Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

25 July 2001

Our current howler (part II): Polygraph follies

Synopsis: Pundits tell Gary to take that test. But they know what they simply mustn’t mention.

Commentary by Lanny Davis
The Edge, Fox News Channel, 7/23/01

Commentary by Ann Coulter
Larry King Live, CNN, 7/17/01

Condit polygraph expert has national reputation
Jerry Seper and Frank Treadway, The Washington Times, 7/14/01

Commentary by Julian Epstein
Larry King Live, CNN, 7/12/01

Commentary by Lanny Davis
Late Edition, CNN, 7/22/01

Commentary by Lanny Davis
Hardball, MSNBC, 7/12/01

Why, oh why, won’t Gary Condit take that police polygraph test? Troubled pundits have wrung their hands, trying to puzzle it out. Here, for example, was Lanny Davis, thoroughly perplexed on The Edge:

DAVIS (7/23/01): He has refused to go to police headquarters and take a lie-detector test without the bogus circumstances of the [privately administered test] that was announced. All of it suggests that he’s hiding something. He’s no longer hiding his private life, Paula. We know that he had the affair. Then what is he hiding?

Since the Chandra story got cookin’, Davis’ comments have made less sense than those of almost all other pundits. But Davis knew what Condit’s refusal here meant–it meant that he had something to hide. While piously voicing presumption of innocence, Davis has routinely acted out the presumption of guilt.

So why, oh why, might Gary Condit want to duck that police lie detector? Frank Horvath–no, he isn’t a pundit–just might have the answer. Horvath–past president of the American Polygraph Association–was quoted in the Washington Times on July 14:

SEPER AND TREADWAY: [Horvath] said polygraph test accuracy is also debatable, adding that most professionals believe the tests have between a 70 percent and 90 percent accuracy rate.

"No one disagrees that it works," Horvath said. "Where there is disagreement is over how well does it work and under what conditions," he said.

Doh! Can anyone read remarks like that and puzzle about Condit’s conduct? According to Horvath, the tests which pundits want Condit to take are wrong one time out of four! And Horvath–a ranking professional polygrapher–is part of the polygraph industry! Other experts from outside the industry have less faith in polygraph tests.

Readers, take a look at those numbers. Would you want to gamble with odds like that if you were being looked at for murder? And of course, as everyone knows, assessment of a polygraph test has a large subjective component. Can polygraphs be an "investigative tool," as our pundits are constantly saying? Of course–but in a case where the police are clearly angry at a suspect, the subject would have to be out of his mind to submit to their polygraph test.

So why doesn’t Davis know this? A number of pundits have said as much–including some who are Condit pursuers. For example, here was Ann Coulter on Larry King Live, criticizing the private polygraph which Condit did take:

COULTER: I mean, to be talking about a polygrapher, a polygraph expert as "a fine polygraph expert" is like talking about someone being an expert in astrology. This is voodoo...we are talking about something that is less of a science than astrology. I think the problem with [Condit taking the private test] was Condit makes a big effort and, you know, this public relations of, well, I took a polygraph test, therefore I’m telling the truth. But then, says, but I won’t take, you know, your astrology test.

In an earlier Crossfire appearance, Coulter had said that Condit was right to refuse to take a polygraph. "That is the only thing I think he’s right on," she said "He shouldn’t take a lie detector test, only because they’re voodoo." On the July 9 Larry King Live, Laura Ingraham stated a similar view. "A lie detector test is not reliable," Ingraham said. "I don’t blame his attorney for not wanting him to take one."

Duh! Anyone with an ounce of sense would know why Condit wouldn’t want to be tested, even if he is perfectly innocent of any role in the Levy disappearance. But in early July, the Levys began pushing for Condit to be tested, and our pundits have served as the Levys’ handmaidens all through this exciting ordeal. If the Levys say it, so do the pundits; when their lawyer lies to the press, it’s OK (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/01). Right-thinking pundits will ignore all they know to keep asserting the Levys’ position. And so every night on Tabloid TV, pundits puzzle over Condit’s refusal, suggesting and saying that Condit’s reluctance means he has something to hide.

And just how silly will pundits be to voice the Official Pundit Story? A pair of pundits have let us see just how odd things can get. First consider Julian Epstein, on the July 12 Larry King Live. Addressing Ingraham, Epstein misspoke about a previous conversation:

EPSTEIN: But look, we are getting into–we are getting into more evidentiary steps that are being taken right now, Laura. You yourself, I think, also said that you thought he should take a lie detector test. I don’t believe they are worth their weight in salt.

