This Week

Issue: "The Man Behind the Duck," July 26, 1997

Made for television

Telegenic Sen. Fred Thompson, an actor who returned to his native Tennessee from Hollywood and was elected as a Republican in 1994, is getting very little TV exposure. CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and C-SPAN did not carry live Sen. Thompson's hearings into illegal campaign fundraising. Only the Fox News Channel (whose news president is former GOP strategist and ex-Rush Limbaugh TV producer Roger Ailes) broadcast the proceedings live. The lead Democrat in the probe, John Glenn, has been no less partisan. Sen. Glenn declared on day one of the hearings July 8, "The measure of success for this investigation will be whether it produces congressional action for campaign-finance reform." Week one produced snappy opening statements-Sen. Thompson asserted the Chinese government sought to "pour illegal money" into American campaigns to "subvert our electoral process"-but no startling revelations. Week two was different: After a three-hour, secret FBI briefing, both Sen. Glenn and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) admitted the evidence "strongly suggests" a Chinese plot. The committee also turned up a memo in which former Democrat fundraiser John Huang sought reimbursement from the Indonesia-based Lippo Group for a $50,000 contribution to the Democrats, making the gift illegal. On July 17, eyewitness testimony detailed Mr. Huang's frequent walks across the street between his Commerce Department office and the offices of a private investment firm. During his 18-month tenure at Commerce, Mr. Huang frequently used the private offices to keep in touch with his former employer, Lippo; he made phone calls, received faxes, and picked up parcels.

Death in the fast lane

Renowned fashion designer Gianni Versace, whom The New York Times described as bringing "rock, art, sexuality, and brilliant color into contemporary fashion," was shot in the head and killed July 15 outside his oceanfront home in Miami Beach. The main suspect is Andrew Phillip Cunanan, described by police as "a male prostitute who services an affluent clientele." Mr. Cunanan is suspected in four other murders.

Earth invades Mars

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On Mars, NASA's unmanned Pathfinder spacecraft and its 23-pound roving explorer, Sojourner, began sending back pictures of the planet's red dusty soil and rugged terrain. Pathfinder's 390-million-mile journey, which ended July 4, began in December 1996. Meanwhile, the space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven returned to earth July 17 after a nearly flawless 16-day science mission. Flawless is not the word to describe the Russian space station Mir, staffed by two cosmonauts and one American astronaut. Crippled last month by a collision with a cargo drone, Mir encountered more problems July 17 when one of the crew mistakenly disconnected a critical cable, disabling the space station's guidance system and interrupting its ability to gather solar energy.

Zeroing out the NEA

The House voted to eliminate funding for the National Endowment of the Arts-an agency Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) calls the "single most visible and deplorable black eye on the arts in America." But the fist-fighting in Washington over taxpayer subsidies for the arts is just beginning. By one vote, the House voted to zero out the NEA from an Interior Department appropriations bill. It contained the previously agreed-to $80 million for arts funding, but none for the NEA, forcing consideration of an earlier GOP proposal, authored by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), that would replace arts funding through the NEA with block grants to the states. But an unlikely coalition of conservatives who oppose all governmental arts funding and liberals who hope to save the NEA axed the block grants compromise. The NEA still enjoys strong support in the Senate, which will be considering a bill to reauthorize the agency (which has long operated without a multi-year authorization, requiring year-to-year funding votes) and to increase its budget to $175 million. "The far right has won the ideological battle but will lose the war," predicted Rep. Ken Bentson (D-Texas). Probably. The next front will be a House/Senate conference committee that will seek to work out a compromise. Meanwhile, President Clinton promised to veto the entire $13 billion Interior Department appropriation bill if it does not contain funding for the NEA at least at its present level of $99.5 million. The agency, notorious for some of its obscene and blasphemous grants, was a major issue for freshman lawmakers of the much-heralded conservative revolution of 1994. Finally, Congress is acting on the issue, though by now the newly powerful liberals of both parties may well thwart their efforts. The art world, in the meantime, is in a state of panic, even though every other enterprise , once freed from governmental subsidies, has flourished. Bureaucratic interference and political infighting have always given art a black eye.


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