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28 July 2001

Our current howler (part IV): End daze

Synopsis: If we just stop correcting bad facts, Kausfiles says, the truth will emerge in the end.

Commentary by Larry King, Barbara Olson, Michael Zeldin, Nancy Grace
Larry King Live, CNN, 7/26/01

Warning: Chandrogynous Zone
Mickey Kaus,, 7/15/01

Levy spotlight shifts onto sex offenders
John Drake and Jim Keary, The Washington Times, 7/27/01

There she went again. In Thursday night’s first exchange on Larry King Live, dissembler emeritus Barbara Olson turned a key fact on its head. King asked Olson about two Condit staffers who had just hired lawyers:

OLSON: Well, they definitely need lawyers. I mean, from what we have had reported is Joleen McKay, who had an affair with Gary Condit before she became a staffer, came to Washington as a staffer. The affair continued. And then, it’s very interesting that Ms. McKay did call the FBI on May 16. She said what she knew, but she didn’t tell Condit or his staffers that she had done that. The staffers call her afterwards, and the statement by the AA, the one we talked about last night, who is always going behind Condit with the glasses, that he tells her not to tell anyone about this or her life will be ruined…

No one does it better. USA Today had reported this matter; the paper made it perfectly clear that it was McKay who made the phone calls, to Condit staffer Mike Dayton. In fact, she called him four separate times, the report quite plainly said. (There was no claim that Dayton had ever called McKay.) But for Olson, the story works better if Dayton called McKay, since this would turn him into the aggressor. So Olson misstated this basic fact—although her later comments made it clear that she was quite familiar with the USA Today story.

Three pundits later, Michael Zeldin corrected Olson. And he mentioned something else—Dayton has denied McKay’s charges. "With respect to one thing that Barbara said, though, I believe that Dayton categorically denied the statement," Zeldin said. "And I thought also as a fact it was she who called Dayton, not Dayton who called her."

By traditional standards, Michael Zeldin had just performed a service. He had just corrected an erroneous fact, one that makes a difference in assessing the conduct at issue. You’d think that somewhere, trumpets would sound as Zeldin performed his vital service. And since everyone knows this is all-about-finding-Chandra and all-about-getting-at-the-truth-in-this-case, you’d certainly think that professional journalists would applaud the low-key lawman’s contribution.

But to enigmatic "Kausfiles" honcho Mickey Kaus, Zeldin is just a big chump. On July 15, Kaus posted one of the strangest statements ever made in the Condit affair:

KAUS: Why did so many Clinton defenders—e.g., Julian Epstein, Paul Begala, Mark Geragos—so readily go on television to defend Condit? Sure, TV chat-show producers may have instinctively turned to them upon hearing the words "adulterer," "intern," and "grand jury." But is that the ecological niche Democrats want to occupy?…The most egregious example is Epstein, who works for the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. His bosses could presumably tell him to stop going on TV, something congressional staffers don’t ordinarily get to do anyway. But he’s been everywhere—Larry King Live (three times), Geraldo (three times), Crossfire, etc….If Condit’s guilty, why associate him with the Democrats—and with Clinton? If Condit’s innocent, that truth will eventually come out without Epstein’s help. [All punctuation original to Kaus; we have made no deletions]

According to Kaus, when Michael Zeldin corrected Olson, he was "defending Condit." And if Condit is innocent, "the truth will eventually come out," whether Zeldin corrects her or not. No doubt, the truth will be brought to us by the Tooth Fairy, another figure in whom Kaus must believe. According to Kaus, the truth will somehow emerge in the end without anyone trying to serve it.

Kaus’ remarks seem to us to come straight from the Twilight Zone. But when mainstream pundits can make such odd comments, they help us see the peculiar problems that have defined this disgraceful press episode.

You know it don’t come easy

Just for the record, in the Condit tale, the truth, it don’t come easy. Pundits like Olson are pushing GOP party interest, and pundits like King—now chasing Fox—are simply in love with the hunt. In the pursuit of Gary Condit, King has been near the front of the mob for some time. How hard can it be to nail down the facts in this context? Settle back to enjoy a good laugh; incredibly, this is what the hapless King said when Zeldin corrected the record:

ZELDIN: …and I thought also as a fact it was she who called Dayton, not Dayton who called her.

KING: All right. Nancy Grace—this is hypothetical—if, if Condit were to say to the aide, "Call this woman and tell her not to do anything," is he involved in obstruction [of justice]?

Incredible, isn’t it? As soon as Zeldin noted that Dayton had not called McKay, King told Grace to pretend that he had! And to pretend that Condit had told him to do it! Grace, of course, rarely needs any urging. Would Condit be involved in obstruction, King asked? "Absolutely," Grace happily said, convicting Condit of the "hypothetical" crime.

No, in the new, crackpot context of Larry King Live, correcting the facts don’t come easy. Later, Zeldin had to do it again. This time, it was "journalist" Lisa DePaulo who improved on the facts. Should Condit’s wife now be a suspect? King asked. After all, the host wierdly said, "people are referring to Scott Turow’s famous book Presumed Innocent, a very similar kind of story."