Ingraham quickly corrected Epstein; she had said that Condit should not take a test. But Epstein, having said that the tests aren’t worth a dang, went on to make a suggestion:

EPSTEIN: Your question was: What does he do at this point? What I think he has to do is, first, he needs to make everything available, the lie detector test, the searching of the apartment, everything else he can do to respond to the police.

That’s right. Having said that the tests "aren’t worth their weight in salt," Epstein said, several times, that Condit should take one anyway. On the July 10 LKL, he had offered the same strange advice. "I think what he has to do is he has to not just do the minimal with the police," Epstein said. "I think has to do the maximum." Three separate times, Epstein implied that that would include taking the police polygraph. "I don’t agree with lie detector tests, I don’t think they are accurate," he said. But "even though they are unreliable in my point of view," Epstein kept saying that Condit should take one.

Weird, huh? Why would he make such an odd suggestion? We’ll save our speculations for later, but remember this–there’s nothing so strange that our pundits won’t say it. So let’s revisit Lanny Davis, on last Sunday’s Late Edition. "What’s the downside of taking [a polygraph]?" Davis was asked by host Wolf Blitzer. Davis’ thoroughly oddball reply brought us right out of our chairs:

DAVIS: There is no downside unless a criminal defense lawyer is saying to him, you may be entrapped in answering a question innocently that may be viewed as not truthful, and you might be indicted.

So every criminal defense lawyer wants a zero risk to doing anything. And I’m suggesting, in this kind of a case, that that kind of thinking will get you into worse trouble.

He’s got to take the risk that he may be entrapped or he may be falsely accused.
If he’s innocent, he’s got to hold a press conference until every question is answered. He’s got to take a polygraph test and take the risk. Anything else is just making matters worse.

Amazing, isn’t it? There’s "no downside" to taking the exam–except the chance that he’ll be falsely indicted for murder! Other than that, it’s all good! But then, Davis has offered thoroughly absurd advice all through his run as a Chandra pundit. Here, he tops even himself. Condit might be entrapped, falsely accused and indicted, he says; still, he should take the test all the same! Kafka himself could hardly have imagined a gang like our New Tabloid Pundits.

Why has Davis offered such advice? In the particular case, we don’t know. But a number of our Chandra pundits previously opposed the Clinton impeachment. You can be certain that some of them are using this latest case to rehabilitate themselves with the pundit corps. They want to show they don’t automatically stand up for Dems; they want to show that they can play along with a good pundit tale. Davis, happily hanging Condit, is a good candidate for head of this faction.

Is Lanny Davis reinventing himself? If not, he has a rare talent for crackpot advice. But remember–today’s Tabloid Pundits will do and say anything to keep a merry tale alive. Most pundits know why Condit, even if innocent, would want to avoid that police exam. But they aren’t going to mention the things that they know. Frank Horvath can go stuff his data.

Tomorrow: At THE HOWLER, we see dead people.

Hangin’ him high: Davis’ most egregious bit of Chandra punditry came on the July 12 Hardball. Jim Robinson could hardly have done it better. After piously saying that we shouldn’t state hunches, Davis just blurted out his:

MATTHEWS: Does anybody here has a hunch as to what happened here?

DAVIS: I certainly don’t think we ought to express hunches about what happened. But I will tell you this–

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, sometimes hunches turn out to be true.

DAVIS: I’ll–

FUND: Yeah, the wife did it.

DAVIS: I’ll–I’ll tell you my hunch. My hunch is there’s no explanation for the irrational behavior of his reluctance to come forward–not even to deny his involvement–unless he’s hiding something that’s of major seriousness.

That makes sense. As we all know, guilty parties never "deny their involvement." If Davis isn’t rehabilitating himself at Condit’s expense, he’s been doing a good imitation. In Washington, the interests of sitting presidents count. The interests of sitting congressmen can be bartered.


Smile-a-while (7/25/01)

Not quite right: The film A.I. has dropped like a rock, but Paula Zahn may be Spielberg’s revenge. Zahn looks perfect–perhaps too good–but her affect doesn’t seem quite right, and she frequently says things that don’t quite seem human. Is there any chance that Roger Ailes is conducting experiments he hasn’t acknowledged?

If so, can we make a respectful suggestion? Maybe Zahn could be equipped with a music chip, like the Jude Law character in the film. Every time she approaches a break, Zahn could click her neck to the right. On would come the creepy music that has become her show’s frightening trademark.