with reports from Bob Jones IV, Edward E. Plowman, Mindy Belz, and Chris Stamper - Sometimes, it seemed, the most significant news story of 1998 was not the president and Monica Lewinsky, nor the home runs and strikes, nor even those wacky Iraqis. It was head transplants. In April, Robert White of Case Western Reserve University announced it would soon be possible to graft a human head onto another body. The operation, something like an organ transplant for overachievers, had already been performed on monkeys. Within the year, Dr. White predicted, it would be possible to use the body of a brain-dead donor to prolong the life of another person's head. It is rumored a minor controversy erupted over whether such a procedure was in fact a body transplant or a head transplant. While it might be more accurate to call it a body transplant since the head stays put on the operating table, some cost-conscious executives must have noticed that the head, as such, did not have pants, and therefore had no pockets and no room for a wallet, and this deeply concerned them. Still, the announcement signaled a great step forward-in absurdity. And absurdity seems to be the dominant theme in the year's news stories: The President of the United States lies for months about an adulterous affair, so the man investigating him, Kenneth Starr, is "put on the hot seat" by journalists. The president finally admits to the affair and the coverup, so the opposition party takes a hit at the polls and House Speaker Newt Gingrich loses his job. And a new record was set last summer when tickets to the Spice Girls concert at Madison Square Garden sold out in 12 minutes-thus demonstrating the buying power of their core audience group, young girls ages 8-14. So if it seems that in 1998 the major dailies and stern newsweeklies were all taken over by renegade, caffeine-jagged staffers from the press report known as "News of the Weird," there's a reason. They were.
Pulling a rabbit out of a hat?
The president tried to play the part of a grim and determined world leader as he faced the television cameras on Wednesday, Dec. 16. But to many observers, the performance was more grim theater of the absurd than high drama. Mr. Clinton was speaking from the Oval Office, after all-announcing air strikes against Iraq from close to where he had carpet-bombed his marriage. And he spoke at a time when he had apparently lost his campaign to avoid impeachment. With a scheduled impeachment vote less than 24 hours away, moderate Republicans were announcing en masse that they would vote to impeach. Jim Leach of Iowa. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut. Sherwood Boehlert of New York. Robert Ney of Ohio-and many others. White House aides were gauging public reaction to possible last-ditch legal maneuvers, while Senate staffers were readying for the trial of the century. Then came the announcement from the White House. Which announcement? Not the one that Mr. Clinton would step down. Nor the admission that he had perjured himself. Nor even the claim that he was really, really, really sorry this time. Instead, Mr. Clinton surprised almost everyone by announcing an air war against Iraqi military targets-the same response he had put off month after month after month, while Saddam Hussein apparently prepared weapons of mass destruction. On Wednesday, Navy ships in the Persian Gulf launched some 200 Tomahawk missiles, aimed at facilities suspected of producing or housing chemical and biological weapons. With the aid of the British military, the United States announced it planned to continue the attacks for an unspecified duration. Just before the scheduled impeachment vote, President Clinton was finally getting tough. Even the big newspapers whose editorial pages supported the action conceded the timing raised questions. The president claimed his motives were purely military, the timing purely coincidental. The strikes had to begin on Wednesday, he argued, because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would begin on Friday. But critics spoke of a desperate attempt to divert the nation's attention from the impeachment vote. Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) broke Washington custom by stating his opposition to the move even before the president spoke on television. "While I have been assured by administration officials that there is no connection with the impeachment process in the House of Representatives, I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time," Mr. Lott said. Some reaction on the House side was even more outraged. "Cynicism is at an all-time high," said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.): "This is the 'anything to keep my job' game." Ex-Marine Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.) warned, "Never underestimate a desperate president." The strongest reaction came from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Claiming that Mr. Clinton was using American forces to prop up his crumbling presidency, he asked, "How many American soldiers and innocent Iraqi children will die so that this president can hide from justice?" Justice for Mr. Clinton was indeed delayed, at least for a while. Republicans, who remember well the debilitating effects of the anti-war movement during Vietnam, were loath to repeat the same mistakes. Even the bitterest critics of the bombing were careful to note that they supported American soldiers, if not the commander-in-chief. GOP lawmakers met behind closed doors for more than two hours Wednesday night to decide how to proceed with the impeachment debate. Though head counters believed they had the 218 votes needed to win, some feared that forcing a vote in the midst of a military action would appear unpatriotic and provoke a backlash. Earlier in the day, during a congressional briefing by national-security officials, majority whip Tom DeLay had asked why the House should not simply proceed with the business at hand. His question was greeted with boos and hisses. In Baghdad, meanwhile, children headed to school and government workers went to offices as usual after the first night of attacks. Downtown streets were busy with traffic. Mr. Hussein's whereabouts were unknown, but he appeared on television to condemn the "wicked people" who launched hundreds of missiles. Amid images of crumpled brick buildings in Baghdad, an Iraqi doctor said 30 people were wounded and two killed during the initial attacks. Having given himself a several-day impeachment delay, was there anything else Mr. Clinton could do to put off what even after the first night of bombing still seemed inevitable? Presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart betrayed the gallows humor of White House aides the previous week when he mused about whether the embattled president could pull a rabbit out of a hat: "There's a question of whether the rabbit will come out dead or alive." But Mr. Clinton received several pieces of good news. Although moderate Republicans generally were going against him, the president gained a new backer in Rep. Jay Kim (R-Calif.), a lame-duck congressman under house arrest in Washington for accepting illegal campaign contributions. Mr. Clinton also had a defender against the charges of bombing to delay impeachment: Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a former federal judge. The "former" in his title is because Congress impeached, convicted, and removed him from the bench in 1989. Rep. Hastings said he told Mr. Clinton, "You have to do what you have to do." So for the president, the year 1998 came down to a defense by an impeached judge and a man who wears an electronic bracelet around his ankle to help authorities monitor his whereabouts. One last weird development in a year that seems so hard to believe.
