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Dawn Of A New Millennium?

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller is fighting a rising tide. Knoller reports that the new century and the new millennium really don't begin for another year. Backing him up are two time titans: the U.S. Naval Observatory and the Royal Observatory.

It comes at us from newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Here comes the turn of the century! Here comes the new millennium.

But they're wrong. Dead wrong.

Saturday certainly marks the start of the year 2000. But contrary to the widely held belief, it is not the start of the new century or millennium.

Don't take my word for it. Check out the Web site of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

"The 21st century will begin with 1 January 2001 and continue through 31 December 2100," says the Naval Observatory. Further, it states, "the 3rd millennium will begin with AD 2001 and continue through AD 3000."

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, is in total agreement. The British scientists make the same assertion on their Web site.

The scientists explain it this way: The first year of the Gregorian calendar was 1 A.D. And since a century has a hundred years, that means the final year of the 1st century was the year 100. And the final year of the first Millennium was 1000. Therefore, (are you still with me?), 2000 is the last year of the 20th century and 2nd Millennium. So the 21st century and 3rd Millennium both begin on January 1, 2001.

So how come we're subjected to an onslaught of misinformation from political leaders, hypesters and the media?

In a video message to the nation last week, President Clinton invited all Americans to join him on the Washington Mall on Dec. 31 "to ring in a New Year, new century, new millennium."


Time magazine is out with its Person of the Century - oblivious to the fact that the century still has a year to go.

Not this time.

And for weeks now the various TV networks have been imploring us to watch their coverage of the new millennium.

CNN calls its 100 hours of programming "Millennium 2000." ABC's commercial refers to Dec. 31 as the "last day of the century."

And even at the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, I must point out that on Monday's CBS Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer said there were "four days till the 2nd Millennium comes to an end." And on the Tuesday night CBS News broadcast 60 MinutesII, Correspondent Charlie Rose signed off by telling viewers he would "see you next century."

Sorry, Charlie - as the tuna people say. Unless you're off the air for a year, we'll see you next week - still in the 20th century.

So with all this erroneous information going around, it's no wonder Americans are confused.

A CBS News poll this wee asked more than a thousand people when the new century starts. Forty-seven percent said Jan. 1, 2000. And another 47 percent said Jan.1, 2001. You get the feeling we're not all reading from the same calendar.

So you can understand the frustration they feel at the U.S. Naval Observatory - whose job it is to keep track of time. With public notices and Web site advisories, it's been making the case till its blue in the face: the 21st century begins January 1 2001 - as does the 3rd millennium.

And yet a lot of us still don't get it.

"It is frustrating for us," says Dr. Steven Dick, historian at the Naval Observatory.

In a CBS News interview this week, he said: "I would not say that the general public is ignorant or stupid, I would say that they do like to party and do not care so much about the logic of the Gregorian Calendar. Even though that logic states, unambiguously, that it will not be the millennium until 2001."

It seems the world goes through this at the end of every century.

The Royal Observatory Web site points out that in 1799, The Times of London used quite insulting language to defend its assertion that the new century would being in 1801, not 1800.

The paper told its readers: "It is a silly, childish discussion and only exposes the want of brains of those who maintain a contrary opinion."

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