The Week/the Spin

Witless Protection Program

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 youth white supremacist 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?

Rock veteran Carlos Santana swept the Grammy Awards. The mystical 52-year-old guitar player, a veteran of Woodstock and member of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, scored one of the industry’s biggest comebacks by tying Michael Jackson’s 1983 record of eight awards—including Album of the Year (the best-selling Supernatural) and Record of the Year (“Smooth”). Santana’s muse is Metatron, a white-bearded angel who talks to the Mexican-born artist as he sits in front of his fireplace with candles. (“Because of [Metatron], we can French-kiss, we can hug, we can get a hot dog, wiggle our toe,” he says.) Forty-eight-year-old Sting scored the biggest upset, winning Best Pop Album (Brand New Day). Other winners included white gangsta Eminem (Best Rap Album), TLC (Best R&B Album), Dixie Chicks (Best Country Album), Tom Waits (Best Contemporary Folk Album), Robert Cray (Best Contemporary Blues Album), Cher (Best Dance Recording), Beck (Best Alternative Music Performance), and 19-year-old bubble-gum pop star Christina Aguilera (Best New Artist). Favorites such as Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and ‘N Snyc came away empty-handed. Santana’s spin: My victory proves that “deepness and class can be as profitable as shallowness and crass.” Latin singer Chris Perez’s spin: “I was conceived to [Santana’s] music.” Christina Aguilera’s spin: “Omigod, you guys. I seriously do not have a speech prepared whatsoever.” (To read a Slate“Diary” by Beck, click here. To read an “Assessment” of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and other teen pop stars, click here.)

F ox TV swore off exploitive “reality TV” shows. Fox told the New York Times it would no longer air shows such as World’s Scariest Police Videos and When Good Pets Go Bad in prime time. The decision follows the public-relations fiasco of Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire? in which a man married off by Fox on live TV turned out to have harassed a former fiancee. A quarter of the nation’s 18- to 34-year-old women tuned in to gawk at the pairing of the 42-year-old real-estate developer with a 34-year-old nurse. Gold-digging prospective wives had to win over not just the faceless “mystery mogul” (whose identity was revealed minutes before the wedding), but his mother and sister too. Feminists’ spin: “This brings new meaning to the term ’ trophy wife.’ ” We ought to trash Fox headquarters! Advertisers’ spin: Women “loved this show like pigs love mud.” Fox’s spin: It’s sweeps month, give us a break. The blasé spin: Vulgarity without irony—how retro. The sophisticated spin: Overt materialism with emotional neediness—how refreshingly honest. (Could Fox force its star attractions to stay married? Read Slate’s ” Explainer” to find out.)

John McCain won Michigan and Arizona. His 50 percent to 44 percent victory in Michigan Gov. John Engler’s “firewall” state kept his candidacy viable until at least Super Tuesday on March 7. George W. Bush won among Michigan Republicans by nearly 40 points, but so many Democrats and independents voted for McCain that Republicans became a minority in their own primary. Next up: Virginia, North Dakota, and Washington state next Tuesday. Bush’s spin: When we hit a closed primary (like New York and California), Mr. Maverick will wish he had some Republican support. McCain’s spin: When we hit the general election, Republicans will wish they had a mass-appeal candidate.

A study says many toddlers are taking stimulants and antidepressants. Between 1991 and 1995, use of psychotropic drugs among 2- to 4-year-olds more than doubled, to 1.5 percent of the toddler population. The medicines have not been approved for children under 6. Health-care reformers’ spin: What do you expect? HMOs don’t pay for therapy. Cultural critics’ spin: What do you expect? We pathologize every other character trait, why not the Terrible Twos? Physicians’ spin: We know little about a toddler’s brain, never mind a toddler’s brain on Ritalin and Prozac.

Al Gore and Bill Bradley tore into each other in a Harlem debate. Before a jeering audience at the Apollo Theater, Bradley called Gore a ” conservative Democrat“ on gun control and race. Gore responded with one-liners and charged Bradley with dividing Democrats. Bradley’s spin: Gore used to oppose affirmative action and was an NRA poster boy. Gore’s spin: Tsk, tsk. So negative, so desperate. Media’s spin: This is embarrassing ” politics as spectacle.” Let’s vote already. Voters’ spin: Yawn. How ‘bout that Bush-McCain race? (To read Slate’s “Ballot Box” on the “Showdown at the Apollo,” click here.)

China threatened Taiwan with war if it does not seriously negotiate reunification. The statement—which implied that continued U.S. arms sales might also justify an attack—came a month before Taiwan’s presidential election. China has already promised to invade if the island formally declares independence, but its vague threat to invade in the case of a prolonged diplomatic stalemate represents a new condition for peace. Taiwan’s spin: As usual, the Reds are full of bluster—it is bluster, isn’t it? Clinton administration’s spin: We love both Chinas. Can’t we all just get along? Congressional Republicans’ spin: If Clinton thinks we’ll let Commie expansionists into the World Trade Organization, he’s got another think coming.

Celestial real estate is open for business. Russia leased its Mir space station to an Amsterdam-based consortium, MirCorp, which will rent the vessel to corporate R & D firms and to wealthy “citizen explorers.” Owned jointly by an American venture-capital firm, a British Internet service provider, and the Russian government, among others, MirCorp boasts that its empty, 13-year-old satellite “offers a unique environment that is free of the constraints of gravity and with unmatched views of the Earth and heavens.” The firm will launch a Web site to broadcast images of the Earth around the clock. Adventure-seekers wishing to explore the great beyond must undergo “very rigorous psychological and physical testing.”

Bush laid out his own campaign finance proposal. The 11th-hour plan would outlaw corporate and labor donations to political parties (“soft money”) but would let individuals give such donations. The media’s spin: Bush is just co-opting McCain’s issue. McCain’s spin: Bush’s protection of individual contributions is a “billion-dollar loophole.” Bush’s spin: McCain’s “comprehensive” reform is Orwellian and probably unconstitutional.

A study concluded that the Internet saps users’ social lives. The Stanford University report says Internet use has cut down on time spent with family and friends, “raising the specter of an atomized world without human contact or emotion” (New York Times). Researchers’ spin: “When you spend your time on the Internet, you don’t hear a human voice and you never get a hug.” Skeptics’ spin: But the study says Net usage cuts into TV time, not social time. Also, people make friends online. Netizens’ spin: Big deal. People spend time with their dogs, too, but that doesn’t make them anti-social.