It seems so long ago ...
But it was just Jan. 21 that rumors broke about a White House intern and the president; and the story after that only got stranger. In a nutshell, it went something like this: Didn't do it, neither did she, she's standing by her story for now; Matt Drudge is a sicko for making up a story about a stained blue dress; I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky; I never told anyone to lie, not a single time, never; Ken Starr, what have you done to us? The real story is the vast, right-wing conspiracy; it was a complicated relationship; more, rather than less, sooner, rather than later; vendetta, sex-obsessed special prosecutor; while my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information; not appropriate, in fact it was wrong, misled, deeply regret; but we do know this: There is no basis for impeachment; it depends on what the meaning of the word is is. The political fallout? A Feb. 17 poll showed President Clinton's approval ratings were at 68 percent, and they stayed high all year. But the December impeachment proceedings showed that cynicism had its limits.Travels with the president
Foreign policy is known as the last refuge of lame ducks, and for President Clinton it was no different. In a whirlwind of overseas diplomacy, the president visited 16 countries this year alone. Foreign affairs may have taken his mind off the affairs at home, but they did not improve his image as world statesman. Critics said the trips were more like campaign stops, and the issues they promoted-peace in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and Bosnia; economic accord with Africa, China, and Russia-seemed unmoored from sustained initiatives once Mr. Clinton returned home.Baghdad blues
Months before British and American bombs started falling, Iraq intensified its campaign to confuse the New World Order. In February, Iraq kicked out UN weapons inspectors. President Clinton went on American television to waggle his famous finger at Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He warned Mr. Hussein that U.S. warships were ready to strike Iraq and "seriously diminish" its ability to make and store anything that goes bang. In response, Iraqi television aired a pirated, dubbed version of the movie Wag the Dog (a purely fictional tale of a president, caught up in a sex scandal, who concocts a war to distract Americans). The bluff worked; Mr. Clinton backed down. Thus began what looked like a diplomatic line-dance on half-price beer night at Wild Willy's: one step forward, kick out the inspectors, twirl your partner, promise compliance, sidestep, boot scoot, and thumb your nose at the Great Satan. But, Mr. Hussein evidently forgot Rule No. 1 in bar room brawls: Don't mess with a guy who has girl problems.Mark & Sammy
The story of the year in sports was undoubtedly the home-run race between St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa. As both closed in on the record held by Roger Maris (61 home runs in a single season), it became increasingly clear Mr. Maris wasn't their biggest obstacle in getting into the record books-the other guy was. Then the rivalry turned friendly, with both Mr. Sosa and Mr. McGwire praising the other. In the end, Mr. McGwire won the race with 70 runs, to Mr. Sosa's 66. In retrospect, the race clearly brought out the best not only in both men, but also in the game-ticket sales, lagging along with interest in the game since the 1994 strike, were up again.New world economic order
This year the U.S. stock market bounced up and down on the heels of globalization. Computer forecasting took a reality check as America's hedge funds came crashing down and merger-mania carried on. The Federal Reserve cut interest rates three times to hold off recession. Chrysler and Germany's Daimler-Benz AG merged to become the world's fifth largest automaker; this means the company the Carter administration bailed out with American tax dollars is now run from Europe. In another transatlantic deal Deutsche Bank gobbled up Bankers Trust and became the world's largest financial institution. Another merger shot a hole in the Justice Department's plan to hang Microsoft on antitrust charges. America Online gobbled up Netscape, the company that made the World Wide Web mainstream. This threw cold water on charges that Microsoft was a dictator in control of the operating-systems market. Washington's other major business battle-with the tobacco industry-proved more successful. The government scored a $206 billion tobacco settlement between the industry and the states; cigarette prices immediately shot up. 1998 was also the year electronic commerce arrived. Shares of stocks related to the Internet soared as people tried to buy a ticket on the rocket to the future. Online stock trading erupted as Net users with Web browsers controlled increasing volumes. This was also the first year that online shopping was a significant competitor to brick-and-mortar retailing as people turned to everything from Amazon.com to Macys.com.
