19 July 2001
Our current howler (part III): Tailgunners spawn
Synopsis: The loathsome ghost of Tailgunner Joe was back last night with Paula.
Commentary by Paula Zahn, Jim Robinson, Terry Lenzner
The Edge, Fox News Channel, 7/18/01
Commentary by Larry King, Anne Marie Smith, Jim Robinson
Larry King Live, CNN, 7/13/01
Commentary by Bill Press, Tucker Carlson, Lisa DePaulo
Crossfire, CNN, 7/18/01
An array of loathsome historical types were on display last night on cable. On The Edge, Paula Zahn had finished her romp in the marsh (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/18/01). Instead, Zahn asked Jim Robinson, Anne Marie Smiths lawyer, to play Tailgunner Joe once again. One question seemed to promise High Excitement:
ZAHN: All right, Mr. Robinson, before we take a short break here, your client has said that she has told federal investigators everything she knows, but if there were some things that were shared publicly, it would blow the roof open on this case. Can you explain to us what that means tonight?
Zahns question involved an Invented Factone of the staples of cable TVs treatment of Chandra and Condit. Did Anne Marie Smith ever say that if certain things were shared publicly, "it would blow the roof open on this case?" In last Fridays hour-long appearance on Larry King Live, Smith said nothing that dimly resembled that statement; in fact, she said, in response to a callers question, that "its been one of my theories
that someone is trying to set [Condit] up." In reality, its been Robinson, Smiths repulsive lawyer, who has gone on TV and made vast insinuationsalmost always when Smith isnt present. Anyone who has followed this case will have noted one of its striking aspectsthe way Robinsons statements bear little relation to the things that his client has said. At any rate, given Zahns leading question, the tailgunner knew where to take it:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): In Mr. Condits apartment, Anne Marie was not allowed to go into a particular closet. She had to use the hall closet. She couldnt go into his closet in the bedroom. And she was forbidden from doing that. And apparently, they found very interesting things in that closet, along with thewith the other DNA evidence all over the apartment.
Before we look at the substance of this comment, note that Robinson is a compulsive dissembler. "With the other DNA evidence all over the apartment?" No one has said a word about any such evidence coming out of the search of Condits apartment. Andas has been widely notedif there were "DNA evidence" in Condits apartment, it would likely have no significance whatever, since Condit has acknowledged Levys presence in his apartment. But Robinson rarely opens his mouth without serving up a slimy suggestion. And Zahn, of course, sits silently by, as well-paid hosts now know to do.
But that is a look at Robinsons character; instead, lets examine his comment. According to Robinson, police "found very interesting things in that closet." Cynthia Alksne asked, "Like what?" And, as has happened all throughout human history, the tailgunner plagued us again:
ROBINSON: I really dont want to say. I basically have this from talking to other reporters, and theyve told me what they believe that they had found.
Incredible, isnt it? After making a vast insinuation, Robinson refuses to say what hes talking about. And he also makes a striking admission; his statement is based on what he has heard from unnamed reportersfrom what they "believe" the police found in the closet. Loathsome chapters of American history were dredged up by the counselors refusal to comment. But incredibly, Zahn went ahead and asked Terry Lenzner what Robinsons non-statement meant!
ZAHN (continuing directly): All right, Terry, what would that mean in the investigation, that the guy had a lot of sex? Or does it mean something else?
Follow his now: Robinson says "they found very interesting things in that closet." He refuses to say what those things were. So Zahn asks, with no elaboration, if that means that Condit had a lot of sex! Andas would be incredible anywhere except on The EdgeLenzer explained what you could "obviously" infer from Robinsons unexplained comment:
LENZNER (continuing directly): Well, obviously, you could infer from that thatand look at the issue of whether or not he was engaged in more physical domination type of activities that could have resulted in some sort of accident to the people or persons that he was engaged with. And that would be one possible theory that Im sure the police must be exploring, if thats the kind of equipment that they found in his apartment.
"If thats the kind of equipment they found?" Robinson never said a word about what they found. And then, just to complete the comical air, heres what Zahn said as she went to the creepy, crawly music with which her disordered program now signals breaks:
ZAHN (continuing directly): All right. But trio, of course, I cant independently confirm that this evening, Jim, some of the things youve just said. And I think we need to continue to make it clear the police say tonight that Gary Condit is not a suspect, never has been, and continues not to be one tonight.
