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President Clinton last week was in the middle of a clash between the U.S. and China again-and this time the instigator was ESPN. The conflict, on American soil, also involved an unholy alliance including James Carville (below), G. Gordon Liddy and Mark Spitz. The U.S. and Chinese were to meet over the weekend in the Women's World Cup championship. ESPN had anticipated the U.S. soccer team reaching the finals, and for four months had been running a "grassroots" ad campaign prodding the prez to attend the finals. Marina del Rey, Calif., ad shop Ground Zero created more than a dozen spots, enlisting a cast that included the above-mentioned personalities. Ground Zero said late last week the president had told ESPN he would attend. The White House, however, was mum on its plans at press time.

Burson gears up to fight Bug fever

It probably came as no surprise to Burson-Marsteller when Polaroid got bankers' shorts in a knot over its commercial showing a Y2K Bug-bitten ATM adding millions to a guy's bank account as the New Year arrived (Landmarks, July 5). The NY-based PR operation of Young & Rubicam is setting up a global network of 24 command centers that will be staffed throughout the Millennium Weekend by crisis managers dedicated to handling Y2K-related PR problems. "We believe that Y2K has the potential to be a major disruption for companies with public profiles even if not a single computer malfunctions on New Year's Day 2000," says Christopher P.A. Komisarjevsky, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide. "That's because the Millennium Bug is no longer just a problem of technology but one of perception. The stage is already set for irrational consumer behavior."

Touting Marlboro men (& women)

The newest stars of Philip Morris Cos. advertising may be its employees. Although PM isn't talking about its upcoming $50 million TV effort, externally dubbed its "do-gooder" campaign, SVP-Corp. Affairs Steven Parrish offered a few clues at a recent analysts gathering. "We know that our employees are one of our finest assets . . . Time and time again, when others meet our employees in the flesh, they find out we are good and decent people who share similar values and concerns about family, work and society," he said. A conference hand-out-themed "Working to make a difference. The people of Philip Morris"-offered profiles of employees, including charitable work and outside interests.

Nap-town agency to hail Dalai Lama

Indianapolis' Montgomery Zukerman Davis says it will be helping roll out the red carpet for the Dalai Lama when he hits the Hoosier State Aug. 16. MZD is agency of record for the welcoming ceremony in Indianapolis and the 11-day Kalachakra World Peace 1999 gathering in Bloomington. The agency will work in conjunction with Jigme Norbu, exec dir. of the Tibetan Cultural Center (www.tibetancc.com), who's also the nephew of the Dalai Lama. "We will coordinate all public relations, media and creative for what promises to be an enlightening and life-altering experience attendees will never forget," says Peter Pitts, MZD's SVP-dir. of strategic planning.

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