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

27 August 2001

Our current howler (part I): Great American novel

Synopsis: The police think Chandra lied, the Times said. And you haven’t heard Word One about it. (EXTRA! The Levys reveal that Chandra wasn’t pregnant. Why did they wait to report it?)

Police keep silence on Levy investigation
Frank Murray, The Washington Times, 8/22/01

Secrets & Lies
Lisa DePaulo, Talk, 9/01

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

The Wait Of Their Lives
Richard Leiby and Petula Dvorak, The Washington Post, 8/26/01

Just how corrupt is your cable press corps? The Condit "coverage" has shown us quite clearly. Consider this striking passage from a detailed Washington Times piece about the D.C. police search for Chandra Levy:

MURRAY (8/23/01): The Times has learned from official sources and others with opposing interests in the case that police now believe Miss Levy regularly visited that apartment two or three times a week, solely for sex, and dined out with Mr. Condit just once—meeting him at the Tryst coffeehouse and restaurant on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan.

Family members told investigators Miss Levy was in love with the married congressman and expected a long-term relationship.

Police also are said to no longer credit a report by Miss Levy’s aunt, Linda Zamsky, that Mr. Condit told Miss Levy not to carry identification when she was with him.

If Murray’s report is correct, police do not believe that Condit and Levy took those secretive cab rides out to the suburbs to enjoy their favorite Thai food. More strikingly, police do not believe that Condit told Levy to dump her ID when they met. The Levys’ lawyer, Billy Martin, has said "the family" knew of the no-ID plan; the notion is often sourced to Chandra’s aunt, Linda Zamsky, although we can find no interview where Zamsky ever said this. If Murray’s report on the "no-ID" issue is accurate—and if Zamsky was the source of this claim—that would suggest that Levy misinformed her aunt about this widely-flogged matter. Zamsky clearly was the source of the cab-rides-to-eat-Thai-food stories.

So why is it? Why is it that you haven’t you heard Word One about Murray’s report? Why is this very first time that you’ve seen the quoted passage? Easy—you haven’t heard about Murray’s report because it harms the story the press likes to tell you. In particular, it suggests that Chandra Levy may have misspoken about various aspects of her relationship. And it implies that Condit has been badly damaged by widely-publicized but—alas!—phony tales.

If our press corps were devoted to bringing you news, you’d have heard about Murray’s reporting. His article presents important new claims—and his claims are sourced at least as well as many heavily-ballyhooed claims which have swept through the press corps this summer. (Including the report that Chandra was pregnant. See today’s "Daily update.") But your cable press corps no longer does news—your cable press corps now crafts romance novels. And in the thigh-rubbing novel they’ve fed you this summer, you’re not allowed to hear that Levy may have lied or shown bad judgment. And you’re not allowed to hear reports which paint Condit in a somewhat better light.

What happened, for example, when Lisa DePaulo reported on Levy’s past sex life? Granted, DePaulo comes off like a bit of a nut, but her reporting for Talk has been taken as gospel all over cable this summer. And her report on Levy’s romantic history was simply remarkable. Here’s the first passage in question:

DEPAULO: In August 1999, at age 22, Levy left Modesto and the [Modesto] Bee for USC. She arrived in Los Angeles with her rollerblades, a black BMW, and a broken heart. Friends say she was hoping to start over in L.A., devastated by the end of a relationship of several years’ duration with a Modesto cop who was very much older and very much married. Again she found a platonic male friend to confide in…

This friend spent hours with Levy, discussing her problems in her Culver City studio, where they’d sit and talk on the Murphy bed. He knew that she’d had lots of relationships—including several with other cops and several with other married men.

If DePaulo’s words mean what they say, then the Modesto cop—who was twenty years older than Levy, DePaulo says in this piece—was at least her third married boyfriend. The story continues from there:

DEPAULO: Levy went to Sacramento for another part of her master’s training…and while there got involved with anther older married man, this one a doctor. Friends say that when he ended the affair it was another crushing blow, and that she once again saw a move—this time to Washington—as a chance to start over.

