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24 July 2001

Our current howler (part I): Wha’d he say?

Synopsis: What did Condit tell the police? Larry King’s dissembling pundits know which reports they can’t mention.

Commentary by Larry King, Nancy Grace, Mark Geragos
Larry King Live, CNN, 7/17/01

Intern Spent Night, Condit Told Police
Allan Lengel, The Washington Post, 6/7/01

D.C. Police Have New Questions for Condit
Allan Lengel and Petula Dvorak, The Washington Post, 7/7/01

On Larry King’s newly dysfunctional show, a certain conversation occurs every night. Last Tuesday night, the exchange began with a caller’s question:

CALLER: My question would be to Nancy Grace. Why do you think Mr. Condit is guilty of some wrongdoing to Ms. Levy, when all he has done has had an affair, and also do you equate guilt with lack of response to the media?

GRACE: Oh, absolutely not. I don’t think he is any—under any duty whatsoever, ma’am, to respond to the media. But after handling many, many missing persons, missing persons that turned into murdered persons, I’m sorry to say, after handling a lot of cases like that, I find it highly unusual that he did not come forward to the police and be honest.

Now, I understand a lot of guys, a lot of women even would want to deny an affair. But when this girl’s life could be hanging in the balance, if he could look police in the eye and say, "I didn’t sleep with her, we were just friends," what else would he do to save his political career?

Nice one! In this passage, Grace offers a direct quotation from Condit’s initial police interview. The problem, of course, is that Condit’s interview has never been released. Grace doesn’t know what Condit was asked, and she doesn’t know what Condit said. And so, as happens each night on King’s show, Mark Geragos challenged Grace on her statement:

GERAGOS (continuing directly): That is absolutely not what happened! That isn’t what happened! If he had done that, that’s a crime. You know it and I know it, if he denied it—

KING: He didn’t deny it?

GERAGOS: If he lied—

KING: How do you know what he did?

GERAGOS: Because the police have said that he was cooperative and that he did not in any way—they had no crime. If he had lied to the police and said, "I didn’t have an affair," if he denied the affair, and later admitted it, you know as well as I do that that’s a violation of the law.

According to Geragos, it’s a crime if Condit lied to the police. And how did Grace respond to Geragos? As usual, she took a simple approach. She simply kept repeating the thing she can’t possibly know to be true:

GRACE (continuing directly): He denied the affair.

GERAGOS: Then they’ve got a crime.

GRACE: He denied the affair.

GERAGOS: Why aren’t they charging him with a crime?

KING: Ann [Coulter], why haven’t they charged him?

COULTER: Well, could I—well, because I think they have bigger fish to fry, but if I—

GERAGOS: Are you kidding me? They’re looking into obstruction of justice—

Some variant of this conversation occurred on King’s program every night last week.

Do our pundits know if Condit lied? No, but dissembling pundits like Nancy Grace assert it every chance that they get. Grace doesn’t have a clue if it’s true, but she likes how it feels on the tongue. The dissembling Grace rarely misses a chance to say things she can’t know to be true. And all of it builds to a larger insinuation—the insinuation that Condit committed murder.

What did Condit tell the police? At THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know. But we do know what "police sources" have reported, and those sources have said something quite different from the story which Grace likes to tell. In fact, early on in the Condit Chase, pundits like Grace were loudly claiming that Condit had in effect admitted an affair. Now their line of pursuit has shifted, so they don’t remind you of what they once said.

Condit’s initial police interview occurred in mid-May. On June 7, the Washington Post published a story about it, citing unnamed police sources. Here’s how the story, by Allan Lengel, began: "Calif. Rep. Gary A. Condit told D.C. police that Chandra Levy has spent the night at his Adams Morgan apartment, according to law enforcement sources." The headline: "Intern Spent Night, Condit Told Police." Lengel gave a bit more detail:

LENGEL (6/7/01): The law enforcement sources said that although Condit told police that Levy had spent the night at his apartment, he did not say whether the two were romantically involved. He also did not specify when she had been at his apartment.

Were Lengel’s sources right? We don’t have a clue. But in a later report, Lengel and Petula Dvorak added another element:

LENGEL AND DVORAK (7/7/01): Law enforcement sources said that in his first interview, Condit said Levy had spent the night at his apartment in Adams Morgan but stopped short of discussing the relationship. One law enforcement source said that Condit told investigators to read into the relationship what they wished.

According to Lengel’s sources, then, Condit told police that Levy had spent the night at his apartment, and told them that they could "read into the relationship what they wished."

For people who live in the real world, that would hardly be a case of "looking police in the eye" and saying "I didn’t sleep with her, we were just friends." But that’s the scenario Grace prefers, so she simply asserts it as fact. In fact, if Condit did say what Lengel reports, police would hardly have had to puzzle about Condit’s relationship with Chandra Levy. And he certainly wouldn’t have told the "lie" King’s pundits love to assert.

