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News, Newser, Newsest

By Jeff Greenfield

Was it only last winter when journalists were moping about their respective newsrooms muttering, "Isn't anything going on?" These days the greenroom of CNN's Washington bureau looks and sounds a lot like a big-city emergency room on a wild Saturday night.

Get the lawyers out of here! I want the terrorism experts!

Are you nuts? With Bonnie bearing down on the coast? We need the meteorologists!

With the ruble collapsing? Yeltsin tottering? Clinton in Moscow? I've got six international economists and Kremlin watchers in makeup!

Hold it! Hold it! McGwire and Sosa both went yard! I need a pretentious sports essayist stat!

This onslaught of news is not mere coincidence. It is, in fact, a rarely understood law of nature--a kind of Harmonic Convergence. Every once in a great while, the emergence of an important news event generates so much energy that it actually produces more news, much as the appearance of a bus, after a lengthy wait, triggers the approach of four or five other buses immediately behind it.

I first spotted this kind of convergence in the fall of 1964. On Oct. 7, in the midst of a presidential campaign, a top White House aide was arrested in a YMCA men's room and charged with indecent exposure. Nine days later--one day after the St. Louis Cardinals won a seven-game World Series against the New York Yankees and the Soviets ousted Khrushchev and replaced him with Brezhnev--China exploded its first atomic device. That same day, Harold Wilson became Britain's first Labour Prime Minister in 13 years. That week TIME put four people on its cover.

Ask a member of my generation for the most dramatic example of Harmonic Convergence, and the answer is sure to be, 1968, of course. I've got a different candidate: the fall of 1973.

Watergate was still dominating the headlines when, on Oct. 6, Egypt and Syria launched an attack on Israel during the Yom Kippur holidays. Four days later, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. Over the next 10 days, Middle East and Persian Gulf nations organized a total oil embargo against the U.S. because of its support for Israel. And on Oct. 20, one day before the embargo took full effect, came the Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon ordered special prosecutor Archibald Cox fired, Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned in protest, and an honest-to-God constitutional crisis was born.

What makes that 1973 convergence so remarkable is that it was not just a Harmonic Convergence but an Inter-Related Convergence as well. The firing of Cox made impeachment a real possibility, but so did the removal of Agnew, often seen as Nixon's best impeachment insurance. And so did the oil embargo: by delivering a hammerblow to the American economy in the form of higher energy prices, the embargo further undermined Nixon's popularity.

So what about the summer of '98? Well, if the Clinton-Yeltsin summit and the fear of economic collapse lead both McGwire and Sosa to keep hitting home runs in search of enhanced income possibilities, we may really have a brand-new Inter-Related Harmonic Convergence to remember.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: September 14, 1998

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The Politics Of Yuck
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News, Newser, Newsest
The Tonic Of Peace
Lost Leaders
Bummed Like Me
A Senator and Old Friend Delivers a Stern Sermon
Holding Their Own
Can Tony Williams Save D.C.?


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