In Washington, of course, she immediately began her affair with Condit. If DePaulo’s reporting is accurate, this would mean that Condit was at least Levy’s fifth married boy friend. For the record, when she began this affair, Levy was just 23.

To state the obvious, this is an extremely unusual romantic history. It has received almost no attention for an obvious reason—it’s unflattering to Chandra Levy. It suggests that Levy had extremely odd judgment and engaged in a pattern of troubling conduct. That would surely count as news—if the press corps were actually trying to figure out what happened to Levy. But your cable press corps is completely corrupt; it pretends to do news, while it really writes novels. In the account of this tale that the cable corps sells you, suggestions of instability on Levy’s part are quickly dropped down the memory hole. As a friend has observed, the press corps isn’t doing news about Levy, it’s reworking a fable: Little Red Riding Hood. Any information which spoils that tale will not—report, not—be discussed.

If you doubt that point, just look at what happened when the Levys discussed the Talk piece. On August 15, Chandra’s parents appeared on Larry King Live. DePaulo had been a frequent guest on the show. And the Levys said DePaulo had bungled:

KING: Lisa DePaulo’s Talk Magazine story came out last week. Were you surprised?

SUSAN LEVY: No, we knew her story was going to come out.

KING: Were you surprised at what it contained, Bob?

ROBERT LEVY: Not really. I mean, she is a good reporter and took a lot of history. I think some of the facts weren’t completely accurate.

KING: Like?

ROBERT LEVY: Like saying that Chandra was going out with married men. Well, the policeman that she dated for a long time was unmarried. And other people were divorced. So as far as we knew, she didn’t go out with married men.

KING: Were you surprised at that, that she wrote that?

SUSAN LEVY: Oh, yes, but I’m not surprised how things get twisted with the media. I’ve seen it time and time again.

KING: So you think Lisa had it wrong? The only married man she dated to your knowledge is the congressman?

SUSAN LEVY: To our knowledge. Well, as far as the police officer, whom we knew, he was not married. And another one was divorced, but you know, things get twisted sometimes.

Note: to all appearances, the Modesto policeman to whom the Levys refer is not the older, married cop who broke Chandra’s heart in DePaulo’s account. As DePaulo noted, the older policeman who broke Chandra’s heart was not Levy’s sole police boyfriend.

So here’s the picture: According to DePaulo, Chandra Levy had dated at least five married men, at least three of them considerably older. The Levys said Condit was the first. Who was right? Since the time of the Levys’ appearance, DePaulo has not appeared on Larry King Live, but she has made numerous appearances on other shows. And no one—repeat, no one—has tried to clarify the facts about this matter. For example, when DePaulo appeared on the August 20 Rivera Live, Gerald Rivera didn’t ask her about the discrepancy, although he specifically asked Levy attorney Billy Martin, in an earlier segment, if he was sure that Condit was "her only married man." (Martin wouldn’t answer.) Why has no one tried to clarify this? Because if DePaulo is right, it would suggest a few things that the press doesn’t want you considering. Again, it would mean that Levy had extremely odd judgment concerning romance—judgment which may have been exercised elsewhere, leading to her disappearance in a way that doesn’t involve Condit. But beyond that, it suggests another total no-no; if DePaulo is right, it suggests that the Levys had little awareness of how their daughter was living her life. To state the obvious, that would not be a sin on the part of the Levys. But since the Levys are heroes of the press corps’ tale, it is forbidden to notice that they can be totally wrong about major parts of the unfolding story. When the Levys are wrong, you simply aren’t told; it’s quickly dispatched to the memory hole. As we saw at the end of last week, when Condit suggested that Mrs. Levy may have misunderstood something he said, he was quickly roasted for the heresy; instantly, pundits engaged in reflexive lying, falsely claiming that he had called Mrs. Levy a liar. Your pundit corps hands you the stories it likes. Translation: they mislead you—deliberately.

