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17 July 2001

Our current howler (part I): Dismaying Grace

Synopsis: If Washington’s pundits didn’t exist, it would be also impossible to invent them.

Commentary by Cliff Van Zandt, Nancy Grace, Larry King, Dr. Henry Lee
Larry King Live, CNN, 7/16/01

If Washington’s pundits didn’t exist, it would be also impossible to invent them. Who, for example, could ever imagine the sheer stupidity and ugly dissembling that drove last night’s Larry King Live? Start, for example, with Cliff Van Zandt, the heralded "former FBI profiler" who—for reasons best known by the nation’s psychiatrists—is now the rage on cable. Here was part of Van Zandt’s first statement, in LKL’s opening segment on Chandra:

VAN ZANDT: The challenge right now is what would require this young woman who is street savvy, who is a former law enforcement explorer scout, who has dated a police officer in her life, who knows her way around D.C., to make a decision to step out of her apartment, without the things that a woman normally carries: her purse, her ID, money, credit cards, and most importantly, a cell phone.

This is what bothers me about this, Larry, if she has a boyfriend, and her contact with that boyfriend or with anyone else is the cell phone, why would she separate herself from that media of communication?

Last night, for reasons unknown, the fact that Chandra left without her cell phone began to obsess TV pundits. But Van Zandt again stated the old canard—the notion that Levy had left without money. No one knows if this is true, as the police themselves have made clear. By the way: on last Thursday’s Hardball, as readers may recall, Van Zandt engaged in a comic-book self-contradiction on this point. While insisting that Chandra left without money, he said that she may have run out for a sandwich. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/01, to marvel at the astounding low caliber of America’s leading TV pundits.

And last night, he did it again. In Van Zandt’s first presentation, as we’ve seen, he marveled at the mysterious "fact" that Chandra left the house without money. In his second presentation, he said this:

VAN ZANDT: One of the things that is missing, too, Larry, is not only her keys, but her ATM card, and that is another thing: why would she take nothing else, only the ATM card, if she took that of her volition? Did she need money?

Is that true? Did Chandra take her ATM card? No one has established that as a fact before this, and the worthless King sat silently by as Van Zandt introduced this new element. (Challenging, verifying, or establishing facts is unknown to millionaire cable hosts.) But if Levy left with her ATM card, why would anyone be surprised if she also left the house without money? Having puzzled for days over Levy’s lack of cash, Van Zandt now suggested an obvious possibility—she may have been going out to get some. The sheer stupidity of Van Zandt’s performances would stand out anywhere else on earth. But it doesn’t stand out on cable TV, where our leading pundits do this sort of thing as a simple matter of course.

And just like that, it happened again; Van Zandt was paired with Nancy Grace, and she instantly contradicted herself too! In her first presentation, the tough-talking former prosecutor spoke to Van Zandt’s speculation that Levy had not gone jogging:

GRACE: I agree, why would she seek out a brand new course, Larry? That is not a jogger’s mentality. This woman worked out all the time, I agree with Cliff. She would go in a route she already knew, instead of the day before leaving town, go on Mapquest to find a new place to jog. It doesn’t make sense!

Levy couldn’t have jogged to the Klingle Mansion, Grace said, because a jogger would "go in a route she already knew." But this is what the tough-talker said in her second presentation:

GRACE: I agree with Cliff in part and disagree. I think that we are still at ground zero as to where is Chandra Levy. But we know a lot more about her. For instance, she didn’t jog outside. We know she met Condit at his request, in very unusual circumstances, such as taking a cab, and then he would join her later in order to secure his anonymity.

Incredible, isn’t it? In her first presentation, Grace said that Chandra would have jogged a familiar route. In her second presentation, she said that Chandra didn’t jog outside. Such bizarre dissembling would be unthinkable elsewhere, but this night it was driving King’s hapless show. And moments later, Grace showcased another key skill. The tough-talker Invented A Fact:

GRACE: I don’t think Chandra Levy went for a walk and never came back. She was not used to living on her own without any credit card, no debit card, not even a call home for help. This woman didn’t choose to disappear. If it had been a suicide, a love suicide, you would have had a note, some type of evidence a suicide was coming. No depression in the past, no medication.

