23 July 2001
Our current howler: Train wreck
Synopsis: When Barbara Olson studied Amtrak, all (rail)roads led straight back to sex.
Commentary by Barbara Olson, Larry King, Nancy Grace
Larry King Live, CNN, 7/20/01
Commentary by Susan Levy
The Today Show, NBC, 5/17/01
Missing Interns Family Asks Condit for Help
Petula Dvorak and Allan Lengel, The Washington Post, 6/15/01
Where do they find them? Where in the world do they find human beings as disordered as Larry Kings pundits? On Friday, the police released a list of websites which Chandra Levy visited on May 1. "Barbara Olson," King asked Friday night, "do we learn anything from the web sites released today?" And when Olson responded, we got a real treat. We saw the way a "former prosecutor" can tear a tough case right apart:
OLSON: Well, its interesting. I was lookingyou know, they said her travel plans. I thought that was interesting. Southwest Airlines, seems like they do fly not into San Francisco but Oakland. And then I looked at Amtrak. I thought, well, she wouldnt be going from Washington to Modesto on Amtrak. But if you flew into Oakland, you could take a train down.
OLSON: The problem is, that doesnt seem like the kind of travel she would take to go back home to see her parents. She would fly closer in. So I dont know what other travel sites she was looking at. Im sure they seethey know the exact location for Amtrak that she was looking at. Was it to meet someone, to see someone?
Amazing, isnt it? Lets examine the way Olsons mind works.
Pursuit of the facts
A former prosecutor, Olson is strangely unskilled when it comes to pursuit of simple facts. In this instance, shes done some nosing around about Southwest Airlines. "Southwest Airlines," she reports to King, "seems like they do fly not into San Francisco but Oakland." We couldnt help chuckling at Olsons construction. It "seems" that Southwest goes into Oakland? She makes it sound like the airlines operations are some sort of closely-held corporate secret. You have to check with shadowy sources, and even then youre not sure of the facts.
In reality, Southwest Airlines now publishes "schedules," which it hands out at airports and has placed on the web. As it turns out, Southwest does indeed fly into Oakland, as Olson has heard from her unnamed sources. But it also flies into Sacramentoa straight shot up Route 5 from Modesto (see road maps, published by Rand McNally)and Southwest flies into San Jose, the closest site to Levys home.
Life on the streets
Olson is weak at pursuit of the facts, but she also seems to lack those key street smarts. To Olson, Southwest Airlines just doesnt smell right. "That doesnt seem like the kind of travel she would take to go back home to see her parents," Olson says. "She would fly closer in." Surely, no one familiar with life on this planet will need to be told just how stupid this is. In todays world, people go ten states out of their way to take advantage of Southwests fares. Apparently, Olson has been lounging on corporate jets for so long she doesnt know how the great unwashed do it. King might as well revive Piltdown Man and let him discuss Levys travel strategies.
Far more striking is Olsons refusal to do any homework on this case. Indeed, she seems to have open contempt for her responsibilities as a national commentator. "I looked at Amtrak," she reports to King. "I thought, well, she wouldnt be going from Washington to Modesto on Amtrak." She wouldnt? Is there anything Olson does know about this case? Here was Susan Levy, Chandras mother, on the May 17 Today show:
SUSAN LEVY: She was talking about possibly taking an Amtrak train across the United States, as she likes to train travel.
Oops! But then, the same information also appeared in the June 15 Washington Post:
DVORAK AND LENGEL: Chandra canceled her membership at the Washington Sports Club on Connecticut Avenue NW on April 30. At some point, she e-mailed super-saver airfares to her mother. She also told Susan Levy that she might take the train home.
Doh! If Olson had made the simplest effort, she would have known these basic facts. In case youre wondering, by the way, theres an Amtrak station right in Modesto. You take the "California Zephyr" from Chicago to Martinez, CA, and connect for Modesto two hours later. Following Southwest Airlines lead, Amtrak releases this info.
So heres our question: Do you know anyoneanyone at allwho knows less about her daily business than Olson knows about this case? Could normal people function like this? For example, what would happen to a real estate agent who knew next to nothing about her listings, and didnt have the slightest idea how she might find out? A normal person couldnt survive in Olsons total know-nothing state.
But Olson isnt a normal personshes an important national figure, offering nightly commentary on one of our most influential TV shows. And, despite her ignorance of basic facts, she constantly insinuates that a public figure has actually committed a murder! Its hard to believe that such repulsive conduct would be tolerated for a minute in any other sector. Why in the world does Larry King keep pundits like this on his show?
Why shes there
Clearly, there is absolutely no due diligence required of Larry Kings guests. They arent required to know basic facts; and they arent required to make accurate statements. (They are required to wring their hands, of course, and swear this is all about Chandra.)
But theres one other thing theyre expected to dotheyre expected to rub their thighs each night, and bring the thrilling tale back to sex. And so Barbara Olsons laughable "research" did have an obvious method. Rejecting the notion that Levy would go home by train, Olson took the train where she wanted to go. She quickly concocted a thrilling speculation: Was Levy considering Amtrak "to meet someone, to see someone?" Well say out loud what Olson implied: Chandra Levy was checking out Amtrak to meet Gary Condit and fuck. (Olson, of course, also spent time complaining that Condit has dragged Chandra through the mud.)
Read back through Olsons risible comments on what those travel sites meant. Nowhere else are people allowed to be so incompetent in public. But, irresponsible and hapless though the pundit may be, there were methods to her surface dysfunction. As a partisan, she wants to hang the Democrat Condit (and keep the president out of the news). As a pundit, she wants to bring the tale back to sex. As such, she is willing to say whatever it takes to make all (rail)roads lead to sex. And Larry King allows this conductindeed, his producers now seek it.
Yep. Barbara Olsons repellent conduct was on display again Friday night. But so, of course, was the new tabloid soul of Larry Kings irresponsible program.
Tomorrow: What did Condit tell the police? The pundits know what they cant mention.
The occasional update (7/23/01)
Not so amazin: Nancy Grace dont reed much neeither. On Friday night, King mentioned a Newsweek report about Condits May 1 schedule. Predictably, King was wrong on his basic facts; the report to which he referred was already posted on Newsweeks website:
KING: Newsweek magazine will report on Monday, panel, that Condit on May 1, the day in question, had a private meeting with Dick Cheney on Capitol Hill to discuss the California energy crisis. The meeting began at 12:30, lasted for 20 to 25 minutes. And then Newsweek reports that Condit went back to his office and stayed there until 5 p.m. doing office work. Does that, Nancy, give him an alibi?
GRACE: Absolutely not. We know she logged off her computer around 1:00. That was the last that was seen or heard of her.
KING: But hes working till 5 oclock.
GRACE: Till 5 oclock. And then what?
KING: Well, we dont know.
GRACE: Then we dont know. Id like to know.
Grace spends so much time accusing Condit of murder that she doesnt keep up with her reading. As she spoke, the full timetable was on Newsweeks website. Among other things, the Isikoff/Hosenball report said this: "Around 5 p.m., Condit left his office and went to a doctors appointment, returning to Capitol Hill sometime after 6 p.m. to vote twice on the House floor on resolutions involving autism and supporting National Charter Schools Week." Those, of course, are recorded votes. By the way, nothing kept Grace and her Court TV staff from finding that out on their own. As she endlessly intones on Kings show, shes had [insert number] days now to do it.
"Well, we dont know," the hapless King said. Thats so true. Now our question: "Why not?"