Zahn cant confirm what Jim just said? She cant even say what Jim just said. The Edge is now far better choreographed than the Moscow show trials were at their height. But that seems to be what Roger Ailes has ordered up for his loathsome "news" station. Hes ordered up disturbing echoes of the worst chapters in our recent life.
The case of the kooky counselor
Lets review this bizarre exchange. Robinson says that unnamed reporters now believe that the police found "interesting things" in Condits closet. He refuses to say what they are. Zahn asks Lenzer what that means for the case, and Lenzer says it may mean that Condit may have had a "physical accident" while engaging in "physical domination type of activities!" Zahn then tells Robinson that she "cant confirm" some of the things hes just said. A normal viewer, of course, would have no idea what these people were talking about. But they would know what Zahns panel had just suggested. Viewers would know that Zahns panel had just said that Gary Condit killed Chandra Levy while having weird sex.
To say that Zahn should be fired for allowing this exchange is like saying that grass can be found near the ground. However, one can begin to deconstruct this bizarre exchange if youve followed this case rather closely. As HOWLER readers may recall, Robinson began raising issues of kinky sex when he appeared on The Edge on July 9 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/10/01). At that time, he told a tale that made little sense, and subsequently seemed to be contradicted by his client; Robinson told Zahn that Smith had become "terrified" and had "feared for her life" when she found neckties tied to the posts of Condits bed and massage oil in Condits bathroom. (She had also found hairs from another woman in Condits bathroom.) This would have to have happened in March, the last time Smith saw Condit in D.C.a time when Smith had never heard of Levy, and well before Levy disappeared. The notion that Smith "feared for her life" when she found these things was hard to imagine given this context; clearly, Robinson seemed to be lying, though Paula Zahn knew not to notice. But it got worsewhen Smith appeared on Larry King Live just four nights later, she said that she was still dating Condit in the middle of May. How did this relate to Robinsons claim had she had "feared for her life" back in March? Sadly, King is now the perfect tabloid host; he knew enough not to ask. (Tabloid hosts are paid not to notice when the Good Guys seem to dissemble.) But King was well aware of the "kinky sex" allegations. He raised the topic with Smith two times. The second time produced his exchange:
KING: Did you find things in his apartmentthere were reports you would find things in his apartment that led you to be curious?
SMITH: I found a couple items, and I asked him
SMITH: I found some hairs, obviously womens hairs.
KING: Not yours?
SMITH: Womens hairs.
ROBINSON: [Putting hand on Smiths arm] Thats about it. You want to not talk about other, other things
Wouldnt you know it? Right when Smith might have discussed the matters that involved contradictions, Robinson told her to stop! And when King asked why, Robinson gave a typical Jim Robinson answer:
KING (continuing directly): Those are the things that she could not talk about. Just so we explain to the viewers, why?
ROBINSON: Well, we have disclosed a lot of things to investigators, and we dont want to put that out in the press, because of the fact that we dont want Mr. Condit, if he is guilty of anything, to have nine months to figure out how to explain that away.
"Nine months!" This guy simply never quitsRobinson now was suggesting a pregnancy! King, however, stayed on pointand Robinsons explanation, as always, failed to parse:
KING: You mean, some of the stuff that she pointed out to them might be part of a criminal investigation.
KING: Either with Chandra Levy or something that they could use.
ROBINSON: Yes. And since the hairs we have talked about before, some of the other things weve only talked to prosecutors about, and they have asked us obviously to not put that out, so they have that as evidence for a later date.
It was all extremely Top Secret!! But it wasnt just the hairs which the two had "talked about before;" plainly, Robinson had also discussed the neckties and the very frightening massage oil. Hed done so, of course, on national TV, telling an ugly story that didnt make sense, which his client had tacitly contradicted. If King had been a competent host, he would have asked Smith if she had really "feared for her life" back in March, the way her lawyer had publicly said in one of his many ugly accusations. But cable hosts now know when to stop. King backed off at what Robinson said. Kings next question? "Just as an offshoot," he said to Robinson, "do you think Congressman Condit is in big trouble, Chandra Levy aside?" Lets play softball, boys and girls! Robinson began spinning again.
Jim Robinsons statements often make no sense on face, and they often seem to contradict his client. But thanks to Kings lack of pursuit, Robinson lived to spin another day. That new day came around last night, as Zahn gave her latest repulsive performance. The ghost of Tailgunner Joe drifted by, insinuating that Gary Condit killed Chandra. Zahn and Lenzer, performing some ancient rites, knew just how to greet him.
