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Ten top stories of the year and their lessons


THE TIME has come to pick the top 10 news stories of 1998: The stories that have demanded the lion's share of our attention, affected us most deeply and taught us the most powerful lessons.

Here are my 10 picks:

1. The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. This story not only consumed an excessive amount of our time, but also is the tragicomedy of the decade. The best thing to come out of this is the re-emergence of Hillary Clinton. The lesson: Brilliance, luck and drive can exist hand-in-glove with stupidity, weakness and ego.

2. The GOP setback in the November elections. Everyone told the Republicans that people were sick of their relentless hounding of the president. But, as the endless impeachment hearings show, they can't stop. They are like drunken sailors bent on walking the plank. The lesson here is that intelligence, luck and drive can co-exist hand-in-glove with stupidity, weakness and ego.

3. Testimony before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Personal stories told true history of apartheid. From government-ordered murder to government-financed research into biological and chemical weapons, players in the apartheid drama recited the brutal facts about how the regime was both maintained and fought against. They proved that, alongside the Holocaust, apartheid was one of the greatest mass crimes of this century.

4. Irish peace agreement. The reconciliation of Northern Ireland's Protestant and Catholic leaders proves that even centuries-old political strife can end at some point.

5. Two hate crimes. The beating death of Matthew Shepard, a gay student, in Wyoming, and the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. by drunken white men in Jasper, Texas, showed that in an educated, prosperous and legally progressive country, bigotry and appalling violence can flare up at any time.

6. Child murderers. Armed schoolchildren commit multiple shootings in Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky. The shootings showed that poor, young, urban blacks are not the only disturbed and angry kids in the nation. The real culprits, however, were parents with guns.

7. Death of a feminist. Of this year's passings, I was most moved by Bella Abzug's. A true original and a dedicated feminist, she spoke plainly about issues that mattered and wasn't afraid of being herself.

8. Viagra. News stories about the world's first effective impotence pill were handled all wrong. This was not about geezers trying to reclaim their lost youth. It was a medical story about a problem that affects millions of people.

9. Jefferson-Hemings relationship. DNA tests revealed that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one child by his slave Sally Hemings. The scientific tests proved what black Americans have always known, that even highly placed foxes routinely raid their own chicken coops. The question raised by this story is not how many white genes worked their way into the black population, but how many black genes made the reverse trip.

10. Journalistic fraud. A novice reporter at the New Republic, two columnists at the Boston Globe and two producers, a reporter and executives at CNN were caught passing off highly entertaining, but made up stuff as facts. This is a lesson to all of us in the business to clean up our acts.

Sheryl McCarthy is a columnist for Newsday.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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