Incredible, isn’t it? King mentions another absurdly irrelevant fact; "people" are talking about a novel in which the wife turns out to be guilty! Literally, King was back to pleasing fictions—and DePaulo was up to her task.

DEPAULO: Given the state of mind Chandra was in at the end, where she had just lost her job, she was really, really wanted him to make a commitment to her, the fact that the wife suddenly comes to town, who never comes to town, I think is real relevant, and I think that is something to really, really look at.

Again, Zeldin corrected the record. What were Mrs. Condit’s habits? "We know that she came to town a couple times a year, and that this was not inconsistent with that," he said. And he noted that "the reason that she came to town—at least, the purported reason that she came to town—was the congressional wives’ luncheon, which was previously scheduled, that Laura Bush was to make an appearance at." DePaulo contrived a better story—a fiction—with a "sudden" appearance by a wife "who never comes to town" at all. Once, it would have been considered a service to correct such "mistakes." Now, Kaus doesn’t like it. Why is that?

The greatest offense

Why in the world would Mickey Kaus criticize players like Zeldin? About that, we have barely a clue. It is true, of course, that Dems are hurt by the continuation of this story. Kaus’ solution? Just let spinners like Olson commit endless slanders, and trust that all will turn out in the end. Wierdly, Kaus shows no concern about pundits’ false statements—but he is upset with those who correct them. And in his mind, this adds up to a "defense of Condit"—although we’re not quite sure just who has tried to "defend" Condit’s overall conduct.

If Condit is innocent, will the truth "eventually come out?" That assumption is purely Panglossian. Innocent people have been walking off death row for months, and if Condit is innocent of Levy’s disappearance, there will be no way to get back the disinformation our pundits have managed to spin. But what will the greatest offense have been? By far, it will be the offense to our public discourse, as crackpots and knaves on King’s corrupt panels spew out fictions and "hypotheticals" every night of the week. The gong-show habits displayed on this program will soon be applied to more serious topics. Dissemblers have long been democracy’s foe. Kaus now scolds those who correct them.

The world turned upside down: Here at THE HOWLER, we like Mickey Kaus; in fact, it was only last summer when the enigmatic pamphleteer invited our entire staff to a soiree at his empire’s sprawling campus. The fete occurred during the Democratic convention, and our analysts dreamed of attending. But THE HOWLER is built on sterner stuff; we locked them down in their rooms instead, and told them to study their classics.

Maybe it’s time for our pamphleteers to return to traditional sources. On Thursday, Kaus published this note in his files:

KAUS: The needle has finally moved in the Chandra case…Bad news for Dan Rather! [All punctuation by Kaus]

Egad! The item linked to the Drudge Report, previewing a story in the National Enquirer! It would all show what was a doody-head Dan Rather is, the Kaus item plainly implied.

Where to begin? If new evidence convicted Condit tomorrow, that wouldn’t make Rather wrong in the past, unless our anchors are expected to serve as clairvoyants. (If Rather had those skills, of course, he could quit his CBS job, and do guest spots on Paula Zahn’s program.) But just for the record, it has quickly come to seem as if "the needle" hasn’t moved here at all. The Enquirer was claiming that Mrs. Condit had a "blow-up phone call" with Chandra in April. Thursday night, police officials were quickly saying, on the record, that the claim lacked merit. Friday morning, the WashTimes published this:

DRAKE AND KEARY: Police officials yesterday calmed a brief media frenzy sparked by a supermarket tabloid report that investigators are seeking an interview with Rep. Gary A. Condit’s wife, Carolyn, who supposedly had a confrontational telephone conversation with Miss Levy before she vanished…

"I don’t think there’s any truth to that whatsoever," Chief Gainer, the department’s No. 2 official, said of the National Enquirer report, which was posted on the tabloid’s Web site yesterday and hits newsstands today.

Three law enforcement sources familiar with the Levy case said detectives have no plans to interview Mrs. Condit, whose husband this month admitted to investigators that he had an affair with Miss Levy after having denied a romance for weeks.

So what does it mean? What does it mean when Mickey Kaus links to the Enquirer—through Drudge—to call Rather a dope? One possibility: Maybe our pundits have had too many parties this summer, and not enough rigorous study sessions devoted to classic understandings.


Smile-a-while (7/28/01)

Missing question: There must be something in the water at CNN’s TalkBack Live. Every now and then, the embarrassing truth pops out on the program. Thursday afternoon, host Bobbie Battista was talking about the private polygraph exam Condit took. You’re going to think that we’re making his up. But here are the exact words she said:

BATTISTA: But if you’re going to take a lie detector test and you volunteer to take one, why set up such a bogus one? I mean, to not even ask the basic question. "Are you having an affair with this woman" wasn’t even on the test.

These were the target questions on Condit’s polygraph: Did Condit have anything to do with Levy’s disappearance? Did he harm her or cause anyone else to harm her? And third, does he know where she can be located? But to Battista, the basic question was strangely missing. At no point was the congressman asked if he’d had an affair with his pal!

So we return to our basic question: Where on earth do they find these people? And what has happened to press corps culture when such a weird performance by a CNN anchor can even be dreamed as a joke?