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If it bleeds, it leads

Charles Ewry, Staff Writer

In America today, public lynchings are more popular than ever. We’ve quit throwing rotten tomatoes, but that’s just because they gunk up the TV screen.
During a live press conference Friday, President George W. Bush was asked for his thoughts on the latest head in the noose, Congressman Gary Condit (D- Calif.).
Condit had an affair with America’s most famous missing person, Chandra Levy. But, chances are, anyone who would reads this already knows that.
In response to the reporter’s question, Bush administered a well-deserved earful, and he extended the castigation to millions of Americans who had tuned in Thursday night to an ABC News’ witch-hunt advertised as an exclusive Connie Chung interview with Condit.
Scolding the public may not be the best method for winning its approval, but maybe that was Bush’s message — ratings aren’t everything.
Levy is probably dead or in captivity, and now she is counted among the thousands of missing in the United States. Unfortunately, concern for those individuals pales in comparison to interest in Condit’s private life.
Outside Condit’s apartment in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, pole-mounted cameras peep into Condit’s bedroom — perverse monuments to voyeurism’s ascension from taboo to pop culture. Never mind that Condit hasn’t been there in weeks, and his blinds are drawn.
And what makes Condit’s story significant?
He’s not the first governor, congressman or president to be caught having an affair, and though there is a possible motive, no evidence has been released linking Condit to Levy’s disappearance.
Remarkably, the police deny that Condit is even a suspect in spite of an ongoing investigation that has repeatedly targeted him.
Chandra Levy isn’t news. Gary Condit is news. And that’s tragic. And what of the thousands of other missing persons whose cases won’t ever receive the attention that Levy’s has gotten? If only they had been having an affair with a congressman-hypocrite like Condit.
The truth is that Gary Condit is what viewing audiences watch when they are not watching “Survivor.” He’s powerful, he’s perhaps villainous, and, if observers are lucky, he’ll deliver a sensational ending. And, it’s all real.
Millions of audiences tuned in to watch two jerks on TV: Condit and Connie Chung. President Bush didn’t, and he wasn’t afraid to alienate millions by sharing his contempt for those who did.
Chung’s first question was the only question that has ever been newsworthy: “Congressman Condit, do you know what happened to Chandra Levy?”
Of course, he said he did not. And who besides Condit knows if he was being truthful?
Yet the media continues to cover the story. That is because millions of viewers would derive no greater satisfaction than if Condit fell to his knees, threw up his hands and offered the startling revelation that the intern is dead.
Condit knows this. Hence the evasiveness with police and press. And obstruction of justice certainly has occurred. It was committed one article, one photograph and one interview at a time.