Why haven’t you heard about Murray’s report? It doesn’t fit the cable corps’ novel. In particular, it suggests that Levy was "a little bit nutty," as was her boyfriend Condit. It suggests that Levy said oddball things to Zamsky, which the police have dismissed as untrue. (Condit has also been roasted for suggesting this.) And the report implies another heresy—it implies that some of the most damaging tales you’ve heard about Condit may, in fact, have been based on inventions. Because your cable press is corrupt to the bone—and because your cable press corps is pushing a novel—such possibilities can’t be brooked. So Murray’s report was shipped to the memory hole, where your tabloid press corps quickly runs to deposit all news it dislikes.

The press corps’ novel just keeps growing. The cable corps responded to Thursday’s Condit-Chung interview with an astounding display of dissembling and ignorance. The Fox News Channel led the way, as we’ll see when our report lumbers on.

Tuesday: By Sunday morning, a lynch mob was running. Tim Russert was holding the rope.

From anyone else, it’s called "lying:" Long story shortClifton K. Hillegass, who founded Cliff Notes, recently died at age 83. But contemporary journalists continue his work, offering pithy versions of their own master novels. On Sunday, for example, the Washington Post’s Richard Leiby and Petula Dvorak did a profile of the Levys. Here was their synopsis of Chandra’s romantic history:

LEIBY AND DVORAK: Why was Chandra drawn to Rep. Gary Condit, a married, much older politician? Her parents say they’re mystified. "He’s a smooth talker," Bob offers, "and obviously seduced a lot of other—you know, it’s not secret."

Love explains some of it: There’s no doubt that Chandra, just starting her career in government, was smitten with Condit, three decades her senior, who had long represented her parents’ district in Congress. She found men her own age too immature, her parents say. In her teens she dated a Modesto police officer, Mark Steele, then in his late twenties. (But not married.)

In a 3700-word profile, that was the writers’ total account of Chandra’s romantic history. And it is, of course, a textbook example of the press corps’ Acceptable Story. The Levys are "mystified" by Chandra’s affair, we’re told. And why are the Levys so hugely puzzled? Because, while Chandra found men her own age immature, we are given just one example of a previous relationship—with a man who was only ten years older, one who wasn’t married. Obviously, Leiby and Dvorak are well aware of DePaulo’s massively different account. But that isn’t a story the press corps likes, so instead you’re handed the Levys’ version, even though it’s almost surely inaccurate. In any other professional sector, such grossly selective presentation of facts would be called by an unpleasant name: "lying." But journalists engage in the practice routinely, telling you the story they like, even as they shake their fists at the notion that pols might dissemble. No one else, in any sector, gets to pick and choose facts in this way.


EXTRA! The Daily update (8/27/01)

DISGRACEFUL: There’s simply no other word to describe it. Vanity Fair’s Judy Bachrach is writing a piece about Chandra and Condit. Here she was on Friday’s Today show:

BACHRACH: I should say some of the things, also, that the parents of Chandra Levy told me last week, if I may.

ANN CURRY: Please do.

BACHRACH: One of the things—one of the things they told me is that Chandra was not pregnant at the time of her disappearance, which is very important, because a lot of news articles have suggested that that might be a motivation for somebody to make her disappear; that she was pregnant and demanding, and demanding of a longer, more serious relationship. But, in fact, she was not pregnant. She had recently had her period right before her disappearance. So that would not be a motivation in Gary Condit making her disappear or anybody else making her disappear, and I think that’s important to say. One of the things you look at in a situation like that is, if harm has come to her by somebody who knows her well, what was his motivation?

We think "that’s important to say," too. Bachrach appeared Friday night on The Edge. She extended the factual background of the story, although Zahn tried her best not to let the tale die:

BACHRACH: Finally, I think something has to be said. [Condit] is constantly accused of having made Chandra Levy disappear because she was pregnant. She was not pregnant. Her own mother says Chandra Levy was not pregnant at the time of her disappearance. She had just had her period a week or two before her disappearance.