Did Condit say what Lengel reported? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But neither, of course, does Nancy Grace and the other dissembling national pundits who hand you preferred versions of this interview. Remember what we’ve told you for years—our pundits tells you the stories they like. For pundits like the irresponsible Grace, dissembling is now second nature.

Next: Pundits pretend they can’t understand why Condit won’t take that darn polygraph.

Discourse on denial: Shortly after the June 7 story, Condit’s spokesmen challenged the report; they denied that Condit had told police that Levy spent the night at his apartment. Does that mean that Lengel’s account was wrong? Not necessarily, no. There is a canon of Washington ethics which holds this: If you say something off the record and it’s later repeated, you can publicly deny that you said it. (Police interviews are supposed to be private.) And obviously, Condit’s spokesmen said many things in the early weeks of this case which now seem to have been inaccurate.

What did Condit tell the police? At THE HOWLER, we don’t know, and neither do Larry King’s pundits. But we do know this: Pundits who ballyhooed Lengel’s June 7 report now know that they must never cite it. This frees up pundits like Nancy Grace to tell you the stories they like.


The occasional update (7/24/01)

The Edge, around the bend: Nothing in this story has been quite so repellent as Paula Zahn’s endless use of those psychics. Last night she was at it again. Leading into a break, Zahn played tape of Sylvia Browne on an earlier program, picturing Chandra dead in a marsh. Coming out of the break, she played tape of James Van Praagh with his "take" on what happened to Levy:

VAN PRAAGH (on tape): She’s dead. And she was strangled. Four of us came up with that, as well, that she was strangled. The night that she disappeared was the night that this happened. And I think that she was called up by someone she knew in the office or the staff and came out to a car. And then I think that she believed she was going to Condit’s—his office. And I don’t think that she made it there.

ZAHN: That was psychic James Van Praagh with his take on what he thinks happened to Chandra Levy.

Real responsible stuff, by the way—having a psychic come on the air to imply that a public figure committed murder. Now Zahn asked her panel what they thought of the use of psychic mediums in general. "We know police departments use them all over the country," Zahn said. "Clint [Van Zandt], what’s your take on psychics?" And doh! Van Zandt, the former FBI ace, simply wasn’t buyin’:

ZAN ZANDT: Yeah. Throughout my career in the FBI, we would have psychics come forward. They would offer information. My experience personally is that I have never seen a psychic to be able to contribute to a case, other than information they picked up from hanging out at cop bars, reading the newspaper or something else. You know, I mean, most of these people I think are smoking cigarettes without labels.

Doh! The rest of the panel was openly laughing. So Zahn played her ace in the hole:

ZAHN: All right, now, Mike [Sheehan] is laughing. And yet, isn’t it true that a psychic helped you solve a—crack open a case?

It must have been what we call "bad staff work." Sheehan, a former New York City homicide cop, only made matters much worse:

SHEEHAN: Well, it—she didn’t actually help us solve it. She—the family insisted that we listen to her information. She came forward and she said, "The body is in this place in the Bronx. And it’s under frozen ground," which was true. It was January, you know, Clint?

VAN ZANDT: That’s good!

SHEEHAN: It wasn’t July.

VAN ZANDT: That’s good.

SHEEHAN: She said it’s under a frozen piece of ground, and there’s a refrigerator. And we went to this particular area and—with this woman. And of course, she did all the vibes and, you know, the shaking and everything else. And then we had emergency service guys dig, and they came up with a body. It wasn’t the woman we were looking for. It was some Mob guy who had been hit.

Doh! The laughter continued. But Zahn put the best face on Sheehan’s story. "Well, see there? There was some useful information!" she said. "But not necessarily related to your investigation."

Zahn’s buffoonery with the psychics has been endless—and has produced a string of slapstick outcomes. On June 18, to cite one tragicomic example, Zahn had scheduled a telephone call with Dr. Robert Levy, Chandra Levy’s father, whom the shameless Zahn was already tormenting in her effort to drive up ratings—sorry, in her effort to find Chandra Levy. But Zahn also had psychic medium Rosemary Altea in the green room, waiting to headline a later segment, and Dr. Levy somehow got on the phone with Altea while the show was already in progress. Dr. Levy became so upset by what Altea told him that he refused to do his segment, leaving Zahn sputtering and fumbling with various guests as to why the good doctor had cancelled. On July 17, Zahn dragged out psychic medium Browne, who announced that Chandra was dead in Rock Creek Park.

Incidentally, on the official transcripts prepared by Fox, these segments are listed as "Entertainment." Exactly—but then, that’s what Zahn’s entire approach has been from Day One of this story. Her psychic mediums are "entertainment"—but so are her pundits, who go on her show and concoct groundless fantasies of their own. By the way, speaking of the "entertainment" value of the psychic segments, we’re sure the Levys got a good laugh when Browne said their daughter was dead in a marsh. But it’s all a part of the new tabloid values of shameless Zahn and her new Tabloid Nation.

Commentary by Paula Zahn, Clint Van Zandt, Michael Sheehan
The Edge, Fox News Channel, 7/23/01