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Skeptimedia

Skeptimedia is a commentary on mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the paranormal, and the supernatural.

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Mass Media Massacres

23 April 2009. The headline over the article in the Sacramento Bee reads "Suspect formally charged in Levy death." Some of you may remember that in May of 2001 a young woman who was doing an internship for then-Congressman Gary Condit went missing . Her skeletal remains were found in a shallow grave in a park a year after her disappearance. Yesterday, Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant, was charged  with murdering her. Eight years ago, the mass media charged and all but convicted Congressman Condit of the crime. His career was ruined, even though the police never considered him a suspect in the crime. That did not prevent the media from speculating relentlessly about Condit's involvement in Levy's disappearance. The media circus included Fox News's Paula Zahn interviewing a psychic, asking for her insight into the disappearance. Dominick Dunne speculated in various places that Condit was involved in a Washington sex ring of Arab diplomats and that her body had been dumped into the Atlantic Ocean from an airplane. Dunne was sued and paid an undisclosed amount of money to Condit to settle. Larry King even asked Tonya Harding about Condit. The media quit its twittering about Condit on 9 September 2001.

For a review of the media's attack on and destruction of Condit's career, please see Jeff Cohen's piece in The Huffington Post: Will TV News Ever Apologize for Condit Hoax? Cohen's question is rhetorical, of course. He knows that the media rarely apologizes for anything. (The only significant apology by any news organization that I can recall is when the New York Times apologized for its being duped by the Bush administration regarding weapons of mass destruction and other lies and deceptions that led up to the Iraq invasion. Other apologies, like that of Dunne, are usually required in lawsuit settlements.)

Condit had a reputation as a womanizer, something I'm sure is very unusual in Washington, D.C. Right. That fact, if it is a fact, seems to have been taken as a green light to the media to run with any speculation, no matter how farfetched, that suggested a sexual connection. The basis for the sexual connection, as I remember, was nothing but the word of one of Levy's aunts. She claimed the dead woman confided in her about a liaison with Condit. Would she lie? Who knows, but it wouldn't be the first time somebody didn't tell the truth. Without a second source, however, what gave the media a green light to refer to their being "romantically linked" or "having an affair," and, worse, suggest to the drooling public that he had a motive to murder her? Don't you usually want two sources, even if the second one got her information from the first, if you are to be a responsible journalist who massacres someone's reputation? Only a jury of journalists would convict someone of murder on hearsay evidence, that, even if true, was obviously irrelevant in the eyes of the police. Anyway, here's what my local daily, the Sacramento Bee, had to say this morning about what the media did to Gary Condit:

Prosecutors say Guandique attacked Levy in Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001. A former federal Bureau of Prisons intern, Levy had apparently gone to the park for a jog. At the time, as subsequent developments revealed, she was involved in a relationship with then-Congressman Gary Condit. Police never considered Condit a suspect, but the relationship, once it became public, drew notoriety to Levy's disappearance and brought an end to Condit's long political career.

I love that: "the relationship, once it became public, drew notoriety...and brought an end to Condit's long political career." What a lovely way to reframe what happened and exculpate the media, which, along with all the psychics who tried to exploit Chandra's disappearance, contributed nothing toward yesterday's arrest.

Have the police arrested the right man? I have no idea. He's now serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two women at knifepoint in the park where Levy's remains were found. The Washington Post reports that those attacks took place about the time Levy disappeared. I guess I'll have to watch Larry King to find out the truth. I'm sure he'll have a few psychics and ex-convicts as guests, and encourage them to spin their fanciful tales about what really happened eight years ago in a Washington, D.C. park when a young woman went for a jog on a lovely spring evening.

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