Almost as common as the word "millennium" in these dying days of the 20th century is the phrase "fin de sihcle." Literally this means "end of the century," but it also denotes a general sense of rot, cynicism and amorality.
Remind you of anything? To go along with the Christmas good cheer, auld lang syne and resolutions to be better in 1998, Salon's Newsreal herewith presents its first annual Fin de Sihcle Awards to all those who have helped make the world a worse place in the past year. However, this jeremiad is not ranted without hope. We believe that it is true that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't -- well, you know the rest. So we make these awards hoping and trusting that the recipients will, one day, get their comeuppance.
Sleazy Politician of the Year Award
The award in this always-crowded category goes to California Gov. Pete Wilson, truly the emptiest, most despicable suit on the American political scene -- and that's saying something. Wilson will be remembered for his sordid playing of the anti-immigrant card a few years back with Proposition 187 (parts of which have since been judged unconstitutional), then the race card with Proposition 209 (whatever the merits of the anti-affirmative action initiative, Wilson -- a former supporter of affirmative action -- pushed it for one reason and one reason only: to bolster his presidential aspirations with the Republican right). This year, Wilson sought to execute a death row inmate who even veteran prosecutors said had received a bum rap, and then, in an effort to defeat a measure granting benefits to gay couples connected to the University of California, at the last minute stacked the Board of Regents with conservatives to do his bidding. Here's the good news: He failed on both counts. A federal appeals court stayed Thomas Thompson's execution and the Board of Regents, by one vote, allowed the benefits measure through. Here's the bad news: There can be little doubt that Wilson is gearing up for another presidential run.
Dishonorable mention: House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. It's always been a mystery how this shit-eating weathervane with no apparent independence of thought ever got elected dog catcher. Already running for president, as he has been for decades (even though he has about as much chance of sitting in the White House as Bob Dole), Gephardt will spare no effort this year to undercut the president or, more to the point, the vice president. Result: America's trade negotiating position has been severely undercut, any chance of Congress doing its part to battle global warming is probably shot and the Democrats, once again, look entirely incapable of governing.
Scumbag Lawyer of the Year Award
Not content with his bit-part role in bringing junk science to the aid of psycho killer O.J. Simpson in 1995, attorney Barry Scheck, this time as a star, made up a fantastic tale that 8-month-old Matthew Eappen had somehow incurred a fractured skull without anyone noticing before the toddler died at the angry hands of British nanny Louise Woodward. Not only that, he insisted that "shaken baby syndrome," which pediatric surgeons and neurosurgeons have long recognized as clinically detectable, simply does not exist. So arrogant was Scheck that he ruled out options for the jury to find Woodward guilty of a lesser charge than second degree murder. The good news: The jury didn't buy it. (But see next item.) The bad news: Scheck, along with Simpson crony Johnnie Cochran, will be preening for the cameras again next year when the case of beaten Haitian immigrant Abner Louima comes to trial in New York.
Lance Ito Judge of the Year Award
Dazzled by the klieg lights and imagining himself as an international ambassador in King Solomon's court, Judge Hiller Zobell let Woodward walk, denying any kind of justice whatsoever to the parents of Matthew Eappen, or even to the baby's own memory.
Moronic Rabble of the Year Award
Determined not to be outdone by the Howard University students who cheered, on camera, when O.J. was found not guilty, British supporters of Louise Woodward gathered in her Cheshire village, swigged champagne, laughed, sang and carried on as if it was New Year's Eve when Zoller announced he was letting Woodward go. So what if their heroine had killed a little baby?
Joe Klein Journalist of the Year Award
Seymour Hersh is laughing all the way to the bank even though his howling, self-servingly paranoid take on Jack Kennedy has been thoroughly eviscerated by serious scholars of Kennedy's presidency. And even though this self-styled investigative reporter fell, willingly, nay imploringly, for a garden-variety con surrounding the forged Marilyn Monroe papers, he still made hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling the cockamamie story to the networks. As Garry Wills remarked in the New York Review of Books, "Anyone puzzled by the way Hersh fell for the story of Laurence Cusack, a man passing him forged documents about Marilyn Monroe, has only to read this book to wonder what he would not fall for if it fit his purpose." But why should Hersh worry? He got his fat advance from Little, Brown, and ABC and NBC stuffed his pockets with more cash. The worst that could happen is that Tina Brown will give him a job at the New Yorker, right alongside Joe Klein.
Liar of the Year Award
Robert Reich. As our colleagues at Slate revealed, the former secretary of Labor simply made stuff up in his so-called memoir, "Locked in the Cabinet." Meetings he describes never occurred; exchanges he recounts never happened. Ah, yes, integrity in government. No matter, Reich can still be found prattling happily in the pages of the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and other organs of informed, elite opinion.
Barbara Walters Fawning Celebrity Interviewer of the Year Award
Barbara Walters. Even the normally docile Hugh Downs had to excuse himself from "20/20" the night Walters slobbered over the sexually and follically challenged Marv Albert. But Walters' truly memorable moment this year came when she informed the grieving billions of viewers the night Princess Diana died of what made her saddest of all: that she never got to do that exclusive one-on-one interview Di had promised.
Bogus Victim of the Year Award
She slept with the husband of an ordinary airman. She knew he was married. She was told to cut it off. She knew it contravened military rules. Eventually, after entreaties ranging from gentle admonishment to outright orders didn't work, Lt. Kelly Flinn got drummed out of the Air Force. But it was all the fault of her "abusive" lover and a sexist military establishment that didn't "help" her. Flinn got to write a book and do the talk shows. Meanwhile, black male trainers at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds face years in the brig for having consensual sex with junior personnel.
Dishonorable mention: Paula Jones. The only possible thing Bill Clinton could possibly be guilty of in his alleged association with this current mascot of the extreme right is very bad taste.
Race Card Player of the Year Award
Dancer-turned-producer Debbie Allen almost wins the prize for her outrageous assertion, in a school's learning kit accompanying the movie "Amistad," that American -- presumably white -- historians have, until "Amistad" came along, "castrated" the "real history" of American slavery. But Allen couldn't beat out San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who not only said that black NBA star Latrell Sprewell may have had good cause to strangle his white coach, P.J. Carlesimo, but that it was a civil rights issue that merited the attention of the NAACP, Jesse Jackson, et al. As the rest of the world laughed and moved on, America's reputedly most tolerant city realized it had a bigot and an asshole for a mayor.
Threat to World Peace Award
A close call. There's Benjamin Netanyahu, who blames the Palestinians even as he tears the Middle East peace process to shreds, and Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamed Mahathir, who blames the Jews for the economic collapse in Asia. However, the winner is: Laurent Kabila, the great black hope of Africa when he took over from Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, but who turns out to be just another in that continent's procession of murdering, corrupt, anti-democratic despots.
Neville Chamberlain Peace in Our Time Appeasement Award
No, not France, although the French sure did their bit again this year, what with cosying up to Iran, then Iraq, and also refusing to extradite American murderer Ira Einhorn. The award this year goes to the new, free-market Russia, which is behaving not unlike the old Soviet Russia, by encouraging mad dictator Saddam Hussein to continue building weapons of mass destruction. Russia's diplomatic deal heading off a confrontation with the U.S. over weapons inspection was a dangerous farce. As a result, Saddam has been emboldened to continue refusing access to U.N. inspectors to the most likely holding areas of biological and chemical weapons, while Russia, led by former Soviet apparatchik turned Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, refuses to go along with any military reprisals, no matter what. We know that some of the means for waging biological warfare are being smuggled into Iraq via the Russian black market. The question is: Is this happening with the Kremlin's knowledge and assent?