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A KILLER'S ON THE LOOSE -- CALL IN THE SPIN DOCTORS

I can't wait until they catch Andrew Cunanan. Assuming that he did everything the authorities say he did -- and that he'll be captured alive (probably the largest assumption of all) -- I can't wait to hear what his lawyer's excuse for all this will be.

"Well, yes, my client was a male prostitute who constantly stalked famous people and invoked their names to make himself appear consequential. And yes, he had a tendency to erupt in constant temperamental explosions, and yes, they ultimately took the form of a disposition to murder people and take their baubles and vehicles. But that doesn't make him a bad person, does it? Let's just say that when the poor fellow found out he had AIDS, he reacted badly."

That last, of course, is total speculation at this point, because nothing is really known about Cunanan's motive for the string of murders he's accused of. If you started following the case after Gianni Versace's murder, in fact, all that's really known of Cunanan at all are the bare bones of his sociopathy and two eerie abilities: to gain indulgences from those who ought to have known better, and to disappear in plain sight in the undergrounds of major American cities.

The last is the most ominous of all, but maybe not so odd in a culture where the blind hunger for fame is itself a kind of pathology and the gateway to countless others. It isn't hard to imagine that such a figure might continue to gain shelter from people who should know better for their own twisted reasons.

What I'm dying to hear, though, is a team of lawyers and media apologists pass off the whole thing as a temperamental snit.

I love spin. If hype remains the greatest American art form of the 20th century, spin is rapidly coming up on the outside rail.

Spin is the art form necessitated by successful hype. When hype creates far more publicity and fame and power than things may actually warrant, society's natural, and probably healthy, reaction is to render people human again by making them supremely fallible. (For which phenomenon, see Bill Clinton and Paula Corbin Jones.)

Spin is the art form that passes off varying degrees of fallibility (up to, and definitely including, monstrosity) as perfectly ordinary and understandable. In a society now full of disinformation specialists known as spin doctors, lawyers are still clearly the aristocracy, the brain surgeons of spin.

Who could possibly beat Leslie Abramson defending Eric Menendez? The poor boys, she said, were justified in blowing their wealthy parents to kingdom come for the money because, don't you see, they'd been molested and were therefore in fear of their lives.

This even went beyond the classic definition of the Yiddish word chutzpah: someone who kills his father and mother and pleads to the judge for mercy because he's an orphan. Not content to murder their parents, the boys, through Abramson, tried to kill their reputations, too.

That's what you have to love about spin doctoring at its most shameless. It presents us with chutzpah beyond our previous imaginings. (Abramson and Johnnie Cochran should go in business together as Chutzpah Inc.)

My favorite recent case that spun out of control was Mike Tyson. There he was chomping on both of Evander Holyfield's ears in full view of God and everyone and revealing to the world that he's the animal some people have called him for years.

His first explanation right after the fight was that Holyfield was head-butting him and therefore imperiling his ability to make a living pummeling people. He had kids to raise, he said. Now, you and I might point out that a fellow fighting for $30 million purses isn't a guy who should ever have to worry about where his kids' next bowls of Froot Loops are coming from. But then, we haven't entered into the giddy spirit of spin when it goes out of control. Tyson's whole life has been a variant of the "Gee, Officer Krupke, I'm Depraved on Account of I'm Deprived" defense.

Next up was Tyson's apology when his previous spin hadn't stopped his $30 million purse from being temporarily frozen. He just snapped, he said, ignoring the fact that his entire life is littered with such "snaps." He'll seek counseling. (Apparently he now realizes that tattooing his biceps in prison doesn't qualify as "counseling.")

This made me think of Tyson's lawyers in his rape trial. The best spin they could concoct was to say, in essence, "everybody knows our client's an animal, so any woman who goes to his hotel room late at night gets whatever she has coming."

Officer Krupke, for one, would know better. But then, besides Don King, who wouldn't?

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