Condit Unbecoming: Congressman Acts As If He's Gui

Jonah Goldberg

7/16/2001 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
Technically, it's bad form for journalists to "rush to judgment." We're supposed to carefully weigh and measure every confirmed fact as it comes in. Speculation, gossip and prurient chatter shouldn't play a role in our thoughtful deliberations on the important topics of the day. When we finally set metaphorical pen to metaphorical paper (nobody uses the real things anymore), we should be sure that everything we write can be substantiated by facts. Let's give all that rest for a minute. I think California Representative Gary Condit had something to do with the disappearance and therefore possibly even the murder of 24-year-old intern Chandra Levy (corpses from suicides tend to turn up). I don't know if Condit said to a shady friend, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome intern?" Or if he forcefully declared, "Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia, er, I mean Chandra Levy" to his Hell's Angels buddies. But, one thing is clear: Condit has not behaved like an innocent man. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: innocent until proven guilty. But, remember, that's a (ital) legal (end ital) standard, and a useful one. But so long as I am not a judge or a juryman, I can leap to whatever conclusions I want. And I'm rushing to judgment like O.J. Simpson through an airport (hmmm ... maybe not the best analogy, all things considered). And I'm not alone. Chandra Levy is the only water cooler topic in Washington. Sure, campaign finance reform is coming up for a vote in the House. But campaign finance reform is (ital) always (end ital) coming up for a vote. Meanwhile, this is a real-life whodunnit with illicit affairs, hypocrisy and possibly murder just in time to spice up the summer doldrums. A hydraulic vice couldn't keep Washington tongues from wagging. Here are a few of the facts as we know them so far. Chandra Levy was last seen on April 30. She was typically cheery and gave no sign that she was suicidal. She left all of her belongings in her apartment, including her half-packed luggage, wallet with ID and her purse. The only thing missing, other than her, were her keys. Just before she vanished, she informed her aunt she had "big news." Condit spent months denying, hedging, spinning and most of all, remaining silent about the missing intern. Improving upon a cowardly Clintonian strategy, he allowed trusted aides to look like fools and liars by instructing them to deny everything. This public-salaried (ital) representative's (end ital) private life was sacrosanct and, besides, he was innocent. Period. Well, now Condit's denials are unraveling like the Coyote's lifeline in a Roadrunner cartoon. It turns out that Levy spent numerous days hanging out in Condit's apartment. According to her aunt, Chandra would wait there, cleaning his house, organizing his closet or doing other chores not usually assigned to Washington interns. Chandra reportedly would never make plans for the evening until she heard from the married father of two. When they did get together, they liked to share quiet evenings with Ben & Jerry's ice cream and hot oil massages. She believed/hoped this would go on for about five years (when the congressmen turned 59 or 60) and then they would get married and have a baby, according to Chandra's aunt. Unfortunately, in the wake of Clinton, Gingrich et al. few in the media are willing to criticize the congressman for the old-fashioned sins of adultery and general cadishness (Levy was not Condit's only mistress). And, more understandably, even fewer journalists are willing to criticize Levy's family for condoning or tacitly encouraging a less-than-romantic relationship with a married man. But the media has been unrelenting in its investigation and criticism of Condit's political sins. By stonewalling, spinning and denying - and, more recently, by hiring Abbe Lowell, a guilty man's lawyer if ever there were one - Condit has stirred the media into the first bona fide feeding frenzy of the new millennium. If Condit had "merely" slept with an intern, goes the prevailing wisdom, he would have admitted it earlier. Indeed, the idea that he needs to "protect his family" by staying quiet defies all Washington logic because it is his silence that is keeping this story public (never mind that someone so concerned about his family might have avoided such affairs in the first place). Add to this the very real fact that his delaying tactics may have irreversibly complicated what will probably turn out to be a murder investigation - with Condit as a prime suspect - and you can understand why people all over Washington are saying, "He's acting like he did it." Normally, I am loathe to endorse pack journalism and feeding frenzies, but this time the media is 100 percent right. First of all, this is news. The only reason Condit isn't a suspect in a murder investigation is that this isn't an official murder investigation yet. If or when it does become one, Condit will undoubtedly be a - if not (ital) the (end ital) - suspect. But more importantly, if it weren't for the media pressure, it's unlikely that Condit would have cooperated as much as he has. Besides, there's foul play afoot, and methinks Condit is wearing some dirty shoes.