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31 August 2001

Smile-a-while: The case of the slippery solicitor

Synopsis: Jim Robinson has now offered four sets of dates. On cable, they know not to notice.

Commentary by Sean Hannity, Jim Robinson
Hannity & Colmes, Fox News Channel, 8/28/01

Commentary by Geraldo Rivera
Rivera Live, CNBC, 8/29/01

Commentary by Geraldo Rivera
Rivera Live, CNBC, 8/24/01

Readers, it’s not like no one has reported the story! An alert reader excitedly sent us the word: Yahoo news of the UK and Ireland has mentioned Judy Bachrach’s report (click here). Bachrach’s report that Chandra wasn’t pregnant—sourced to Chandra’s own mother—still hasn’t been mentioned by any U.S. newspaper, and no one has breathed a word on cable (according to a Lexis search). But who could care about outlets like that when Yahoo/UK cites the fact?

What will happen as the weeks go by? No one on cable will say a word about the debunking of their pregnancy rumor. They’ll simply mention it less and less; eventually, even Nancy Grace will stop. Bachrach’s article will appear in Vanity Fair (December issue), and eventually everyone will come to know that Chandra wasn’t actually preggers. But no one will ever correct the record; apologize for bruiting the rumor so often; or dare to ask Levy lawyer Billy Martin why his "investigators" launched the tale in the first place (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/01). And no one—no one—will ever ask why the Levys waited to set the record straight. Don’t worry, readers. The little boys and girls who make up your "press corps" are committed to telling the stories they like. Some unfortunate third world nations are ruled by what we call a "kleptocracy." In this country, a similar situation obtains. Our public discourse has been seized by a strange little band; although they come across well on cable TV, they’re born dissemblers, corrupt to the bone.

Don’t be fooled by their charm and Q ratings; your modern "press corps" is deeply dysfunctional. But what they heck! Let’s enjoy a few mordant chuckles at one part of their work this past week.

Our question

Our question: What could possibly be the IQ of the average Fox News Channel viewer? On Tuesday night, Anne Marie Smith’s kooky counselor, Jim Robinson, was telling his favorite story. Robinson was appearing on Hannity & Colmes; at one point, Sean Hannity asked the hapless Robinson to describe a famous phone call from Condit. It’s the call where Condit is alleged to have told Smith that he’s in trouble and "may have to disappear for a while:"

HANNITY (8/28): Back to Anne Marie’s first interview with Rita. She did another great interview today. "I’m in trouble. I may have to disappear." When you think about that, what does that—what do you think?

ROBINSON: Well, I mean, the other thing is, is the fact that he said, "I never said that. I may have said I was going away for the weekend or something." The phone call was May 17th at midnight from Luray, Virginia, two hours south of D.C. He’s missed votes in Congress that day for the first time in years. Oh, he’s going away for the weekend or something. You know, I mean, come on.

In his answer, Robinson referred to Condit’s interview last week with KOVR-TV reporter Jodi Hernandez. Condit told Hernandez that the alleged "may have to disappear" conversation "never occurred."

Here at THE HOWLER, we just shook our heads as Robinson recited his story. Incredibly, Robinson is now on his fourth set of dates as to when this alleged phone call occurred. But on Fox, subhuman hosts just keep pretending there’s nothing wrong with Robby’s recital. Remember—on cable, they’re writing a novel, not news. If you’ve been cast as one of the Noble Accusers, you can emit all the nonsense you want.

Let’s go back over all the dates on which this alleged phone call occurred.

When Anne Marie Smith burst on the scene in July, the dates of the phone call were very, very troubling. On July 2, Smith—making her national network debut—said the phone call had occurred on "approximately May 5th or 6th." Cable pundits ran to interpret this news; it showed Condit’s complicity in Chandra’s disappearance, they said. How else could he have said this to Smith so early? they asked. After all, Condit only learned that Chandra was missing on May 6, when he spoke to the Levys.

But then, the dates began changing. Smith—never failing to note that she kept a diary, with records of all her phone calls—moved the date of the call to "May 11 or 12." Her batty barrister, Robinson, seemed to make it May 12, saying the call had been made on a Friday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/6/01). Cable pundits knew enough not to ask about the change in dates. Indeed, Tim Russert still used "May 5 or 6" on Meet the Press just this past Sunday!

