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10 July 2001

Our current howler (part I): Sees no evil

Synopsis: Juan Williams hasn’t seen anyone pushing the sex. Quite clearly, he doesn’t watch Fox.

Commentary by Juan Williams
Fox News Sunday, Fox News Channel, 7/8/01

Commentary by Paula Zahn, Jim Robinson
The Edge, Fox News Channel, 7/9/01

Juan Williams always knows what to say to keep the checks rolling in from Fox. For example, here was the pundit, on Fox News Sunday, engaging in a well-scripted fantasy:

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it’s a little bit of a sense that we are being, in the press, tawdry and scurrilous in the way that we go about this, that we really want to talk about sex. And what you heard this week from the D.C. police chief was, we are not sex police, we’re here checking out a missing person. And so there has to be a very clean line.

Williams simply couldn’t imagine! He couldn’t imagine why someone would think that the press had been pushing the sex:

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I just don’t see it. I mean, I think the press has been, so far, restrained. But I understand why people might worry about–as I said, I think there’s a, you know, there’s a sex story, it’s Washington, it’s summertime, it reads like a novel. People might think, oh, the press is just selling, you know, ads or space.

Cynical people will think these things. But Juan hadn’t seen it himself.

Clearly, Williams doesn’t watch Fox. According to DC police chief Ramsey, there are 55 active adult missing person cases in DC just from the last year alone. And why is this one case getting big play? Maybe if you watched Monday night’s The Edge, you got a small hint of an answer.

Paula Zahn’s guest was Seattle lawyer Jim Robinson, attorney to flight attendant Anne Marie Smith, who apparently had an affair with Gary Condit. Smith has said that she feared for her life when Levy’s disappearance became known. And why exactly was Smith so afraid? "Near the end of their relationship, things started to really disturb Anne Marie," the lawyer said. "She found what she believed to be Chandra’s hair in his bathroom. She saw other things that–of a sexual nature, that she had nothing to do with and was wondering what in the, what in the world is going on. And then this woman disappears. She was terrified, yes."

Wow! This was getting good! And what were the things that terrified Smith? According to Robinson, it began with the neckties:

ROBINSON: Well, apparently, there were ties, neckties tied together and tied underneath the bed as if someone had been tied up in bed. And that had never happened to my client before. And apparently, Mr. Condit made a joke about it, just brushed it off. And she told me that she was very afraid for her life at that point.

We’d be fearing for our lives too. (Note for clarity: This event would have occurred well before Smith heard anything at all about Chandra Levy. Smith last saw Condit in March; she learned about Levy in May.) But hold on, readers, there was more. After piddling around on a few non-sex questions, Paula Zahn wanted more, much more, and Robinson happily brung it:

ZAHN: All right, let’s come back to the last time your client described that she was in Mr. Condit’s apartment. You said she discovered what was long hair and then what appeared to be some sort of–perhaps something indicative of something sadomasochistic that had happened in this apartment. What else did Anne Marie tell you about that?

ROBINSON: She found a new bottle of massage oil that had been used, that he never used around her. She also knew that the congressman’s wife had not been around for quite some time and all kinds of different things.

Massage oil! Good God, even that! It’s no wonder that Smith was "terrified" and "afraid for her life" when she realized that Condit had that!

Even Zahn–the leading press sleazeball of the Levy story–seemed to be a bit puzzled by Robinson’s comment. But when she asked the barrister to explain his remarks, the ghost of Joe McCarthy hovered near:

ZAHN (continuing directly): All right, so is she–I’ve got to make sure I understand this this evening. I mean, other than–people have all kinds of sexual practices. This obviously was something that she wasn’t comfortable with. Was there something else that she described about his behavior that she found intimidating or threatening in some way? Or was it the veracity of what you described as a lack of veracity that was exposed here?

ROBINSON: I really don’t want to get in specifically because I’ve been asked by criminal investigators not to, but apparently, Congressman Condit had some peculiar sexual fantasies that a normal heterosexual man does not have. That’s her testimony, not mine. And we’ve been asked not to talk about that specifically but you know–

Poor Robinson–he’d been asked not to say what he meant. (We note that he said he’d been reined in by "criminal investigators," not by police.) At that point, Zahn broke in on her guest, saying, "All right, and Jim, I’m obviously not in a position where I can verify this at this point."