All that is left, Larry, is foul play. And I wonder, what was the big announcement she had to make? The word "announcement" normally goes along with a new boyfriend, a pregnancy, a wedding, an engagement. I would like to ask Condit on his police lie detector test, if that ever happens, if he knew about that "announcement" she had to make.

Grace refers to Levy’s April 29 phone message to her aunt, and she implies that Levy was calling to say she was pregnant. But no one has ever said that Levy used the word "announcement" in her message that day. Grace here simply invents a quote, then uses it—how else—to hang Condit.

When we see the rank dishonesty of former prosecutors like Grace, we can all be thankful that the Founding Fathers knew enough to craft a Bill of Rights; they knew that people like Grace would exist, and that we would all need protection against them. But nothing currently protects the public against their inclusion on cable. Last night, Van Zandt and Grace contradicted themselves in the first few moments of King’s discussion, and Grace then quickly invented a quote, with which she accused someone of murder. King sat by while this went on, never challenging a word that was said. A hapless host with two gong-show guests—this is now the soul of our pundit corps. Our pundits are dumb as rocks, and grossly dishonest. And so our question is simple: Why is that?


The occasional update (7/17/01)

The world’s current foremost authority: Also appearing was Dr. Henry Lee, presented—as he’s always presented—as "one of the country’s top forensic scientists." As usual, Lee performed like Peter Sellers in Being There, The Sequel. Here is Lee’s first statement last night. Because Lee’s English isn’t good, we’ve made some corrections for clarity:

LEE: Well, you know, [there are] only two possibilities. One, she is still alive, or she is dead. If she is still alive, could be either kidnapped or—[she could have] walk[ed away] on her own will.

If she is dead, could be five different manner of the—accidental, natural, suicidal, or homicide, or undetermined. So let the facts speak for itself, and, once in a while, we do have people go jogging [and] just bring a key, or [take a] walk [and just] bring a key.

But I have to agree with Nancy and Craig [sic], in this situation it is kind of unique. We have to look at the facts and the pieces of physical evidence, try to put together, go back to a logic process. So—logic process to examine.

The nation’s top forensic scientist explained that Levy could be alive (or could be dead), and he explained that we have to look at the evidence. This was so illuminating for CNN’s viewers, the insatiable King wanted more:

KING (continuing directly): Dr. Lee, the police are not making any announcements, but would a thorough search of her apartment—a thorough search of the congressman’s apartment—anything they’ve got out of there, they are looking at already, right?

Lee nailed that one too:

LEE: You are right, absolutely right. Like last week we search apartment for some missing person. Basically, you look for silent clue, any sign of foul play: any extensive cleaning of carpet, rearrangement of the furniture.

Let’s go over this again! King asked if the police were looking at evidence which they’d gathered. Lee said they were, and then added more—they were looking for signs of foul play.

For nonsense like this, CNN drops discussion of all other news. By the way, here’s a "Separated at Birth" to consider: Dr. Lee and Professor Irwin Corey. Corey was also billed as "The World’s Foremost Authority," but his bookers were a little more honest about it. Corey appeared at the Copa and on the Ed Sullivan Show, and everyone acknowledged that it all was just a joke.

Meanwhile, how big a dumb-ass is Nancy Grace? Talking just as tough as ever, the tough-talking former prosecutor posed a tough challenge. You could see the tough-talker was mad:

GRACE: I challenge you, Larry King, to ask every lady on your panel tonight, how often do you leave your home—your apartment with no ID, no credit card, no—nothing but your keys? Very rare—

KING: Don’t have to challenge me, Nancy. I’ll do it!

GRACE: She was headed out to meet somebody she knows.

Grace, of course, has no idea if that last statement is true. But then, she doesn’t know from jogging either. Her cowed host later took her challenge. He asked Laura Ingraham if she would go jogging without ID. Ingraham answered: "I would, and I do."