The Week/the Spin

Bottleneck Nation 

An FBI goof will delay Timothy McVeigh’s death for a month. The Justice Department delayed the federal execution of McVeigh, scheduled for May 16, until June 11 after the FBI discovered about 3,000 pages of documents that McVeigh’s lawyers had not seen. Lawyers for Oklahoma bombing co-defendant Terry Nichols, who was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison, will file a new appeal based on the documents’ discovery. Justice Department’s spin: The documents do not cast reasonable doubt on McVeigh’s guilt, but this is about fairness. We will investigate why this happened. Critics’ spins: 1) Six years after the bombing, and a week before the execution, they discover the documents? It’s suspicious. 2) No, it’s just another FBI screw-up.

Los Angeles and Seattle have the nation’s worst traffic. A study found that the South and West have worse traffic than the Northeast. (New York City came in 23rd.) Urban traffic nationwide is at least slightly congested for one-third of the day, and rush hour (morning and evening) has increased from three hours a day in 1982 to six hours a day in 1999. Researchers’ spin: Building more roads isn’t a complete solution because they’re too expensive (funding would have to double) and too difficult to get approved. But carpooling and telecommuting also won’t solve the problem entirely. (To find data for your city, click here.)

Massachusetts Democrats challenged the authority of a Republican governor to conduct meetings by phone while in labor. Several Democratic members of the Governor’s Council protested to a state court when acting Gov. Jane Swift held a council meeting by conference call from her hospital bed. Swift will stay in the hospital until her twins are born, possibly as long as 10 days. Dems’ spin: You can’t confirm judges and sign bond issues while suffering contractions every six minutes. GOP’s retort: So we’re going to punish Swift because she’s a woman? If she were permanently disabled you’d have to accommodate her. Alternative spin: Hospitals usually send pregnant women home once early contractions are under control. Swift is getting care that no other government employee would get.

Survivor’s producer admitted to re-enacting scenes. Mark Burnett said that the show sometimes uses body doubles to capture camera angles difficult to achieve during the actual contestant challenges. Fox used the admission in its defense against a lawsuit filed by CBS, which alleges that Fox’s show Boot Camp infringes on Survivor’s copyright. Burnett’s spin: We don’t rig the outcome. But we can’t take aerial shots of a swim race without filming the cameras on the ground. Fox’s spin: CBS can’t claim a copyright to “reality” survival shows if its own show isn’t real. One of Survivor’s contestants claims that even the voting is rigged. Critics’ spin: No matter what happens to Survivor, its place in pop culture history is secure.     

Congress threatened to withhold its United Nations dues unless the United States gets back on U.N. committees. The United States was voted off both the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the International Narcotics Control Board last week for the first time. Sudan and Libya remain on the human rights panel. Without a seat, the U.S. will not be able to introduce human rights resolutions. White House’s spin: The U.S. will be back on the panel next year. We should pay our dues. House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s spin: “This is an affront, more to the whole notion of international human rights than it is to us as a nation.” Pundits’ spin: This is China’s punishment of the U.S. for its missile shield, spy planes, and perceived cultural imperialism.

Two studies on “reparative therapy” for gays reached opposite conclusions. Each group of researchers interviewed approximately 200 men and women about their experiences in a therapy designed to change their orientation from gay to straight. In one study, 97 percent of patients reported failure. In the other, more than 50 percent reported success, although they continued to have intermittent homosexual fantasies. The psychiatrist who conducted the “success” study, Robert Spitzer, spearheaded the psychiatric community’s 1973 decision to stop listing homosexuality as a mental disorder. Spitzer’s spin: We shouldn’t force homosexuals to change, but if they want to try, they should know whether it’s possible. Spitzer’s critics’ spin: Spitzer recruited his survey respondents through the recommendations of “restorative therapists,” and the respondents are more religious than the average homosexual.

The Bush administration will escalate the military’s presence in space. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld proposed to consolidate all military space programs under the command of an Air Force general—including spy satellites, currently run by the CIA. He also said the United States should “negate the hostile use of space against U.S. interests” by using “power projection in, from and through space.” Rumsfeld’s spin: This is just a bureaucratic reshuffle. Analysts’ spins: 1) “Power projection” means using offensive weapons to shoot down or disable other satellites. That would start a space arms race. 2) Other countries already have the technology to disable our satellites and have even threatened us. This is about safety, not aggression. 

Prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges against a Cincinnati policeman who shot an unarmed black man. Stephen Roach was indicted for negligent homicide for shooting a man who was on his way to buy cigarettes. (The man was wanted on misdemeanor warrants. Roach says the man was fleeing and appeared to reach for a gun.) The shooting sparked three days of rioting last month, in which dozens were injured and 800 arrests were made. (The indictment sparked small nonviolent protests.) Black activists’ spin: By giving a racist murderer a hand slap, Cincinnati conveys that the lives of black people are cheap. Mayor’s spin: We’re working with the feds to increase trust between the police and the people they are supposed to protect.  

The creator ofCliffs Notesdied at 83. Summary: Clifton Keith Hillegass was a book publisher and literature lover with an entrepreneurial streak. He grew rich from his invention but was dismayed that his name became a synonym for “shortcut.” Analysis: Comic irony appears in real life as in literature.   

John Paul II became the first pope to visit a mosque. He removed his shoes and donned Islamic slippers during a prayer service in Damascus. Later he visited a destroyed Golan Heights city billed by Syria as a monument to Israeli aggression. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s spin: Join us, John Paul, in our crusade against the Jews, who “try to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality with which they betrayed Jesus Christ.” Israel’s spin: Bashar’s father, Hafez Assad, was at least a more tactful racist than his son. Jews’ unspoken spin: The well-intentioned pope is being used by anti-Semites. Vatican’s spin: We are clearly against anti-Semitism. We cannot silence our Syrian hosts. (To read about Bashar Assad, click here; to learn whether the Jews killed Jesus, click here.)