Features

The Year in Review-March

The Nation | Top news stories for March, 2002

Issue: "Year in Review 2002," Dec. 28, 2002

Free speech, and how to pay for it

When the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Right to Life are on the same side of an issue, it must be serious. The issue was a new law regulating political campaign advertising-otherwise known as campaign-finance reform-and a liberal/conservative courtroom alliance filed suit seemingly before the presidential ink was dry on March 27.

Campaign-finance reform was seven years in the making, but a reluctant President Bush signed the measure in private, before heading out on a political fundraising trip. A new law of this magnitude usually merits a big bill-signing ceremony, complete with souvenir pens, journalists, cameras, and happy lawmakers. Reporters covering the president pelted him with questions about whether he was hesitant to sign the bill. "It will probably take about three seconds to get to the W," Mr. Bush joshed. "I may hesitate on the period, and then rip through the Bush."

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Critics ripped the president for signing a law that even he had said was probably unconstitutional. Backers of the law added a provision for an expedited legal review of the controversial measure. By December, a special panel of judges heard arguments over the merits of the new law; observers believe the matter is on a fast track to the Supreme Court.

Golden state opportunity?

Election season started out with a jolt for TeamBush in California: Richard Riordan, the liberal Republican mayor of Los Angeles and the White House's hand-picked candidate for governor, was trounced in the primary by Bill Simon, a conservative newcomer. Mr. Simon, a millionaire real-estate developer and the son of a former treasury secretary, seemingly emerged from nowhere to defeat the well-known mayor. Most analysts said the GOP was doomed in November against Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat who would actually have run to the right of Mr. Riordan.

After a nasty and outrageously expensive campaign, the analysts were proven right. But their underlying analysis--that the right wing of the GOP would be the party's undoing--would look laughably off-base come November.

Not-so-Rosie attitude

It was one of Hollywood's worst-kept secrets, yet the official announcement in early March still got huge press: Rosie O'Donnell was g-a-y. The talk show hostess said she was coming out to support same-sex couples in Florida, where gay adoption had been recently banned.

But Ms. O'Donnell, once dubbed the Queen of Nice, soon started acting as bizarre as Michael Jackson, once hailed as the King of Pop. Complaining that she was sick of her sweet image, she cropped her hair and copped an attitude that sent both advertisers and readers scurrying from her namesake magazine. When she announced that she intended to take over editorial control of Rosie, her business partners at publishing giant Gruner + Jahr balked. They sued for $100 million. She counter-sued for $125 million. The magazine folded, and 120 staffers were left without jobs.

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