Condit de Canard: Levy/Condit Crosses the Atlantic

Written by Christopher Caldwell on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.


PARIS
It really tickled me the other day when, from a friend’s office,
I downloaded all the Condit news from America, and saw the way Texas Democratic
Rep. Max Sandlin had responded to a question about whether Condit should resign:
"I don’t think that’s my decision to make. That’s a decision
for others to make." But Sandlin was being asked for an opinion, not
a decision. Can you imagine watching sports with such a guy? Your team is one
run down in the eighth, and you have a man on first with one out. You ask Max,
sitting next you on the couch, if he’d send the runner. "It would really
be inappropriate for me to say," Max replies, "as I’m neither the
baserunner nor the manager."

It’s
only in the last few days that the Gary Condit saga has blossomed into European
newsprint, and nobody here–not a single man-jack of a journalist–has
yet shown he understands it. Last week, Libération, the most left-wing
of the big French dailies, even construed DC police chief Charles Ramsey’s
pronouncements that Condit is not a suspect to mean he’s been cleared. Surely
there exists a French-English dictionary comprehensive enough to clue in the editors
of this paper that, in this context, "He is not a suspect" is broadly
synonymous with We want to take maximum advantage of his openness until we
arrest him
.

Martin
Kettle of England’s Guardian blames the U.S. press for the scandal.
"For a media which may have found itself missing the chemistry of a juicy
Washington scandal following the departure of Bill Clinton from the White House,"
Kettle writes, "the affair of the errant middle aged male politician and
an ebullient female former intern from California has been the answer to a collective
prayer." Leave aside the Guardian-ese ("may have," for instance,
which ought to appear in the Encyclopedia of Journalism under the entry "Weasel
Words"; or "male politician," which is a pearl of p.c. worth crossing
the Atlantic to harvest). It’s preposterous to think that American journalists
in general can’t see the distinction between prying into the details of an
office affair and gathering facts about a woman who has either been murdered or
(less likely) is at this very minute in a desperate situation.

Granted,
some American journalistic outlets have not been able to draw that distinction.
But they err on the side of not covering the story. Take CBS, for example,
which as of midweek last week had hardly deigned to mention the story, and was
even rather chuffed up about itself for its reticence. Their reasoning is so subtle
that maybe you have to be in France to understand it. It’s that (a) Yuh,
okay, maybe it’s kind of important that the known mistress of a powerful
congressman has disappeared without a trace and murder is suspected, but (b) we
were really embarrassed about two years ago because we dug and dug and dug into
a silly office relationship the President had, and we never gave a thought to
the serious constitutional issues involved, because they didn’t interest
us, so (c) we’re going to stop investigating any kind of abuse of power–even
an all-but-alleged murder–any time the malefactor can claim we’re just
interested in digging dirt on him. He who fucks, walks.

This
kind of perversity has its parallel in France, too, although it takes the form
of what right-wingers here increasingly call la francophobie française.
Anyone who still believes the French are a collection of self-loving, chauvinistic
Vive-la-France prats would learn a lot from the last week’s French newspapers.
As the International Olympic Committee anguished in Moscow over whether to award
the 2008 Olympics to Paris or to Peking, Le Monde ran a front-page editorial
by one Francis Deron entitled "Olympic Games: Vote for Peking!" The
gist: Paris is the perfect place for the Olympics, with all the most modern athletic
facilities, a wealth of hotel rooms–and besides, it’s a democracy, in
which people don’t get tortured for mentioning that they’re religious.
Therefore, it doesn’t need the Olympics.

The
Europeans, in fact, are picking up the Condit story at precisely the moment where
Condit’s role in it is becoming less and less ambiguous. If we grant, arguendo,
that Condit is not a murderer but merely one of the most selfish men who ever
lived, we can come up with a reason why he would have withheld information about
Chandra Levy that might have saved her life. It’s that he’s in love
with his political career, and he runs in a district where adultery is unforgivable.

But
once stewardess Anne Marie Smith revealed an affair with Condit that had continued
until a couple of months ago, and once her statements were verified by Condit’s
driver, and once Chandra Levy’s friends had told cops of Condit’s secretiveness
about their relationship, and once Chandra’s aunt Linda Zamsky had confirmed
virtually everything Smith and the friends and the driver had said–well,
then the adultery cat was totally out of the bag, and there was no longer any
constraint of the Machiavellian kind on Condit’s truth-telling. So what kind
of constraint was there that kept Condit from helping police and the Levys
solve Chandra’s disappearance and probable murder? Especially since the Levys’
attorney Billy Martin is right that "he of all people would know her state
of mind" at the time she disappeared.

When
Condit volunteered to submit to a DC police search of his apartment, the CNN footage
of which was seen all around the world, the cops let it be known that they wished
they had been permitted to turn the place upside down much earlier. And when Condit
agreed to submit to a lie-detector test, his lawyer Abbe Lowell behaved as if
the scandal at issue were still a matter of a sitting president trying to hide
the most intimate details of his love life from his political enemies. Lowell
tried to negotiate the police down to asking Condit just a limited range of questions–which
experts in such matters say renders the procedure useless. (And it turns out,
he got the result he wanted.)

I
have always assumed lie-detector tests were useless to begin with. What they measure
is not truth but stress. That is, they’re based on the preconception that
liars are nervous and truth-tellers are confident, which I believe to be a very
erroneous preconception. But Condit doesn’t think that. Since he appears
to believe lie-detector tests work, his attempt to narrow the scope of questioning
amounts to more stonewalling. This from a man who already appears likely to face
charges of witness tampering and obstruction of justice due to his efforts to
get Smith to sign a false affidavit.

So
people are wrong to draw the Clinton comparison. Condit claims he hasn’t
spoken thus far so he could keep the focus off of him and place it on "finding
Chandra." Now, "finding Chandra" may look like it serves
the same purpose that "doing the business the American people sent me here
to do" served for Clinton during Monicagate. But as the days pass, it’s
beginning to look more like what "finding Nicole’s real killers"
was to O.J.

Gore:
La Fête Continue

My
visits to Paris, which aren’t exactly frequent, have overlapped with Bill
Clinton’s so many times that I’m beginning to feel like one of his staffers.
I just missed his last trip here, when, accompanied by James Carville, he gave
a speech on "War or Peace in the Middle East" to–no fooling–the
Paris Golf and Country Club. But I did hear an interesting story from someone
who saw him.

At
the funeral of Massachusetts Congressman Joe Moakley in June, Clinton and Al Gore
supposedly met for the first time since the aftermath of last year’s election.
Marjorie Williams’ big Vanity Fair piece about the star-crossed–to
put it kindly–Clinton-Gore relationship was on the minds of a lot of people
at the funeral, so some thought it was telling that Clinton and Gore were sitting,
not next to each other, but separated by House Minority Whip David Bonior. Since
front-row seats at funerals are usually figured out in advance, you’d think
such speculations were misplaced. But not in the case of Al Gore, where anything
that can go wrong usually does. What happened is that Gore arrived at the funeral
when it was already fairly packed, and saw he hadn’t been put anywhere near
the front. So he pushed his way up and sat in the seat that Moakley’s family
had reserved for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, between Bonior and Ted Kennedy’s
wife Victoria Reggie.

This
story is not a secret; The New York Times published an account of it in
the days after the funeral. But there was something about hearing the story from
a Clinton intimate–and knowing that Gore is the type of person his intimates
snicker about when they meet up after a long absence in foreign countries–that
added another dimension to what is already a many-splendored sad-sackery.

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