This week, though, the fun really started. Tuesday night, Smith’s loopy lawyer did Hannity & Colmes, producing the "May 17" date (text above). Robinson was now making his third separate claim about when the troubling phone call had happened (all backed up by Smith’s detailed diaries). On Wednesday night, guest host Linda Vester played the new tape on The Edge, and her gang of guest took turns explaining the troubling phone call. But wouldn’t you know it? On Rivera Live, just one hour earlier, Geraldo Rivera had read from an actual document—the complaint which Robinson had just finished filing with the Modesto grand jury. Uh-oh! Turns out that the inattentive attorney said May 9 in his filing. Oops! It’s a date he has used nowhere else:

RIVERA (8/29): Let me just read from the first paragraph of Anne Marie’s filing. "In July of 2000, while I was a flight attendant with United Airlines I met United States Congressman Gary Condit…"

Let me just read you one more paragraph here on page two, item six. "On or about May 9th, 2000, Mr. Condit called me and said, ‘I may be in trouble. I may have to disappear for a while. Don’t call me for a few days. I’ll call you…Everything is OK with you and me.’"

Now she’s also, Jim Robinson, attorney for Anne Marie Smith, told me that this is, indeed, what happened. You’re going to have a hard time proving the content of the conversation, but the fact of the phone call, I think, would be very easy to—to establish…

"The fact of the phone would be easy to establish?" So far—buoyed by Smith’s detailed record-keeping—Robinson has said that the alleged phone call occurred on May 5 or 6, May 11 or 12, May 17, or on May 9. So you’re right, Geraldo—once the slippery solicitor gets into court, he should have no problem establishing those facts!

On cable, of course, this all makes sense. On The Edge, Vester and guests explained the call; all knew not to mention stream of changed dates. On Fox News Channel, this makes good sense. What could possibly be the IQ of people who sit through this nonsense?

Visit our incomparable archives: When Robinson burst upon the scene, he told a story which made absolutely no sense. All over cable, they knew not to notice. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/19/01.

Yo! Geraldo! It’s called "Lexis-Nexis:" Perhaps we shouldn’t single out Fox. Let’s talk Geraldo Rivera. Rivera spends an hour, every night, lambasting Condit as a "punk." But we often chuckle at his factual ignorance. Can you say "misfeasance," boys and girls? Last Friday night, he was shaking his fist over something Condit said to Connie Chung:

RIVERA (8/24): Remember now, for the first time, Condit admits that he called Chandra after the 29th of April…but that he wasn’t overly concerned because they had discussed—well, here, I’ll read exactly—"I placed a call sometime during the next few days, after the 29th of April, to try to find out what her travel plans were going to be." "And you called her apartment?" Connie Chung asks. "Yes, I left—yes, left a message." "And did she ever call you back?" "No." "Were you concerned?" "I was concerned she had not called me back, but also just assumed she had taken a train. And she told me the train was going to take four days."

What I would be interested in, Professor Alan Dershowitz, is whether or not Chandra Levy ever told anyone else in the entire planet that she liked to travel coast to coast by train because, as far as I know, that’s never happened.

Amazing, isn’t it? The fact that Chandra was considering going home by train is all over this story’s basic texts. Mrs. Levy repeatedly mentioned the fact in her interviews (dating back to mid-May). The fact that Chandra was checking Amtrak’s website on May 1 was released by the D.C. police in July. Lisa DePaulo mentions the fact in her seminal Talk piece this month. Has Rivera done any work on this case? If he’d done even basic background work, he’d have been well aware of this fact. (Note: Last month, Barbara Olson didn’t know from Amtrak neither. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/01.)

But why should major pundits waste their time preparing? Quick-witted buddies will always protect them. Later in the program, Rivera jumped on the train again. Watch how Tom Squitieri saved his host, turning Geraldo’s inexcusable ignorance into new proof of Condit’s misconduct:

RIVERA: Have you ever in all your reporting heard that Chandra Levy has ever taken a train anywhere other than, you know, a subway in San Francisco? Wait. Wait. Don’t tell.


RIVERA: We’ll be back. Stay tuned.

(Commercial break)

RIVERA: All right, Tom, train time.

SQUITIERI: Train time. Well, here’s the deal, Geraldo, on the train. There were reports from Linda Zamsky and others that Chandra was considering either a plane or a train ride home. So that has been in the newspapers; anybody could have read that, so anybody could report that in the conversation. We don’t know, of course, if or when that was conveyed to the congressman exactly in what form. You know, by the comparison—and I hasten to add this comparison—interviews with Anne Marie Smith by Fox News, Joleen McKay and other women by us, providing details of what the congressman’s apartment looked like, those interviews and those details were gathered before they were made public. So you can balance out what was collected in private and what was out there in public or what people say they were told.

