Now that a suspect is about to be arrested for the murder of Chandra Levy, does former Congressman Gary Condit deserve an apology from me or anyone else? A member of the original Get-Condit media scrum ponders her mea culpa.
I will never forget a moment during the Summer of Chandra in 2001 when I ended up on an elevator at CNN with Jeff Greenfield. He turned to me and said, “So, if a serial killer did this, will you apologize to Gary Condit?” To which I, being in the asshole-mood that I was, replied: “So, if Condit did this, will you apologize to all the serial killers?” I laughed. He did not.
He was right.
Would the search for “the real answers”—not to mention Levy’s body—have gone a little bit smoother, perhaps, if her lover had been more concerned with his missing mistress than he was with saving his political ass and his marriage?
Within moments of the breaking news that a suspect, Ingmar Guandique—who was most definitely not a former US Congressman—was about to be arrested in the eight-year-old Chandra Levy case, Gary Condit, who was previously not known for his rapid-response on matters pertaining to the Levy case (remember, it took him 67 days to even admit, sort of, that he was having an affair with her?), had this to say: "It is unfortunate that an insatiable appetite for sensationalism blocked so many from searching for the real answers for so long. I had always hoped to have the opportunity to tell my side of this story, but too many were not prepared to listen.”
Ay yi yi, Gary. Here I was, all ready to give you your just due. (Really, I was.) But you had to go and get all OJ on us. It was just so Gary Condit to say something so self-serving and victim-y—not to mention inaccurate. Was it really an insatiable appetite for sensationalism that “blocked” the congressman from cooperating with the police for 67 days? Now that Condit has been “vindicated,” as his former lawyer Abby Lowell put it, it’s easy to forget that it might have been nice if Condit had been more eager to tell his side of the story back when it actually mattered. Would the search for “the real answers”—not to mention Levy’s body—have gone a little bit smoother, perhaps, if her lover had been more concerned with his missing mistress (and constituent) than he was with saving his political ass and his marriage?
Not to get all Nancy Grace on you here, but let’s be real. She was a missing intern. He was her secret married lover. We’d have all been nuts—the media, the police, the public, and especially her parents—if we weren’t all looking at Gary Condit. (I’ll spare you the dreary statistics about how women don’t usually get iced by Salvadoran immigrant weirdos in the park, but by boyfriends, husbands, and lovers. And that it’s kind of helpful when the person closest to the victim talks to the police in the first few hours, let alone the first few months…)
But OK, let’s give Gary Condit his due. He wasn’t the murderer, after all. And worse: The poor bastard has gone from the perch of power to scooping Baskin-Robbins ice cream in Carefree, Arizona, and making ends meet with multimillion-dollar libel suits. (I remember when I first heard the Baskin-Robbins thing. Chandra’s favorite ice cream, I thought—smooth move, Gary.)
At the time the Chandra Levy story broke, I was working at Talk magazine. One morning, I was reading the Washington Post online, and saw the headline “Intern Missing.” I made a call to an old source in Washington. Anything to this? And was told, “Well, yeah, it’s not out yet, but there’s a rumor that she was dating a congressman.” And with that, I was on the next plane to Modesto, California. Midway through my reporting the story, Gary Condit’s publicist—yes, he had a publicist—made an offhand on-the-record comment to another reporter that I was about to write about what a slut Chandra was, or something to that effect. Except that Chandra Levy was not a slut. But like many other vulnerable young women she had a weakness for married men. Next thing I knew, I was on Larry King’s nightly Chandra panel—with, among other people, Mark Geragos, who would soon be Condit’s next lawyer, due to his excellent audition that night and every night on Larry.
The Levy case was a cable-TV bonanza, and I was very much a part of it. But the truth is, Chandra got to me. She wasn’t just a story. She was a cool, hip chick who had the world by the balls, but fell in love with the wrong person. I think I would have liked her. Actually, I know I would have. In the eight years that have passed, I can’t help but remember her birthday every year—she would be 31 now—or the day they found her bones in Rock Creek Park. Whenever I talk to her mother, Susan, I always feel the need to hang up before she does, because journalists aren’t supposed to be emotional.
And then there was Gary Condit. Who didn’t know this guy? His story was so tired, in a way it was hard to understand why she was gaga about him. He was, at the very least, a predatory cad. Who didn’t much care about his mistress. Who lawyered up at the first sign of scandal and got all creepy with Connie Chung (remember that Connie Chung interview?). And now, eight years later, he is saying he wishes he could have told his story. Are you freaking kidding? Everybody wanted Your Side of The Story.
The time to tell it was when the cops were desperately trying to solve this crime, in the very early days (and weeks and months) of the investigation. Yeah, we get it. You had a wife and a congressional seat. But there was a dead girl here. Who was your mistress. And your constituent. You don’t get a pass for that.
Clearly, obviously, the Summer of Chandra was a bit over the top. Why were we devoting all of this attention to one missing woman in Washington, D.C.? I adore Levy’s parents, but even in their grief, they were shrewd enough to know that without “the Condit connection,” their daughter was just another missing woman—and they stoked that. And I’d have done the exact same thing if I were them.
None of us had any perspective until September 11th knocked the Levy story off the airwaves. That morning, Susan Levy, watched all the TV satellite trucks quickly depart from her driveway in Modesto where they’d been parked for months, and wondered if anyone would “care about her daughter again.” To be honest, I had little sympathy for her that day. But I should have had some—she saw immediately how her beloved daughter would now be forgotten.
Now with the imminent arrest of Ingmar Guandique, Chandra Levy is being remembered once more. The other night on Fox News, Geraldo Rivera had the good sense (or shamelessness) to ask the same question to Bob Levy, Chandra’s still-distraught father that Jeff Greenfield had once asked me: Did he think Gary Condit deserved an apology? Bob stumbled through his answer—“A lot of things were going on at that time. There were certain actions that were suspicious and devious.”—You had to see his expression to know what he was really feeling: He screwed my daughter.
In every sense.
And at the end of the day, we still can’t forgive him for that.
Lisa DePaulo is a correspondent for GQ magazine.
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