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4 September 2001

Our current howler (part I): Request denied

Synopsis: Duffy and Gibbs chose to Play It Real Dumb about that "specific request."

HOW NOT TO REBUILD A REPUTATION
Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs, Time, 9/3/01

Commentary by Ted Koppel
Nightline, ABC, 8/23/01

Commentary by Brit Hume, Rita Cosby
Special Report, Fox News Channel, 8/29/01

What’s love got to do with Condit’s caper?
Debra Saunders, The Washington Times, 9/3/01


To your "press corps," dissembling is now second nature. A good example appeared in last week’s Time. Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs reviewed the Condit-Chung interview. At one point, the scribes offered this:

DUFFY AND GIBBS: It sure was a strange way to launch a rehabilitation, as one of [Condit’s] advisers later admitted. The Levy family began firing back within an hour. Lawyer Billy Martin appeared on Nightline to shred Condit’s claim that the Levys made a "specific request" that he not discuss the details of the relationship. "Ted, he’s hiding," Martin said, "and I wish he would answer the question."

Is that what Martin did? In fact, as Duffy and Gibbs know full well, when Martin appeared on Nightline that evening, the "specific request" was discussed in detail. Ted Koppel asked Martin if he understood Condit’s reference, and Martin instantly said that he did. Quite correctly, Martin said that Condit referred to something Martin had said on CNN. Then Koppel played tape of that statement:

KOPPEL (8/23): Your recollection is almost letter perfect, Billy, but let’s give a listen to it. You were talking to—you were on CNN, I believe, and you were talking to Wolf Blitzer. Let’s, let’s listen.

BLITZER: (on videotape, 8/21) What do you want to hear? What does the Levy family want to hear from Gary Condit Thursday night?

MARTIN: (on videotape, 8/21) Look, the only thing the family wants to hear, and I spoke with Dr., both Dr. and Mrs., both Dr. Levy and Mrs. Levy today. They just want to hear information that could lead to information on Chandra’s whereabouts or what happened to her. They don’t really want to hear anything about the relationship. They don’t want to know how he felt about Chandra. They don’t want to know how Chandra felt about him. Those are issues that they’d like to put behind them. All they really want is their daughter back.

KOPPEL: I can understand, and of course I’ll be talking to [Condit lawyer] Abbe Lowell a little bit later in this broadcast, but I can understand how he would listen to that and say, "Bingo!" That is exactly the answer that the congressman needs to give, because in all fairness, you, Billy, gave it to him.

It may have been stupid or disingenuous for Condit to cite this "specific request." But everyone in the news biz—including Gibbs and Duffy—know what "request" Condit meant. He was talking about Martin’s 8/21 statement, in which Martin specifically said that the Levys did not "want to hear anything about the relationship," and did not "want to hear how he felt about Chandra." What had Condit meant by his statement? It was explained on Nightline, with perfect clarity, one hour after Condit-Chung aired.

That’s right, folks. Everybody in the news biz knows what "request" Condit meant. But readers of Time don’t know what he meant, because Duffy and Gibbs—improving their story—decided to leave that fact out. The press corps is busy composing a novel, in which Debbil Condit plays the unalloyed villain. And so Gibbs and Duffy—improving the tale—simply dropped a key fact from the story. As a result, Condit comes off much worse in their telling. Deceiving Time’s readers is small price to pay for the satisfaction of a story well told.

In fact, the reinvention of this part of the interview started quite quickly, on Fox. On Friday, August 24, Paula Zahn was already pretending that she didn’t know what "specific request" Condit meant; Zahn claimed that her staff had searched high and low for such a request, but just couldn’t find an example. (Zahn had apparently watched the Thursday Nightline; she referred to it later in the show.) That same night, Bill O’Reilly seemed to suggest that he didn’t know what Condit meant either—even though an earlier guest had identified the "specific request." But by Wednesday night, August 29, Rita Cosby had the bullroar down cold. Poor Rita! Dissembling hard on Special Report, she was totally clueless about what Condit meant—and she pandered to the play-acting Levys:

BRIT HUME: Chandra Levy’s parents are speaking out about what Condit did and did not say about their daughter. Senior correspondent Rita Cosby with details.