"That has been in the newspapers," Squitieri said, implying that Condit learned it after Chandra disappeared. "Anybody could have read that," he said. At THE HOWLER, we couldn’t help chuckling when we heard that. It’s certainly true; anybody could have read it, so we couldn’t help wondering why a certain host didn’t. And by the way: when Robinson changes his dates four times, are you surprised now when Rivera doesn’t notice?


The Daily update (8/31/01)

Fuller Gainer: On cable, if you’re accusing Condit, you can change your story as much as you like. After his session with Connie Chung, D.C. police chiefs Ramsey and Gainer had a good time slamming Condit around, explaining how little help he’d been to police. On cable, pundits loved their statements. At THE HOWLER, we thought you might want to see what Gainer has said in the past. On July 6, D.C. police interviewed Condit for the third time; Gainer described Condit’s efforts in a press conference held the next day. At that time, the effusive chief went on and on about how helpful Condit had been. CNN aired the press conference live. All exchanges quoted below come from the CNN transcript.

Gainer began with an upbeat overview statement. But forget that; Gainer then took questions from the media, and fleshed out his views in the process:

QUESTION: Are you satisfied that you have everything you need from him at this moment?

GAINER: Well, the Metropolitan Police Department won’t be satisfied until we have Chandra Levy. I very comfortable that the congressman and his wife and his attorney are cooperating with us and they’ve answered every single question that we have put to them.

QUESTION: Would you say that the congressman has obstructed in any way this investigation?

GAINER: I do not think that’s the case. I think with the clarity of this interview, with the interview of his wife that we have the information that we need.


QUESTION: You were very careful throughout this entire thing to repeat that the congressman is not a suspect in this case. Is now the time for you to stand and say that the congressman—the police believe the congressman had nothing do with her disappearance?

GAINER: I don’t believe he had anything at this point. There’s no indication that that’s ever been the case. It wasn’t an indication yesterday, and isn’t one today.

QUESTION: What happened during the previous two interviews? Was he not cooperative? Was he not answering—

GAINER: I don’t think that’s a fair way to say it. Again, to professionals like yourself who spend a lot of time asking questions and repeatedly asking questions, it doesn’t surprise anybody that you would won’t to get clarity and as you learn new things or we learn new things, you want to discuss those things.

So, having a third interview doesn’t mean the first interview was unsuccessful or the second interview. It just means inquiring minds want further information. We’re information sponges, and I’ll keep getting it from wherever we can.

QUESTION: Had he made any requests to you during this interview in terms what you can disclose?

GAINER: There were no ground rules in this. He answered every question we put forward to him. Last question, anybody? Hearing none, I thank you.

QUESTION: Why are you so confident that he’s not a suspect? What is it about his answers that make you feel so confident that he’s not a suspect at all?

GAINER: Well, we’ve been in the midst of looking for Chandra Levy for quite a bit of time, now. So factoring in the interviews, the evidence that we have gathered, the physical records I’ve talked about in our interviews, I can say with some certainty is he not a suspect.

QUESTION: You talked about you called out for clarity, you challenged him. Obviously, you were frustrated with the previous two [interviews] if you had to call out to him that he wasn’t providing clarity in the other two.

GAINER: Allan, I’m the type of guy that just rarely gets frustrated. All I was suggesting was, in all honestly, that we needed clarity and I spoke very openly and honestly about that, and again, simultaneous, the congressman was interested in providing that same clarity. So, there was a wonderful meeting of the minds and a good hour and a half interview.

QUESTION: Is it accurate to say that the congressman explicitly described the nature of his relationship with Chandra Levy?

GAINER: It is most accurate to say the congressman answered every question we asked of him and he did it fully, completely and professionally and cooperatively. So, thank you very much. [End of press conference]

Gainer explicitly said that Condit had not "obstructed the investigation" at any point. He said it was "unfair" to say that Condit had been uncooperative in Interviews I and II. But that was then, and this is now. Now, police are busily changing their story, and pundits are happy to get the new quotes. That’s not how it works in news. But this isn’t news; your cable "press corps" is writing a novel, and your cable dissemblers are always quite thrilled when accusers improve prior tales.