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the week/the spin: The week’s big news, and how’s it’s being spun.

Extra: Brill’s con game, Week 2.


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Supreme Court update: 1) The court ruled that the attorney-client privilege continues after the client is dead. The media spun this as a setback to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr (who was seeking notes from Vince Foster’s lawyer), giving short shrift to the decision’s broader ramifications for old folks. (Slate‘s “Explainer” pondered the question.) 2) The court ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act bans discrimination against people who carry the AIDS virus. The media spun this as a triumph of compassion, giving short shrift to the broader implications of the court’s expansion of “disabilities” to include reproductive troubles. 3) The court upheld a law imposing decency standards for federal arts grants. The media focused on allegations that the court was firing a shot across the bow of artists–overshadowing the subtler theory that the court was actually firing a shot across the bow of Congress. (6/26/98)

China dolls

Clinton arrived in China for a trip that he had earlier characterized as being more about substance than symbol. Commentators noted that the trip, which includes only one day of substantive meetings with China’s leaders, was almost entirely about symbols–China’s glorious past (Clinton’s initial stop in the ancient capital of Xian), China’s new bustling market economy (stop in Shanghai and assorted villages), China’s importance in dealing with the Asian economic crisis (stop in Hong Kong), etc. However, they also noted that symbols can be powerful not only in courting the prideful Chinese but also in building U.S. popular support for Clinton’s policy of peaceful engagement. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities detained several dissidents and the Shanghai Bureau of Culture told New York’s Lincoln Center that it would allow the costumes and sets for a classic Chinese opera to go to New York–but not the actors.(6/26/98)



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Scientists found a planet near a star only 15 light-years away. It is the closest planet we have found beyond our solar system. The superficial spin: It might be warm enough to support life. The sophisticated spin: It probably can’t support life, but its discovery indicates there may be billions of other planets near us. Meanwhile, other scientists say they have found bacteria living in Antarctic ice, raising the possibility that life exists on planets previously dismissed as intolerably cold. (6/26/98)

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Miscellany: The Supreme Court struck down the line item veto. White House aide Sidney Blumenthal told the press his grand jury testimony about President Clinton’s private remarks concerning Monica Lewinsky “supports completely what the president has told the American people, and is contrary to any charge that the president has done anything wrong.” The United States finished the World Cup 0-3. The sun rose. (6/26/98)

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AT&T is buying TCI for $32 billion. It is the third biggest telecommunications merger in history. AT&T will also assume TCI’s $16 billion debt. This gives AT&T a network through which it can sell local phone and high-speed Internet service to millions of homes. The early line is that regulators will approve the merger because, unlike other recent telecom deals, it will finally deliver some of the competition that was promised after the industry was deregulated. (For a less sanguine view of the potential benefits of telecommunications competition, see Jodie T. Allen’s “Living in a Second-Best World.”) (6/24/98)

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A federal appeals court overturned a court injunction against Microsoft. The injunction would have prevented Microsoft from requiring computer makers to package Internet Explorer with Windows 95. The court ruled that under its previous consent decree with the Justice Department, Microsoft could add features to Windows that provide “advantages unavailable if the functionalities are bought separately and combined by the purchaser.” Analysts agreed this sharply reduces DOJ’s chances of winning its suit against Windows 98. The spins from Microsoft’s critics: 1) Now Microsoft will resume twisting the arms of computer makers. 2) Since the ruling only pertains to the consent decree, it doesn’t hamper the broader case that Microsoft has violated basic antitrust law. 3) Who cares? Windows 98 looks like a bust. (6/24/98)

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CBS is dumping Susan Molinari as co-anchor of CBS Saturday Morning after just 10 months. Friends say she found the job insufficiently substantive. CBS executives say they wanted her out because she was stiff and amateurish and wasn’t helping the ratings. (6/24/98)