The Asian flu has many symptoms. Falling currencies in the Far East meant less spending money for everyone in the prosperous region and undercut the adage about hard work paying off. In Indonesia, hard-working ethnic Chinese business owners were the target of street demonstrations and mob violence. Americans remained insulated from the depression affecting foreign markets. U.S. stock prices rebounded from every flu-induced relapse. Asia's economic crisis even benefits U.S. consumers, who enjoy the lowest gas pump prices in years. Falling oil prices-from reduced demand in Asia-mean the Federal Reserve can keep interest rates low, the single greatest factor in keeping the consumer price index in the United States at an inflation-busting 1.5 percent. U.S.-Asia trade relations looked stuck on the horns of a quarter-sized dilemma: the Asian longhorned beetle. The six-legged pest is infesting Asian imports to the United States, where it has no known predator. Government regulators were ready to make war on the beast in December, when a ban on wooden pallets that host the beetle took effect. The ban could affect one-third of China's $62 billion in exports to the United States.Dramatic development
Southern Baptists voted on June 9 their approval of a statement saying that wives should "submit graciously" to the "servant leadership" of their husbands, even as their husbands submit to Christ. Little more than a paraphrase of Ephesians 5:22, the statement was decried in the media as a disturbing new trend among families in the nation's largest Protestant denomination, and a sign of what can happen when conservatives get their way.Y2K4U
In 1998 the millennium bug crawled out of computer programming lore and onto the front pages. Millions realized that software written with two-digit dates could start miscalculating in the year 2000. Speculation went wild about what will happen when an unknown number of computer systems go haywire. Cottage industries sprang up: consultants offering to fix the bug, alarmists spinning worst-case scenarios. Problems popped up everywhere from aging FAA air-traffic control systems to Windows 98. Meanwhile, President Clinton made a minor functionary, John Koskinen, his Y2K Czar, as fears persisted about the Feds' computer repairs. As the year progressed, the picture of Y2K events got scarcely clearer, with good and bad news coming at the same time. Corporate America announced it would spend billions getting ready for 2000; most say they will be prepared and survive. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank decided to print extra money in case of millennial bank runs.Things that go bang
Both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons this year; for Pakistan, it was a first, and its president declared a state of emergency immediately after his own country's tests. The most significant effect of the declaration was a limit on civil litigation-just when millions of Pakistanis were going to court to challenge the administration's new tax policies (including a crackdown on tax evasion).Pow-wow interrupted
Dozens of Native Americans disrupted a March meeting in Denver of President Clinton's advisory board on race. The American Indians criticized the lack of Native American representation on the board, as well as persistent stereotypes about their minority group. The activists protested by chanting and beating drums, forcing the meeting to break up.Gaily bashing Hollywood
When her low-ranked sitcom was canceled earlier this year, Ellen DeGeneres was given the opportunity to plan a new television series, star in an HBO comedy special, and appear in three upcoming movies; her lesbian partner, Anne Heche, was given the coveted shower-scene role in the new, heavily hyped remake of Psycho. Their reaction? They have declared Hollywood a heartless, bigoted, gay-bashing bastion of cultural conservatism, and they've made plans to move to San Francisco.Which way did he go?
Suspected bomber Eric Rudolph has eluded authorities and remains at large, most probably in the mountains of western North Carolina. He is wanted in connection to bombings at abortion clinics and at Atlanta's Olympic Park in 1996. Law enforcement officers' efforts to apprehend Mr. Rudolph were hampered by the rugged terrain.
1998 was also a somber year:
- Four students and a teacher in Jonesboro, Ark., were killed on March 24 when two boys, ages 11 and 13, shot at them from a nearby thicket of woods after pulling a fire alarm. The older boy, Mitchell Johnson, and the younger, Andrew Golden, apparently stole the guns from Andrew's grandfather. The slain included Natalie Brooks, 11; Paige Ann Herring, 12; Stephanie Johnson, 12; Britthney Varner, 11; and teacher Shannon Wright, 32. Ten others were wounded. The boys are charged with five counts of murder and 10 counts of battery each. Their trial is slated for April, 1999.
And in Springfield, Ore., 16-year-old Kipland "Kip" Kinkel allegedly killed his parents, Bill and Faith Kinkel, as well as two students at Thurston High School, Mikael Nickolauson and Ben Walker. On the morning of May 21, he took a semiautomatic rifle into the cafeteria and began shooting. It was later revealed that the day before the shooting, Kip Kinkel had taken a .32 caliber handgun to school; school officials called police, who questioned Kinkel, then sent him home with his father.
