In the nation's biggest news weekly, the final headline of 1999 posed a question that preoccupies many journalists these days: "A Second American Century?"

Providing some answers on the last page of Time's Dec. 27 issue, pundit Charles Krauthammer was upbeat. "The world at the turn of the 21st century is not multipolar but unipolar," he wrote. "America bestrides the world like a colossus." We are supposed to see this as a very good situation.

"The main reason for the absence of a serious challenge to American hegemony is that it is so benign," Krauthammer went on. "It does not extract tribute. It does not seek military occupation. It is not interested in acquiring territory." With such declarations, Time magazine echoes its founder, Henry Luce, who coined the "American Century" maxim six decades ago.

Like his colleagues in the punditocracy, Krauthammer recognizes that foreign rivals are restless. ("The world is stirring.") Yet the outlook is favorable: "None have the power to challenge America now. The unipolar moment will surely last for at least a generation."

Many other media outlets are also buoyant. "There's every reason to think the upcoming 100 years will prove to be yet another American century," according to the Dec. 20 issue of Fortune magazine.

On 1999's last telecast of the CBS program "Sunday Morning," a confident pronouncement came from Harold Evans, editor of U.S. News & World Report as well as the New York Daily News: "I would be prepared to say it will be another American century."

When prospects for the next century seem murky, the media fixations usually revolve around whether the United States can overpower the world -- not whether it should.

Three days before 2000 began, a front-page Christian Science Monitor story appeared under the heading "Where America Stands Among World Empires." The newspaper emphasized that "questions persist: How long will U.S. dominance last and how does it compare with past civilizations?" Circumscribed questions yielded narrow answers: The lengthy article could spare only fleeting references to downsides of American power in recent decades, such as massive carnage in Vietnam and deadly U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan contras.

In sync with the prevalent media assumption that Uncle Sam's global reach is overwhelmingly benign, the Monitor reported: "Some observers remain optimistic that the 21st century could be 'American' as well, particularly if the development of markets is seen as more important than armaments in a nation's future arsenal."

There is some truth to the claim by Time's Krauthammer that the present-day U.S. government "does not seek military occupation" and "is not interested in acquiring territory." Rather than sending in the army and marines, policymakers prefer to assist with the deployment of Citibank, Microsoft and the like. While military prowess remains crucial, today's cutting edge for global domination is relentless economic leverage -- what the Christian Science Monitor discreetly calls "the development of markets."

To those holding sway in Washington, foreign policy should aim to secure all economic beachheads. In the process, as college history instructor Paul Street wrote in the November issue of Z Magazine, "the United States must therefore monitor and police the planet with more diligence than ever." Despite all the talk about a world transformed, he contends, "globalization still depends on American militarism." The prevailing idea is to use military power "to create a favorable global milieu for international investors."

Common journalistic euphemisms make a lot more sense when held up to the light of such analysis. While the interests of international investors are routinely equated with the interests of humanity, the economic power structure means fabulous wealth for a few and untold poverty for many. In medialand, key owners and advertisers continue to gain enormous profits.

For the record, the last Time magazine of the 20th century included 27 full-page advertisements for products from the computer industry -- along with 17 pages of ads from car makers, 16 from financial-services firms, 14 from pharmaceutical giants, four from oil companies and four from cigarette makers.

It's no surprise that media conglomerates like Time Warner are extolling the last "American Century" and encouraging us to hope for another one. But history is not destiny.

Norman Solomon's latest book The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media: Decoding Spin and Lies in Mainstream News has just won the 1999 George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English.