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7 September 2001

Our current howler (part II): Welcome to Salem Village!

Synopsis: Whose account of that phone call is right? Dr. Levy seems to support Gary Condit—but the parsons and goodies don’t care.

Tedious bear-baiting
Mona Charen, The Washington Times, 9/4/01

Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs, Time, 9/3/01

Commentary by Sean Hannity, Michael Isikoff
Hannity & Colmes, Fox News Channel, 9/4/01

Commentary by Stone Phillips, Dr. Robert Levy
Dateline, CNN, 8/10/01

Secrets & Lies
Lisa DePaulo, Talk, 9/01

Commentary by Larry King, Abbe Lowell
Larry King Live, CNN, 8/24/01

Ah yes, the reptilian cortex! Throughout history, we humans have obeyed its signals, organizing ourselves into brainless mobs and chasing Despised Souls through the streets. We force them to say what the mob wants to hear. In Salem Village, we would strap them on chairs and dunk them in lakes until they said the things we admired. That’s why Mona Charen—a conservative, who considers Gary Condit a "louse"—is most correct in her view of the press corps:

CHAREN: Gary Condit may indeed be guilty of murder. But there is no evidence. None. And to watch the media baying after him is like watching any mob in action. They don’t have torches and dirty faces, but they are a mob nonetheless.

"This prolonged public torture is taking on a medieval quality," Charen writes. "The newspapers, the talk shows, but most particularly the cable news channels are not searching for the truth…instead, they are engaged in a version of bear-baiting for the entertainment of the masses."

The media "are not searching for the truth," Charen writes, explaining why they should all be fired (our view, not hers). But then, neither were the parsons and goodies who dunked vile witches in Salem’s ponds. Is the comparison too far-fetched? Hardly. Indeed, press reaction to the Condit-Chung interview took us all back to Salem Village, as cable crazies bellowed and wailed when Gary Condit wouldn’t say what they wanted.

All over the press corps, the goodies were raging; the demon had dared to dispute his accusers! Here’s how Duffy and Gibbs expressed it in Time, speaking in much muted tones:

DUFFY AND GIBBS: [I]f [Condit] was trying to appear unjustly accused, it would have helped not to accuse everyone else. An old trial lawyer’s rule holds that a defendant can get away with calling one witness a liar. Two people—maybe. More than that, and the jury will figure, rightly or wrongly, that you’re the liar.

Mrs. Levy claims Condit denied to her that he had had an affair with her daughter? She must have "misunderstood the conversation," he told Connie Chung last Thursday. The police say he bobbed and weaved through the first two interrogations? "I’m puzzled by why the police chief would say that," he replied. A flight attendant claims he wanted her to lie about their affair on a false affidavit? "I’m puzzled by people who take advantage of tragedy." Chandra’s aunt says he was obsessive about secrecy? "I don’t know why the aunt would say that." It sure was a strange way to launch a rehabilitation, as one of his advisers later admitted.

In this passage, the scribes repeat the Standard Press Story, watered down and scrubbed up a bit. (They imply that Condit called everyone liars, while being too savvy to say so.) But Tuesday night, on Hannity & Colmes, knuckle-dragging co-host Sean Hannity spoke with Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, and Hannity expressed the Standard Story in his frankly reptilian fashion:

HANNITY: He lied about Anne Marie Smith.

ISIKOFF: Absolutely.

HANNITY: I believe Anne Marie Smith. He lied about what he said to the investigators.


HANNITY: He lied about Linda Zamsky.

ISIKOFF: Yes, he did.

HANNITY: And I—and I think there’s going to be proof that he lied about what the Levys told him. So if I have suspicion, it’s because he put it there.

Condit called everyone else a liar—that was Standard Pundit Spin right after the Condit-Chung interview. Hannity refashions the story slightly, saying, for example, that Condit lied about Zamsky. In fact, as Duffy’s quotation makes perfectly clear, Condit said he doesn’t know why Zamsky said the things she said. But that wasn’t good enough for Time; like our ancestors in Salem Village, they wanted Condit to agree with accusers, and nothing else Condit did would quite do.

It’s human nature—reptilian style—to beat up The Other until he confesses. But before we leave this idiot story, let’s examine one dispute a bit further; let’s just make a modest effort to figure out who’s right in at least one dispute. Who was right about Condit’s phone call with Mrs. Levy, to take one example? According to Mrs. Levy, she asked him point blank if he’d had an affair, and Condit lied to her, saying he hadn’t. Time is upset that Debbil Condit would dare disagree with the Virtuous Mother. But some evidence suggests that Condit’s account of this phone call may be more accurate than Mrs. Levy’s. Before the parsons and goodies dunk the congressman further, we might want to do the thing they most hate. We might want to look at the actual facts, and accept our real lot—ambiguity.

