25 July 2001
Our current howler (part II): Polygraph follies
Synopsis: Pundits tell Gary to take that test. But they know what they simply mustnt 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, wont 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 hes hiding something. Hes 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 Condits refusal here meantit 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 Horvathno, he isnt a punditjust might have the answer. Horvathpast president of the American Polygraph Associationwas 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 Condits conduct? According to Horvath, the tests which pundits want Condit to take are wrong one time out of four! And Horvatha ranking professional polygrapheris 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 coursebut 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 doesnt Davis know this? A number of pundits have said as muchincluding 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 Im telling the truth. But then, says, but I wont 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 hes right on," she said "He shouldnt take a lie detector test, only because theyre voodoo." On the July 9 Larry King Live, Laura Ingraham stated a similar view. "A lie detector test is not reliable," Ingraham said. "I dont blame his attorney for not wanting him to take one."
Duh! Anyone with an ounce of sense would know why Condit wouldnt 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, its 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 Condits refusal, suggesting and saying that Condits 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 intowe 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 dont 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 arent 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.
Thats right. Having said that the tests "arent 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 dont agree with lie detector tests, I dont 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? Well save our speculations for later, but remember thistheres nothing so strange that our pundits wont say it. So lets revisit Lanny Davis, on last Sundays Late Edition. "Whats 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 Im suggesting, in this kind of a case, that that kind of thinking will get you into worse trouble.
Hes got to take the risk that he may be entrapped or he may be falsely accused. If hes innocent, hes got to hold a press conference until every question is answered. Hes got to take a polygraph test and take the risk. Anything else is just making matters worse.
Amazing, isnt it? Theres "no downside" to taking the examexcept the chance that hell be falsely indicted for murder! Other than that, its 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 dont 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 dont 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 remembertodays 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 arent 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 shouldnt state hunches, Davis just blurted out his:
MATTHEWS: Does anybody here has a hunch as to what happened here?
DAVIS: I certainly dont 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.
FUND: Yeah, the wife did it.
DAVIS: IllIll tell you my hunch. My hunch is theres no explanation for the irrational behavior of his reluctance to come forwardnot even to deny his involvementunless hes hiding something thats of major seriousness.
That makes sense. As we all know, guilty parties never "deny their involvement." If Davis isnt rehabilitating himself at Condits expense, hes been doing a good imitation. In Washington, the interests of sitting presidents count. The interests of sitting congressmen can be bartered.
Not quite right: The film A.I. has dropped like a rock, but Paula Zahn may be Spielbergs revenge. Zahn looks perfectperhaps too goodbut her affect doesnt seem quite right, and she frequently says things that dont quite seem human. Is there any chance that Roger Ailes is conducting experiments he hasnt 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 shows frightening trademark.