COSBY: The parents of missing intern Chandra Levy spoke to reporters to set the record straight.

(Videotape from 8/29 Q&A with the Levys) REPORTER: Was there a specific request by you, by the two of you, asking Mr. Condit not to speak about a relationship that he had with your daughter?

DR. ROBERT LEVY: No.

SUSAN LEVY: Uh-uh.

COSBY: During recent media interviews, Congressman Gary Condit refused to talk about his affair with Chandra Levy, using as an excuse what he said was a specific plea not to.

Amazing, isn’t it? On the tape, the suffering Levys walked glumly away after saying they’d made no request. They were "speaking out," Hume told his viewers—just trying "to set the record straight" about that Bad Man’s latest conduct. Of course, Hume and Cosby knew perfectly well what "specific request" Condit meant. But on Fox, Billy Martin’s 8/21 statement had now been dumped down the memory hole. By last Wednesday, the Levys were feigning total bewilderment—and Hume and Cosby, dissembling freely, were pretending to be clueless too.

For your "press corps," deception is now second nature. It’s the law: All presentations must improve Preferred Tales. In Time, Duffy and Gibbs knew not to say what "specific request" Condit meant. As this mindless Summer of Condit nears its end, we’ll try to clear up a few other points which left the two Time scribes kerflubbled.

Next: Did Mrs. Levy misunderstand Condit?, and other trivial tales.

How an improved story spreads: Yesterday morning, Debra Saunders was the latest scribe pretending She Just Doesn’t Get It. There must be a special circle in Hell for scribes who deceive with such ease:

SAUNDERS: During his ABC television interview Thursday night, Mr. Condit claimed he wouldn’t discuss whether he had an affair with Miss Levy, in part, because of a specific "request by the Levy family." The Levy family, of course, denies making such a request; the parents have been doing nothing but charging Mr. Condit with having an affair with their daughter for months.

Do you believe it? Do you believe that, ten days after the Condit-Chung interview, Debra Saunders doesn’t know what "specific request" Condit meant? And do you believe that the Levys don’t know? Sorry—the Levys know perfectly well; their lawyer explained it on Nightline! The Levys were simply play-acting last week, creating spin about Vile Condit as the press has allowed them to do this whole summer. And Debra Saunders—dissembling freely—is earning her way to that spot in Hell, deceiving her readers with ease.

Pundits like Saunders deceive you routinely. There must be a special circle in Hell for those who so abuse our public discourse.

 

The Daily update (9/4/01)

Charen breaks the Code of Silence: To your "press corps," dissembling is now second nature. They’ll simply hide the unwanted facts that damage Preferred Press Corps Stories. And that’s why you haven’t heard a word about Judy Bachrach’s reporting. As we’ve noted, Vanity Fair’s Bachrach reported, on August 24, that Chandra Levy almost surely wasn’t pregnant when she disappeared in May (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/27/01). What a bummer! The press had flogged the pregnancy rumor all summer; they were pleased to say it created a motive for Condit to have Chandra killed.

So what did your sterling "press corps" do when Mrs. Levy told Bachrach that Chandra wasn’t pregnant? What else—they completely suppressed the report! Right through Monday, September 3, not a single newspaper—not a single cable pundit—had breathed a word of what Bachrach said. Please understand—we don’t deal in hyperbole or in cheap rhetoric when we say that your "press corps" routinely deceives you. In no other sector is outright deception so basic a part of the work.

Today, Mona Charen breaks the Code of Silence. She is nice enough to cite our own work, and she asks the questions that need to be asked. Her column appears in the Washington Times. You know what to do—just click here.

At one point, Charen says this about the pregnancy rumor: "Why the Levys permitted this rumor to circulate uncorrected is a mystery." We’re not sure that it’s all that mysterious, but it’s surely a question that needs to be asked. Now that Charen has raised the question in a major newspaper, we’ll see if anyone asks it on cable. And we’ll see if even one cable pundit reports Bachrach’s key, basic fact.

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