But then, since the Levy case first hit the street, Zahn has made a fetish of examining sexual material which she "can’t verify at this point." And thorough-going, sleazy speculation has become her defining stock in trade. We hope her checks are spending real good, because Zahn has sold her soul on this story. Listen to where she ended up as her scuzzy guest continued last night:

ZAHN: I can only give you 10 seconds now. Are you saying if I read between the lines tonight that you think Congressman Condit had something to do with Chandra Levy’s disappearance?

ROBINSON: I believe so.

ZAHN: And in what way?

ROBINSON: His wife was in Washington, D.C. She’s normally not. I think that that may have been a ploy to keep Chandra away from his apartment so that whatever happened could happen. It’s my pure speculation that, you know–it’s just a very odd set of circumstances. The man has asked my client to suborn perjury. I don’t trust him.

Incredible, isn’t it? "It’s my pure speculation," Robinson said–which meant he was on the right program. Zahn, of course, had egged him on every step of the way on this show. She had begged her guest to speculate freely, and he came through, exactly as planned.

There are a million missing persons in the naked city. The press loves this one because it lets them talk about sex. They get to say "Washington intern" again. They don’t have to talk about the budget, or about all of that other dull shit.

Juan Williams claims he doesn’t know that. We hope that his check spends real good.

Next: More thrills from our Tabloid Nation.


The occasional update (7/10/01)

Hey Paula: Nobody cares about sex, of course. Despite that, certain pundits feigned excitement after reading a story in last Wednesday’s WashTimes. The page-one headline got things going. "6 women talk to police in Levy case," it said. "Claim past affairs with Rep. Condit." Here was the opening paragraph:

JOHN DRAKE (7/4/01): Detectives investigating the disappearance of Chandra Ann Levy have interviewed six women who said they have had romantic relationships with Rep. Gary A. Condit, who has said he is a "friend" of the missing intern’s, a law enforcement source said.

Wow! Six more women! This was getting good! And on The Edge, the story got better. The following night, guest host Linda Vester had a live one. She spoke with "former Washington, D.C. police detective and criminal attorney" Ted Williams. And on The Edge, they know the rules–you always make numbers get bigger:

VESTER (7/5/01): Ted, let me begin with you, because I think you have some good information here that expands on what we just heard about the number of women. According to the information that you’re getting–and I know you won’t reveal your sources–but it’s not six women in total, it may be more like ten. What do you have?

Nothing too leading about that question! Ted said what he’d been told to:

TED WILLIAMS: This is what I’ve been told by a source: that it is not six women. I think one of the newspapers here reported six. But it is more likely than not that it’s ten. They’re receiving quite a few phone calls concerning the congressman and his activity, specifically with women.

Ten women! Better yet! Vester, of course, had no interest in sex when she asked Ted Williams to jack up the numbers.

Alas, it seems that Ted Williams’ "good information" turned out to be good and wrong. Friday night, on Special Report, guest host Tony Snow got a new number. Snow spoke with Rita Cosby, Fox’s front-line reporter on this case. He popped his Q almost in passing:

SNOW (7/6/01): Now, we’ve heard rumors of other women. Can we expect to see any of them coming forth in the next few days?

COSBY: Possibly. I do know from talking to police sources–they are not saying as many as six. There were a couple reports earlier this week that six women have come forward. We’re hearing it was less than that. But we are hearing that two or three have come out and may go to the point where they may want to speak out publicly, that they are very concerned that Congressman Condit is also not sharing information, and they believe that there’s something that could be helpful to the disappearance. They would like to get that out.

Oh, darn! Now it’s just "two or three." Translation for new readers: "Two."

So how did Paula handle the matter when she returned to The Edge last night? Did she post a correction–perhaps inform viewers that Ted Williams had possibly given bad info? If you think that, then you haven’t been watching The Edge lately either. Indeed, Ted Williams was back, for Zahn’s first segment. And here’s what she ended up asking:

ZAHN: Ted, based on what you were hearing from your very good police sources tonight, what do you think happened to Chandra Levy?

Hay-yo! Same old Paula! Based on Ted Williams’ "very good sources," she asked him to speculate more.


6 women talk to police in Levy case
John Drake, The Washington Times, 7/4/01

Commentary by Linda Vester, Ted Williams
The Edge, Fox News Channel, 7/5/01

Commentary by Tony Snow, Rita Cosby
Special Report, Fox News Channel, 7/6/01

Commentary by Paula Zahn, Ted Williams
The Edge, Fox News Channel, 7/9/01