Since last spring, there has been a noticeable absence of school shootings; much of that is due to school officials, parents, and even other students taking threats much more seriously. For example, sheriff's deputies held an 11-year-old boy in Covington, La., after he wrote a graphically violent and threatening note in his day planner and later showed it to other students. And near Milwaukee, Wis., three boys were arrested for plotting a mass killing at Burlington High School last month. And a few miles away, in Pewaukee, Wis., a youth was arrested after threatening to kill another student whom he blamed for breaking his calculator.
- Melissa Drexler-the infamous "Prom Mom" who excused herself from the dance, entered the ladies' room, gave birth to a son, tossed him into the garbage to die, and returned to boogie-pled guilty. Asked outside the courtroom whether he had forgiven his daughter, father John Drexler said, "There's nothing to forgive." Meanwhile, ex-high school sweethearts Amy Grossman and Brian Peterson, who killed their baby in a motel room, also copped pleas. Both had initially sought to beat the rap. It all came apart when Mr. Peterson agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a plea to lesser charges.
- An override of President Clinton's veto of a ban on partial-birth abortion failed by a mere three votes in the Senate in September. The House had passed an override measure in July. So far, 28 states have passed bans on partial-birth abortions, though in 19 of those, courts have blocked the ban. The issue is headed to the Supreme Court.
- Cambodian dictator Pol Pot died in April, escaping a trial on charges of genocide. His death underscored the legacy of Marxism; in the name of a classless agrarian society, Pol Pot formally abolished religion, commerce, and education, and forced Cambodians to labor in rural communes now known as "killing fields." In the process, as many as 2 million people, including ethnic minorities and intellectuals, were executed by his Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 through 1979.
- Folksy names notwithstanding, weather phenomena produced nasty extremes and what some meteorologists say was one of the warmest years on record. El Niño droughts in Central America gave way to a deluge when Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras and Nicaragua Oct. 31, killing 10,000 Central Americans and leaving more than half a million people without homes. A deadly tsunami rolled over Papua New Guinea, killing more than 3,000 people.
Tiananmen time for the church: In August, a peasant farmer from Henan took on Beijing, telling China's leaders it was time "to admit to God's great power" and release Christians imprisoned for their faith. Officials responded to the communiqué with unsurprising lack of imagination: They arrested 140 members of underground churches across the province. One of the church leaders was beaten with a water-soaked rope and a police baton, and was released with serious head injuries.
Through it all, Chinese leaders kept up appearances. President Jiang Zemin met with three American clergymen in February, summitted with President Clinton in June, and in October signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Better than balanced: President Clinton announced on Sept. 30 that for the first time in three decades, the United States had a federal budget surplus (calculated at about $70 billion). Both Democrats and Republicans claimed credit.
Of course, the "surplus" was calculated by including otherwise off-budget Social Security tax receipts. The president scored political points by declaring that 100 percent of the surplus must go to "Preserve Social Security First." In the midst of that campaign, Mr. Clinton proposed and signed into law a $500 billion budget bill that no single member of Congress or White House official had read; it authorized $40 billion more in spending than a previous agreement allowed. A tamer tax-man: IRS reform passed easily in June, shifting the burden of proof in many tax cases from the taxpayer to the IRS. The reform was intended to end what Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley called a "culture of intimidation within the IRS."
- A tough year for cowboys; America lost Gene Autry (b. 1907), Roy Rogers (b. 1911), and even Buffalo Bob Smith (b. 1917).
- From the political world, Rep. Sonny Bono (b. 1935), Bella Abzug (b. 1920), Barry Goldwater (b. 1909), George Wallace (b. 1919), and Lawton Chiles (b. 1930).
- Entertainers Frank Sinatra (b. 1915), Phil Hartman (b. 1948), Shari Lewis (b. 1934), Tammy Wynette (b. 1942), Linda McCartney (b. 1941), Lloyd Bridges (b. 1913), and Roddy McDowall (b. 1928).
- Also Olympic athlete Florence Griffith-Joyner (b. 1959), 1960s agitators Eldridge Cleaver (b. 1935) and Kwame Ture (b. 1941 as Stokely Carmichael), pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock (b. 1903), and astronaut Alan Shepard (b. 1923).
- Seinfeld's last episode aired May 14. Regular viewers could summarize its history this way: The show was in its ninth yada yada Soup Nazi yada Kramer yada yada what's next yada yada yada.
- John Glenn ended his Senate career, but the first American to orbit the earth (in 1962 in the Friendship 7) returned to space aboard the shuttle on Oct. 29 at the age of 77. "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible," Mr. Glenn said in an interview during the mission. "It just strengthens my faith."