YOU CAN CERTAINLY SAY ONE THING FOR THE LEVYS—they never tell the same story twice. Listen, for example, to Dr. Levy, speaking on the August 10 Dateline. According to Dr. Levy, the Levys had a phone bill from their mid-April vacation with Chandra; it showed a number at which Chandra had called her congressman boy friend several times. Also according to Dr. Levy, when Chandra disappeared on May 1, they didn’t know who that congressman was:

STONE PHILLIPS: (Voiceover) The Levys say that phone bill soon confirmed what Chandra had begun to hint at—that, in fact, the mystery man she was seeing was…Gary Condit. The Levys say they figured it all out when they called Condit’s Washington office on May 7th for help in finding Chandra, and Dr. Levy mentioned the number on his bill.

PHILLIPS: Six days after she disappeared, you called Congressman Condit’s office, and that telephone number came up.

DR. LEVY: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Tell me about that call.

DR. LEVY: I talked to one of the assistants, and I mentioned that I believed my daughter was having an affair with a congressman.

PHILLIPS: With a congressman.

Dr. LEVY: A congressman.

PHILLIPS: You weren’t sure which one?

DR. LEVY: No. I gave him that number, and they said that it was Gary Condit’s number.

PHILLIPS: Were you surprised to hear that?

DR. LEVY: I was surprised.

PHILLIPS: Did it click in your mind at that point?

DR. LEVY: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s when I knew that he was the congressman that she was seeing.

According to Dr. Levy on Dateline, the Levys learned on May 7 that Condit had been Chandra’s boy friend. But that’s not the way Mrs. Levy tells it. Here’s what Lisa DePaulo reported in her Talk magazine piece:

DEPAULO: In the last home video the Levys made of Chandra, she is blowing out her birthday candles [in April]. Her mother recalls noticing the bracelet on her list and wondering, Did he give her that bracelet for Valentine’s Day? By mid-April, Susan Levy had finally cajoled the name of Chandra’s boyfriend out of her sister-in-law, Linda, and then confronted her daughter. "Is it Gary Condit?" Susan asked.

"How did you know?" replied Chandra. [DePaulo’s emphasis]

According to Dr. Levy on Nightline, the Levys learned it was Condit on May 7. According to Mrs. Levy in Talk, the Levys learned it was Condit back in mid-April. We know, we know—you don’t have to write us—it’s imaginable that the stories cohere. But in your "press corps," the Levys are always presumed to be saintly, so no one inquires about apparent contradictions. No one has ever specifically asked about these two rival accounts. But trust us—the Levys seem congenitally unable to tell this story the same way twice. Sorry, but given the evidence that they planted a pregnancy rumor they believed to be false, we’re long past the point when recitations by the Levys should be accepted on faith—especially when their recitations seem to contradict one another.

According to Dr. Levy, what did the Levys know about Chandra’s boyfriend at the time she disappeared? The following exchange occurred on Dateline. Mrs. Levy was present, and she didn’t contradict what her husband said:

PHILLIPS: Before Chandra disappeared, how much did you know about her relationship with the congressman?

DR. LEVY: She had told me earlier that she was seeing a divorced congressman from Southern California.

PHILLIPS: But you weren’t sure exactly who?

DR. LEVY: No, no, because she was required to—she misled us.

In short, the Levys knew Chandra was seeing a congressman, but they didn’t know which one. They had been told he was divorced and from SoCal; neither description fits Condit. This, of course, substantially tracks what Condit said about his phone call with Mrs. Levy, which everyone says took place on May 6. "She made several statements about a variety of different people," Condit said in his interview with Chung. The following night, on Larry King Live, Abbe Lowell unpacked what that meant:

LOWELL: I have heard from Congressman Condit about that conversation, so let me try to fill in some of the blanks—and if Mrs. Levy is listening, this may also refresh her memory.

She did call the night after her husband first called Congressman Condit. She did say to the congressman, "I’m looking for my daughter, what can you tell me?" She did do all that. She didn’t single out Congressman Condit, and that is something that Congressman Condit has been trying to protect the Levys’ conversation from. He hasn’t told—

KING: What did she say?

LOWELL: Mrs. Levy asked Congressman Condit whether or not he knew whether her daughter was involved with a variety of different people. I don’t mean by "variety" dozens, I mean a couple. She mentioned three or four different names, according to the congressman.

KING: She gave him the names of people she thought her daughter was involved with?

LOWELL: Yes, yes, oh yes.

This account would make perfect sense, if Dr. Levy’s statement was accurate. According to Dr. Levy, the Levys didn’t know who the boyfriend was. In that case, they may have mentioned several names—probably names of divorced congressmen from SoCal.

What did Mrs. Levy ask Gary Condit? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But as Charen so accurately states, none of the press corps’ repulsive conduct has a thing to do with a "search for the truth." Your dysfunctional "press corps" has been dunking Condit, because he won’t say the things that they want him to say. And you are living in Salem Village—don’t be fooled by that Y2K stuff.

Duffy and Gibbs found a nice way to say it. But they wanted Condit to agree with accusers, even when they don’t know if accusers are right. The reptilian cortex still speaks loud and clear. The Sean Hannitys—and their handmaidens—bow to it.

