Observers called the tapes chilling, pointing to the killers’$2 1) fascination with weapons and violent video games; 2) prescience about the lasting effect of their actions; and 3) desire for fame. Critics said the showing of the tapes was the most chilling act, as it 1) provided information to the media before providing it to the victims’ parents and 2) helped Harris and Klebold achieve exactly what they wanted.

Republican presidential candidates debated in Iowa. The third meeting of the six contenders was described as their “most spirited,” with numerous disagreements over campaign finance, abortion, taxes, and ethanol subsidies. Pundits said the debate reinforced the race’s existing dynamics: 1) McCain continued to “portray himself as an outsider and as the only candidate willing to speak often unpopular truths”; 2) Bauer, Forbes, Hatch, and Keyes highlighted their conservative credentials while painting Bush as an unprincipled centrist; and 3) Bush maintained his front-runner status, responding to attacks with “a more assertive demeanor and a more confident manner” than in previous debates. (Slate’s Jacob Weisberg assesses the candidates’ performances, calling McCain’s courageous and Bush’s effective but evasive.)

Wen Ho Lee pleaded not guilty to charges of mishandling nuclear secrets. Lee, an engineer at the Los Alamos, N.M., weapons lab, was indicted on 59 counts of removing classified data from his computer “with the intent to injure the United States and … secure an advantage for a foreign power.” He was not charged with the more serious crime of spying. Asian-American activists’ spin: Lee is a “sacrificial lamb” singled out because of his race. The Justice Department’s spin: He’s a security threat who may have “alter[ed] the global balance of nuclear arms.” Critics’ spin: That threat would never have been so great if the Clinton administration hadn’t flubbed the investigation. (In August, Slate’s “Explainer” outlined the case against Lee.)

President Clinton said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has not worked. He called it “out of whack,” saying the policy–which allows gay service members to be discharged only if there is evidence of homosexual conduct–had not been implemented as intended. Hillary Clinton and Vice President Al Gore both said the policy was unacceptable and promised to work for its elimination if elected. The New York Times said the exchange showed that Mrs. Clinton was “nudging her husband a bit to the left.” The Washington Post said Gore was making “his sharpest public break with the administration.” But the Clinton administration maintained that Clinton’s and Gore’s positions had not changed, saying: 1) the president had adopted “don’t ask, don’t tell” only as a compromise with a Congress unwilling to do more; and 2) Gore had long opposed cutting the deal.

The International Olympic Committee passed reforms. The Olympics’ governing body voted to 1) ban visits by IOC members to cities bidding for the Olympics; 2) create an independent ethics commission; and 3) invite recent Olympic athletes to join the committee. A year ago, 10 IOC members were forced to resign following allegations that they had accepted substantial gifts from the Salt Lake City Olympic committee. IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was questioned by a congressional committee, said the IOC had “solved” the corruption problems. The optimistic spin: The reforms will improve public perception of the IOC. The skeptical spin: Perception is all they’ll improve, since they don’t have the teeth to be effective.