The Week/the Spin

For Whom the Bell Polls

Texas executed Gary Graham. The convicted murderer, who proclaimed his innocence, had become a cause célèbre for death penalty opponents who believed he had not received competent counsel. Anti-death penalty spin: Graham was convicted based on one eyewitness, and other eyewitnesses who say the killer wasn’t Graham didn’t testify. George W. Bush should have commuted his sentence. Bush’s spin: Graham’s case has been reviewed 20 times over 19 years, and I’m certain he’s guilty. Analysts’ spin: At least Bush showed more concern than candidate Bill Clinton did when he supervised the execution of Ricky Ray Rector during the 1992 presidential primaries.

Astronomers found evidence of liquid water on Mars. The Mars Global Surveyor took photos of what appear to be gullies formed by underground aquifers. Scientists have long known of water in Mars’ polar ice caps and in its thin clouds, but the existence of liquid water at or near the planet’s cold surface—which averages minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit—may indicate microbial life. NASA’s spin: We may have crashed the last two Mars probes, but the satellite that works is a doozy, no? Sci-fi dreamers’ spin: Now future colonists of Mars can drink its water and create oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rockets. Sci-fi cynics’ spin: Sure, if they don’t go crazy in the yearlong weightless journey there.

The European Union may reject the Sprint-WorldCom merger. EU disapproval would effectively kill the merger, which would have combined America’s third- and second-largest long-distance companies and put 45 percent of the world’s Internet delivery capability under one roof. Sprint-WorldCom’s spin: We were willing to sell Sprint’s Internet division, but the EU refused to compromise. EU’s spin: We tried that formula with MCI when it merged with WorldCom, but MCI wasn’t willing to share fiber-optic cable with the spun-off company. Anti-globalists’ spin: The EU made its decision before the United States even had a chance to act. What happened to our sovereignty? Globalists’ spin: The Justice Department would have nixed the deal too, and it was meeting with the Europeans every day.

The Federal Trade Commission will subpoena oil companies about alleged price gouging. Gas prices are more than $2 a gallon in the Midwest, despite a national average of $1.68 a gallon. Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon suspended his state’s sales tax on gas for two months to lower prices. Al Gore’s spin: How dare the oil companies gouge the swing states—er, the American people! Congressional Research Service’s spin: Pipeline problems and pollution laws, not gouging, account for the price difference. OPEC’s spin: Don’t look to us for help. Economists’ spin: Gov. O’Bannon’s tax break will only worsen the problem. (To read “Chatterbox” on how gas prices can be lowered, click here.)

Vivendi and Seagram will form the world’s second-largest entertainment conglomerate. The French Vivendi will marry its Internet, mobile telephone, and cable TV network in Europe to Seagram’s Universal Studios and Polygram Records. If approved, the new Vivendi Universal would be the world’s largest media company save AOL Time Warner. Francophobes’ spin: The French are invading Hollywood! Analysts’ spin: Relax. The Japanese invaded Hollywood a decade ago and got their butts kicked. Vivendi is banking on synergies that aren’t there. Small-business lovers’ spin: Five years ago Vivendi was a water utility and Seagram was a drink maker. What happened? Cynics’ retort: Their CEOs developed big egos, that’s what. (To read Slate’s “Assessment” of the father-son duo behind Seagram—Edgar Bronfman Sr. and Jr.—click here.)

The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers in the NBA finals. The Lakers won their first post-Magic Johnson championship four games to two. Glass-half-full spin (Lakers’ version): Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson proved he can win a title without Michael Jordan. Glass-half-empty spin (Lakers’ version): Jackson proved he can win by spending more money than his competitors. Glass-half-full spin (Pacers’ version): Pacers coach Larry Bird is great, but his team wasn’t talented enough. Glass-half-empty spin (Pacers’ version): Bird is awful, and that’s why his team lost.

Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open in record-breaking style. The 24-year-old won by 15 strokes, breaking a record for major tournaments set in 1862. He finished with a 12-under-par 272. Woods has won three major tournaments at a younger age than any golfer save Jack Nicklaus. Woods’ spin: I want to be the best ever. Commentators’ spins: Woods is as great as Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali! No, as great as Picasso and Michelangelo! “Every demonstration of ability and superiority previously thought impossible has a new benchmark” (the Washington Post).

Nuclear secrets at Los Alamos National Laboratory disappeared and then returned. Scientists waited three weeks to report the missing files, which contain designs of U.S., French, Chinese, and Russian nukes. The hard drives were found last week behind a copy machine in a room that had already been searched. Pundits’ spin: This is either espionage or bureaucratic bungling. Either way, Bill Richardson’s Energy Department has screwed up again. Congressional GOP’s spin: Off with Richardson’s head! Richardson’s spin: How can I fix the problem if I resign? Suspected spy Wen Ho Lee’s spin: Why am I still the only scientist to be prosecuted? Vice-presidential handicappers’ spin: Stock in Richardson is falling fast. (To read David Plotz’s “Assessment” of Richardson, click here.)

Al Gore replaced his campaign chairman. Gore says Tony Coelho resigned for health reasons. Gore appointed Commerce Secretary William Daley to the post, bypassing campaign manager Donna Brazile. Pro-Coelho spin: Give the guy a break. He has an inflamed colon. Anti-Coelho spin: That’s a convenient excuse. The real reasons are that Gore’s campaign is floundering and that Coelho is under suspicion for misusing government money while in Congress. Pro-Brazile spin: A white boy replaced by a white boy, how typical. Pro-George W. Bush spin: Unlike Gore, our man doesn’t switch advisers every month. Media’s spin: The problem isn’t the campaign’s chairman, it’s the candidate. Conservative wags’ spin: Gore’s replacing the corrupt Coelho with … a Daley? At least he’ll win Illinois.

Vladimir Putin proposed a Pan-European missile shield and criticized media crackdowns at home. Softening his authoritarian image, the Russian president criticized the arrest of Moscow media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky as “excessive.” He also proposed a missile-defense system to protect Russia and Europe “from the Atlantic to the Urals.” Pro-Putin spin: He cares about free expression and is flexible on America’s Star Wars ambitions. Anti-Putin spin: Either he’s dissembling on Gusinsky or he’s not calling the shots, both of which are disturbing. And Pan-European missile defense is pie-in-the-sky. (To read Slate’s Anne Applebaum on Putin, click {{here#82942 }} and here.)

RadioShack will sponsor a moon rover. The electronics chain will pay $1 million annually to have its logo emblazoned on the privately funded robot, which will look for fuel sources beneath the lunar surface in 2003. RadioShack’s Web site will stream live video feeds from the mission. RadioShack’s spin: There’s a glut of advertising on Earth. It’s easer to get noticed in space. Analysts’ spin: What next, a Tang logo on the space shuttle?