Just as it ever was: This is not the first big, ballyhooed brouhaha in which Condit’s story may well be more accurate than the Levys’. Example: On June 21, Condit met personally with Mrs. Levy in Washington. Soon a dispute was raging. As usual, the Levys called Condit a liar; Michael Frisby, a Levy spokesman, was quoted in the Washington Post:

DVORAK AND LENGEL: Frisby said that Condit…has provided conflicting accounts of when he last spoke to Chandra Levy. Frisby said that Condit told Susan Levy in a meeting June 21 that he was last in touch with her daughter April 24 or 25. Two days later, law enforcement sources have said, he told police that he had last spoken to Levy on April 29.

On Larry King’s nightly gong show, pundits yapped about it for weeks, swearing that Condit had lied to the Levys. They rarely mentioned the fact that Condit had offered a perfectly reasonable explanation for the apparent confusion:

DVORAK AND LENGEL: A source representing Condit, who was familiar with the meeting between Susan Levy and Condit, said that if there seemed to be a discrepancy in the dates Condit provided about his last contact with Chandra Levy, it was because Condit was referring to the most recent time he spoke to Levy in person, not by telephone. But Frisby said Condit was asked about the last time he either saw or spoke to Levy.

Here we go again! Condit said he was asked when he last saw Chandra; the Levys said they asked when he saw or spoke to her. After weeks of beating up Condit for lying, the Levys appeared on the August 15 Larry King Live. King asked about the June 21 meeting, and Mrs. Levy gave this account:

KING: What happened, in essence, at that meeting?

MRS. LEVY: We met him and asked him four questions. If I can remember them, I’m not sure.

KING: Generally.

MRS. LEVY: Generally: "When’s the last time you’ve seen my daughter, the date?"

"Do you happen to know where my daughter is?"

"Where did you see my daughter?" "In my house," he said. I said, "Oh, your house in Ceres?" And he says, "No, in my house in Washington, D.C."

And, "Will you cooperate with our investigators in the case?" And he said, "Yes, I will cooperate fully."

And I think the other one was, "Will you cooperate with the Washington police in the investigation?"

Those were the four questions.

Actually, that was five questions. But note the first question Mrs. Levy related: "When’s the last time you’ve seen my daughter, the date?" That, of course, matched the account of the meeting which Condit had given. But never mind; Condit had been beaten up as a liar, making our parsons and goodies feel better, and no one said so much as a word when Mrs. Levy made Condit seem right.

Levy Family Seeks Condit Polygraph
Petula Dvorak and Allan Lengel, The Washington Post, 7/9/01

Commentary by Larry King, Susan levy
Larry King Live, CNN, 8/15/01


The Daily update (9/7/01)

Keeping you barefoot and pregnant: On Tuesday, Charen made the big time. It isn’t just that her column appeared in the Washington Times, one of the nation’s most important political newspapers (it always does). The following excerpt of her article appeared in the Hotline that morning:



New Republic’s Sullivan asks, "what exactly has Gary Condit done wrong?" What "went on this summer is the most disgraceful episode of groundless vilification in American journalism since Richard Jewell was accused of terrorism" in ’96. It "had nothing to do with the facts or with an attempt to find a missing person. And it had everything to do with the salacious and insatiable appetite of a media mob" (9/10 issue).

Adds Washington Times’ Charen: "Bob Somerby has pointed out that two of the biggest strikes against Mr. Condit are not true. The first is the rumor that Miss Levy was pregnant when she disappeared…The second falsehood that has gained currency according to Mr. Somerby is the idea that Mr. Condit told Miss Levy to leave her I.D. at home when she went to see him. The Washington Times reports that District police no longer believe this." More Charen: "Gary Condit may indeed be guilty of murder. But there is no evidence. None. And to watch the media baying
after him is like watching any mob in action" (8/31). [Hotline’s deletion]

The Hotline is the Washington press corps’ cheat sheet and Bible. As of Tuesday morning, every TV news producer alive had seen what Charen wrote about the pregnancy rumor. (Her full article, of course, noted the fact that Mrs. Levy herself had shot down the rumor.) And what was the reaction to Charen’s column? According to Lexis-Nexis, Mrs. Levy’s comment on Chandra’s pregnancy has not been mentioned on a single TV show. Nor has it been mentioned in a single newspaper. The press corps loved the pregnancy rumor; shouted it to the skies all summer; and aren’t about to let you know that it was likely a big load of bunk. They simply aren’t going to tell you. Charen also asked why the Levys had waited so long to shoot down this nasty rumor, which helped target Condit as a killer. The press corps doesn’t want you worrying your pretty little heads about that, either. In the summer romance novel which the press has been peddling, the saintly Levys are always right. When Charen’s column raised an obvious question about their ethics, the press knew what to do. They suppressed it.

Let’s say it again—your modern "press corps" is a gang of dissemblers. That isn’t rhetoric, or metaphor, or a lively talking point; it’s an obvious—if counter-intuitive—fact. It’s hard to grasp the degree to which your modern "press corps" is prepared to deceive you. But your modern "press corps" is a small mafia, however hard that may be to grasp, and its near-total suppression of Judy Bachrach’s reporting provides a clear example of that. It shows how far your "press corps" will go to keep you all barefoot and pregnant.

The Hotline, 9/4/01