Nanny nanny boo boo

British nanny Louise Woodward went on British television to blame the American criminal justice system for framing her in the death of a Boston baby, for which she was convicted of manslaughter last year. She told the BBC that 1) under the U.S. system, “the mentality is that somebody has to pay”; 2) by process of elimination, she became the scapegoat; and 3) “in Boston, the prosecutors use the media to pretty much convict you before you even set foot in the courtroom.” Last week, Woodward called the Boston district attorney’s office “purely political” and said the jury pool was “tainted.” The Washington Post says Woodward is getting a chilly reception in Britain: “The same newspapers that were vigorously defending ‘our girl’ last fall are now referring to her as ‘Baby Killer’ in front-page headlines.” (6/23/98)

Score!

Iran beat the United States 2-1 in World Cup soccer. This ends U.S. hopes of advancing in the tournament. Iranians rejoiced in the streets and thanked Allah. The U.S. players were humiliated and, in contrast to American post-major-victory tradition, did not attribute the outcome to Jesus Christ. The surly spin, from Iran’s chief theocrat, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Iran’s “arrogant opponents felt the bitter taste of defeat.” The sunny spin, from ordinary Iranians: 1) There are no hard feelings. 2) The United States is just a paper tiger/Satan after all. 3) Let’s be friends. The U.S. media noted the political rapprochement behind the game: Last week, the Clinton administration praised Iran’s moderate president and proposed to upgrade relations. The Washington Post called the soccer match “a love fest.” U.S. soccer pundits immediately launched into the all-American pastime of fixing blame and complaining about bad luck. The chief whipping boy, U.S. coach Steve Sampson, is accused of having panicked, fielded too many rookies, and benched or cut veteran players over petty personality conflicts. (6/22/98)

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Update on the Lewinsky scandal: 1) U.S. News & World Report described more contents of the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes. First highlight: Lewinsky sought President Clinton’s help in getting a new job before she was subpoenaed in the Paula Jones case. Pundits’ spin: This undermines Kenneth Starr’s theory that Lewinsky sought Clinton’s help in exchange for lying to protect him in the Jones case. Second highlight: On the tapes, Tripp apparently encourages Lewinsky to obsess about Clinton, to ask him for help getting a job, and to send him letters via a courier service owned by the family of Tripp’s literary agent. Pundits’ spin: This supports the moral argument that Clinton was set up, and it might support the legal argument that he was entrapped. 2) The Washington Post reported that Lewinsky’s new lawyers have reached the same impasse with Starr that stalled her first lawyer: Starr demands that she plead guilty to at least one crime, whereas she insists on total immunity. Pundits figure any impasse is good news for Clinton. 3) The buzz over Steven Brill’s critique of Starr and the press extended into its second week, highlighted by a Weekly Standard countercritique of Brill. Brill’s new spin is that the anti-Starr spin on his article didn’t come from him. (For evidence to the contrary, click here.) (6/22/98)

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Two major health insurers, Kaiser Permanente and Aetna, decided not to cover Viagra except for members who pay a surcharge. Kaiser’s spin: It’s too expensive, and other people shouldn’t have to pay for your intercourse. Aetna’s spin: “Having sexual relations is not a medical necessity.” The New York State Health Department’s explanation for not covering Viagra under Medicaid: Some people will turn around and sell it on the black market. The pro-coverage spin, from the pill’s manufacturer, Pfizer: Impotence is a “serious medical condition that can seriously diminish men’s self-esteem and affect their relationships.” Analysts speculate Kaiser’s decision will accelerate a race by insurers to avoid becoming havens for impotent men. (6/22/98)

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An alleged copycat case of three white men dragging a black man from a car has been recanted. A black man in Louisiana, whose report of the alleged crime was picked up in the national press and was being investigated as a hate crime (after the recent murder in Texas), has admitted he fabricated the story. Two women say what really happened is that they ripped off the man in a crack deal, he tried to get into their car, and he was dragged in the ensuing altercation. (6/22/98)

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William Saletan is Slate‘s national correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.