ZAHN: All right, you know I heard you say that on another program, I’m like, you know, who talks to their mothers about their cycles? But—

Sorry, Paula. Levy talks to her mother about her cycles. Bachrach quite correctly interrupted:

BACHRACH (continuing directly): They had it at the same time, and they had it over Passover [April 8], when the daughter was visiting the mother.

This must be the most disgraceful episode of this entire cable farce. Clearly, the Levys have known, since Day One, that their daughter was not pregnant. They could have stopped the rumors and speculation to the contrary any time they wished. Instead, they sent their lawyer out to fan the flames (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/01), and kept their mouths shut when the Enquirer reported that Chandra was in fact pregnant. This, of course, greatly heightened speculation that Condit had murdered their daughter. Predictable imbeciles—Hannity and Colmes, to name two—made the predictable loud, squealing noises, telling viewers that this is surely why Condit must have had Chandra killed.

Readers, let’s translate. Let’s spell it out clean. The Levys sat by and said not a word when a public figure was accused of murder on a basis they knew to be false. It’s hard to know what words to use to describe such unspeakable conduct.

We’ve heard a lot of outraged comments about Condit’s failure to do the right thing. So what do you say about people—the Levys—who knew that the pregnancy just wasn’t so, but let the rumors fly for two months? Here at THE HOWLER, we find it hard to picture more repulsive conduct. And guess what? The cable press won’t say a word, because this latest example of repulsive conduct doesn’t fit their new thrilling novel. Meanwhile, Judy Bachrach should be named Righteous Pundit for injecting this into her interviews Friday. She is the only scribe we’ve seen in some time who retains her sense of what must be said—even when it spoils beloved tales, and harms press pursuit of The Damned.

By next week, we’ll research and report this story in more detail. In the meantime, you might want to ask your cable correspondents why it’s OK for the Levys to conduct such a hoax. And oh yeah—maybe lizard-lidded Billy Martin would like to lecture about this matter. Here was Bob Franken, on Friday’s CNN Live Today, discussing the pregnancy question:

FRANKEN: Now one of the things that’s fueled this a little bit has been the vague answer that you get from the Levys’ family attorney when that question is asked. He says, we have some information on that, but we wouldn’t want to discuss that right now, of course, very clearly and intentionally leaving the impression, that well, there is something here we ought to speculate about. But we’re not dealing in speculation. The hard facts from the police, there is—quote—no indication she was pregnant, doesn’t mean she absolutely certainly was not. They’ve not been able to track that down.

Really! According to Franken, the police didn’t know! We now know that Martin knew the truth all along. Will Franken be a Righteous Pundit? It is Franken’s clear duty to ask Billy Martin to explain his role in this utter disgrace. We’d like to hear the perpetually outraged—and dissembling—lawyer lay out the ethics of this one.

One final note on your press corps’ corruption. On Friday, Bachrach revealed a very important fact on two different major news programs. But according to a Lexis search, not a single newspaper or broadcaster has reported what Bachrach said. It wasn’t mentioned on Meet the Press. It wasn’t mentioned on Face the Nation. It wasn’t mentioned on This Week. It wasn’t mentioned on Late Edition, or Fox News Sunday. As we’ve told you again and again, and this isn’t hyperbole—when facts don’t fit the corps’ preferred tales, they’re taken straight to the memory hole. The celebrity press corps is writing a novel; this fact, which partially exculpates Condit, hasn’t yet found a place in their text.

Commentary by Ann Curry, Judy Bachrach
Today, NBC, 8/24/01

Commentary by Paula Zahn, Judy Bachrach
The Edge, Fox News Channel, 8/24/01

Commentary by Bob Franken
CNN Live Today, CNN, 8/24/01