How to tell a story: Talks Lisa DePaulo loves the truthexcept when it may not reflect well on the Levys. Last night, DePaulo appeared on Crossfire to discuss her upcoming article in Talk. Bill Press said this in his opening:
PRESS: Talk also says that Ms. Levys parents knew all about her affair with Condit, in fact, told police about it, but lied to the media about it when they first came to Washington.
Instantly, DePaulo contradicted:
DEPAULO: I think [the article gives] a real good sense of what Chandras state of mind was vis-a-vis the relationship in her last weeks. It is a story that is much different from what Congressman Condit has reportedly told police. But can I correct something you just said? Her parents certainly did not come out and lie to the press by any means. What her parents did was tell the police everything they knew from the beginning, and they trusted the police and the FBI to do their jobs, and that Congressman Condit would step up to the plate, tell the truth, as Mrs. Levy said to me, be a man, and that didnt happen, which is why
Then, Tucker Carlson did what hosts today never do. He interrupted DePaulos spin with simple facts:
CARLSON (continuing directly): Wait a second, Lisa.
CARLSON: As far as I know, the Levys met with police around May 6. On May 14 Mrs. Levy went on Good Morning America and said to Diane Sawyer almost verbatim, I know of no boyfriend that my daughter had. Now thats a lie.
Seeing the surprising way the game would be played, DePaulo began to back-pedal:
DEPAULO (continuing directly): OK, but I think we have to give them a break here. I think it was very well-intentioned, and Im going to tell you there were two reasons why: One was that they were advised to not put it out there, to let the police do their job. But No. 2, you have to realize something: In the early days, the Levys really, really believed that this woman was coming home, that Chandra was coming home. You dont want to spill someones deep dark secrets.
The Levys didnt want to reveal deep dark secrets. But wait a minuteisnt that what Condit didnt wanted to reveal?
Here at THE HOWLER, we would not say that the Levys "lied" in those early weeks. But quite plainly, they falsely stated, for several weeks, that they knew of no relationship with Condit. Did they tell the police the truth right away? Were they instructed by the police to misstate this in public? You dont have the slightest idea, because the compliant press corps has simply refused to discuss this part of the case. The story might make the Levys look bad, and it might make their conduct resemble Condits. The press corps tells you the story it likesjust as DePaulo tried to do last night. Last night, DePaulo acknowledged the truth when forced. Where else have we recently seen that?
Last night, DePaulo ran into the rarest of birdsa host who interrupted her spin with a fact. Information moved forward as a result. Zahn and King know how to avoid that.
The occasional update (7/19/01)
More how to tell a story: Howard Kurtz is groaningly wrong in this mornings Post:
KURTZ (pgh 1): The "CBS Evening News," the only newscast in western civilization that has studiously ignored the Chandra Levy story, finally got in the game last night.
Kurtz tells a pleasing tale. Alas, he is totally wrong.
The CBS Evening News had, in fact, done six stories on Condit and Chandra before last nights report. It did one story on Saturday, July 7; two on Sunday, July 8; one on Saturday, July 14; and two more on Sunday, July 15. These stories were done on the networks weekend broadcasts, not on weeknights, when Dan Rather rules. But Kurtzs recitationwhich repeats pleasing spinis simply wrong on the facts.
And is Rathers program "the only newscast in western civilization" ignoring the Levy story? Has Kurtz ever heard of the PBS NewsHour, a little-known broadcast run by Jim Lehrer? Through last night, the NewsHour has mentioned Chandra and Condit exactly oncein a July 11 examination of the way the story is being covered by other news entities. To date, the NewsHour has done no reporting of the story itself. No reporting, boys and girls, as in "none."
In truth, a number of major entities havent treated this as a big story. The NewsHour hasnt done the story at all; NPR has barely touched it. And on Sunday, Paul Gigot was asked by Cokie Roberts about the Wall Street Journals slender coverage. "We have not run anything on it except for, I think, maybe some wire service items," Gigot said. A recent note in Jackie Calmes weekly "Washington Wire" column was the Journals first original mention.
By the way, heres part of what CBS reported last night:
JIM STEWART: Meanwhile, laboratory tests on a hat, a jacket and other items taken from Condits Washington apartment have thus far disclosed no traces of blood or other useful evidence.
How does that compare with the sleazy insinuation about "DNA evidence" which Robinson later gave to Zahn? Maybe Kurtz should get off his ass, stop repeating Fox spin, and tell truth every once in a while about where the press culture is crumbling.
CBS Finally Finds an Entree Into Intern Story
Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post, 7/19/01