The Week/the Spin


The premiere of Fox’s Temptation Island attracted more viewers than the first Survivor episodes. The “reality-TV” show, which tempts committed couples with attractive singles, won 16 million viewers in its Wednesday debut. (It was beaten by NBC’s West Wing, which got 18 million.) The show—to run six episodes this season—features four couples on an island with 26 single men and women. Fox booted one couple when it discovered they had lied about being childless. (But their dismissal, and subsequent psychotherapy, was filmed for a future episode.) Last year, Fox canceled Who Wants To Marry a Multimillionaire? after discovering that the ex-fiancee of its “multimillionaire” had obtained a restraining order against him. Conservative critics’ spin: Breaking up couples to win ratings is immoral. Fox’s spin: Our show allows people to “find out if what they think they want is actually what they do want.” Besides, we don’t break up families. TV critics’ spin: At least CBS’s Survivor didn’t have the background-check snafus that beset Fox’s shows. Insiders’ spin: Psst—no one on the island has sex, so stop watching.

George W. Bush nominated former Peace Corps director Elaine Chao as his secretary of labor. He picked former treasury and state department official Robert B. Zoellick for U.S. trade representative. Both worked in the first Bush administration. Earlier this week, Bush’s first pick for labor, Linda Chavez, withdrew. She had come under fire for giving room, board, and cash to an illegal immigrant years ago. (Housing or employing undocumented aliens is illegal.) She may have deliberately hid these activities from the FBI during pre-nomination vetting, the Wall Street Journal reported. Chavez defended her actions as an act of compassion. In 1993, Bill Clinton withdrew his first two nominees for attorney general when they admitted to hiring illegal nannies and not paying Social Security taxes. Chavez’s spin in 1993: “I think most of the American people were upset during the Zoe Baird [attorney general] nomination that she had hired an illegal alien.” Chavez on Tuesday: I tried to put a human face on the plight of my battered friend, but Washington wouldn’t listen. Analysts’ spins: In the modern economy, “employment” is not so easy to define. (To read Slate’s “Chatterbox” on whether Chavez is lying, click here.)

California Gov. Gray Davis called his state’s energy deregulation a “colossal and dangerous failure.” He proposed using $1 billion to prop up failing electric utilities and offer loans and cash incentives for consumer conservation. California had a power surplus until last June, but soaring wholesale prices and consumer demand led to shortages. Utilities’ spin: We spent $12 billion to buy electricity at high wholesale prices, but the state won’t let us pass those costs on to consumers. Reform advocates’ spin: California should float a bond to bail out the utilities; consumers could pay off the $12 billion over many years. Consumer advocates’ spin: We shouldn’t bail out the utilities. They’ve been withholding power to jack up prices. Wall Street’s spin: The governor’s efficiency measures aren’t enough. He has to cut red tape and allow more power plants to be built.

The U.S. Army will change its ad slogan. Responding to low recruitment rates, the Army will unveil a new marketing catchphrase—”An Army of one”—to replace “Be all you can be.” It will also begin advertising on sitcoms and MTV. New GI spin: “Even though there are 1,045,690 soldiers just like me, I am my own force.” Cynics’ spin: In a 21st-century fighting force, self-actualization has replaced patriotism. 

American Airlines may take over Trans World Airlines. This would make American as big as United Airlines, which swallowed US Airways in May. (Each carrier would control a quarter of domestic travel.) To speed approval of both companies’ acquisitions, American will buy a fifth of US Airways, aiming to placate regulators who fear a United monopoly. It will also join with United to operate US Airways’ East Coast shuttle service, which competes with Delta’s shuttle for elite business travelers. And it will buy 49 percent of DC Air—a new airline spun off from the United-US Airways deal—which regulators had feared would take orders from United. Nostalgists’ spin: TWA has joined Pan Am and Eastern as victims of deregulation. Consumer advocates’ spin: 1) Oligopolies in national air-travel markets create monopolies in local markets. 2) The existence of a few monster airlines will raise the barriers to entry. Cynics’ spin: American is a Texas company, and TWA’s a Missouri one, so don’t expect the new president or attorney general to interfere.

Palestinian leaders rejected President Clinton’s peace proposal. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israelis protested a proposal to give the Palestinians partial control of Jerusalem. Clinton acknowledged that a comprehensive peace will not happen on his watch. Clinton on an ultimate peace: 1) Any Palestinian “right of return” would threaten Israel’s existence. 2) Israel should minimize settlements, and a Palestinian state should be contiguous. 3) Jerusalem should be the capital of both states—with Palestinians controlling a part—and should remain undivided. Clinton to Israel: “You discovered that your land is … the homeland of two peoples. There is no choice but for you to divide this land … and make the best of it.”

Senate Republicans agreed to share power with Democrats. Under threat of Democratic stalling tactics on Bush legislation, Senate Republicans agreed to give Democrats an equal number of members on each committee. Democrats will also receive equal research budgets and can bring to the floor any bill receiving a tie vote in committee. The GOP denied the Dems co-chairmanships and an assurance of equal representation in conference committees (which reconcile similar bills passed by the Senate and House of Representatives). The Senate is split 50-50, although incoming Vice President Dick Cheney, as president of the Senate, can break ties. GOP’s spin: This will help us move Bush’s agenda forward. There was no other way.

President Clinton banned logging in nearly a third of national forests. His executive order will protect 58 million acres in 39 states from logging and road building. (For comparison—Yellowstone National Park is just over 2 million acres.) It is the most sweeping conservation move since Jimmy Carter nearly doubled federally protected lands in 1980. Environmentalists’ spin: Clinton has proven himself a true heir to Teddy Roosevelt. Timber industry and Western governors’ spin: Land use decisions should be made locally, not by federal fiat. Clinton even bypassed Congress. Clinton administration’s spin: Most Americans support the action, and we bypassed Congress because it is beholden to the timber industry. George W. Bush’s spin: We agree with the log cutters. We’ll review this when we get into office.

The Oklahoma Sooners became college football champions. Their 13-2 trouncing of heavily favored Florida State in the Orange Bowl left them undefeated and gave them their first national title since 1985. Had Florida State won, it would have repeated as national champion, possibly sharing the title with Miami and Washington. Sportswriters’ spin: The Sooners were ranked 19th in the preseason and had one of this year’s toughest schedules. Their dominance is indisputable.

G eorge W. Bush nominated two campaign advisers to White House posts. Lawrence Lindsey will become the president’s chief economic adviser, while campaign director Karl Rove will become a senior adviser. Earlier, Bush nominated Clinton’s commerce secretary for transportation secretary. Former Congressman Norman Mineta will be the only Democrat in the new Cabinet. Pundits’ spin: Lindsey is a supply-sider’s supply-sider. Bush will cut taxes no matter what Alan Greenspan thinks.