The Week/the Spin

Bush-League Humor

A 6-year-old boy shot and killed a classmate with a stolen gun. The first-grader shot the girl after a playground scuffle. Prosecutor’s spin: We’ll jail the parents. Gun-control lobby’s response: His father already is in jail. President Clinton’s spin: This is why we need safety locks on handguns. NRA’s response: What we need are adequate jail terms for parents who allow guns to be misused. Gun lobby’s response to the NRA: His father already … never mind.

George W. Bush and John McCain held their final debate before Tuesday’s primaries. Analysts agreed that McCain needed to shake up the race and that he failed to do so, in part because he was appearing via satellite—(represented by a TV monitor at a lectern), whereas Bush was onstage. Bush apologized profusely for his appearance at Bob Jones University (“I make no excuses”).  (For Jacob Weisberg’s reaction to the debate in Slate, click here.)

Bill Bradley debated Al Gore. Pundits interpreted Bradley’s deferential performance as an attempt to exit the campaign gracefully. The debate drew less interest than did Bush’s and McCain’s appearances on late-night TV. McCain charmed the Tonight Show audience while Bush bombed on Letterman. Letterman’s query: “Uniter, not a divider”—what’s that mean, Dubya? Bush’s answer: “It means when it comes time to sew up your chest cavity, we use stitches as opposed to opening it up.” Audience’s spin: That’s not funny, that’s sick. (Read Ballot Box for Jacob Weisberg’s take on the Democratic debate.)

John Rocker returned to spring training after his suspension was halved. After Rocker and his union appealed the unprecedented 28-day suspension levied by Commissioner Bud Selig for Rocker’s off-the-field racist remarks, an arbitrator cut the suspension to 14 days, allowed Rocker to participate in spring training, and reduced his $20,000 fine to $500. Rocker’s spin: I apologize, and I ” need to grow up,” but I also have a right to play. Teammates’ spin: We’ve accepted his apology. Let’s see if he walks the walk. Selig’s spin: The arbitrator has “ignore[d] the sensibilities” of his teammates and fans. Braves fans’ spin: We love you, John!

A federal jury convicted Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia of five felonies. A Taiwanese-born, naturalized U.S. citizen, Hsia was convicted of raising more than $100,000 in illegal campaign contributions for the 1996 election. She will appeal the convictions, one of which involved Al Gore’s Buddhist Temple fund-raiser. Gore’s response: I feel sorry for my good friend, but I had no idea what she was doing behind the scenes. RNC’s response: So far, so good, but Hsia’s really the victim, and Gore’s the perpetrator. John McCain’s spin: You know my shtick on this.

George W. Bush trounced John McCain in Virginia, North Dakota, and Washington state. McCain had earlier denounced the “evil influence” of Christian-right leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. McCain’s spin: Moderate conservatives and independents will rise to my challenge next Tuesday (when a dozen states vote). Bush’s spin: “I’m a problem-solver, he’s a finger-pointer.” Analysts’ spin: McCain wasted millions in Virginia, lost in moderate Washington, and is behind 20 points in California. He needs a miracle. (To read Ballot Box’s instant analysis of Tuesday’s vote, click here. For a “Frame Game” on McCain, click here.)

Osama Bin Laden was linked to terrorist plots in Jordan and the United States. The New York Times reported that a Bin Laden lieutenant,  a Saudi exile named Abu Zubaydah, organized the plots from Pakistan, then fled to Afghanistan when the plans were uncovered last December. Authorities had already linked several of the United States plotters to Bin Laden indirectly, but the Zubaydah connection is the first direct evidence. Optimistic spin: When terrorism is coordinated and not random, it’s easier to fight. Pessimistic spin: When terrorism is coordinated and protected by Afghan mullahs, it’s not so easy to fight.

Jörg Haider resigned as Austrian Freedom Party leader. The far-right leader said he wanted to dispel the impression that ministers in the new Austrian coalition government were his puppets. He claimed that punitive measures levied by the European Union—such as downgrading diplomatic contacts with Austria—had nothing to do with it. The EU’s spin: This is just another ” dirty trick”  by the crypto-fascist. Cynics’ retort: Every time you call him a crypto-fascist, he just gets more followers.

New York jury cleared four cops in the death of Amadou Diallo. Their acquittal for mistakenly shooting the unarmed black man last year sparked protests but no violence. The policemen still face a possible civil suit and a federal civil rights investigation. Black activists’ spin: By instituting an aggressive, “zero-tolerance” policy in the NYPD, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani became Diallo’s de facto murderer. White conservatives’ spin: You can’t prevent crime without race-based searches; the four cops should never have been tried. Giuliani’s spin: The shooting was a tragedy—and the ” anti-police lobby” is exploiting it. Hillary’s spin: Cops are from Mars, civilians are from Venus; let’s dialogue. (Read a New York cop’s take on the verdict here; and click here for a “Frame Game” on racial profiling.)

Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano  was arrested on drug charges. The man described as the most important mob witness ever—his testimony helped put 39 Mafia members behind bars, including New York’s John Gotti—was accused of spearheading a large operation to sell Ecstasy to teen-agers in Arizona. Gravano had entered the federal witness-protection program in 1992 but dropped out a year later, living unprotected under an assumed name. He was arrested along with his family and members of a white middle-class gang. Cynics’ spin: This is what happens when the government makes deals with ” murderous sociopaths” like Gravano. Government’s retort: How would you have convicted Gotti?