MEMO TO WALTER

If CNN is really gonna beat out Fox “Psychic News” Network in the Chandra wars, they’ve got to get themselves a new anchor. Is Dionne Warwick available?

THE CONDIT LIES MOUNT, CTD: The Washington Post admits today that its recent story of an affair between Gary Condit and the daughter of a minister was concocted out of thin air. Forget for a minute about a major newspaper simply running a bald-faced untruth about a congressman. What about the privacy of the minister’s daughter? A completely private person was dragged into public scrutiny, traumatized, disbelieved, and probably irrevocably harmed. Much of the blame lies with her father, of course, and the many people who still believed the story was true even after the father’s recantation. But the media fomented the atmosphere that led O.C. Thomas to turn a white lie into a fiasco. Interestingly, the Levy family insists that the story is true. The Post says the young woman is “now in hiding.” With the media the way it now is, we all should be.

UH OH: D.C. Deputy Police Chief Terrance Gainer says “Well, you have to understand that we’ve gathered a lot of information in this – a lot of electronic information, telephone records, banking records – and nothing has led us to Chandra Levy … And I really think it’s important to point out that the congressman, although interesting to a lot of people, is not the central figure in this, nor is his wife.” With the D.C. cops ruling Condit out, why do I think it’s now almost a metaphysical truth that the congressman had something to do with it?

AM I LIZZIE?: A reader wonders guiltily. Check out the letters page. Click on the right.

CONDIT AND CLINTON

Josh Marshall has been arguing that Democrats should worry that the attacks on Condit by Republicans are helping to cement the notion that Clinton was a lying sleazeball and that the Democrats are all philandering law-breakers. Indeed, that does seem to be the basic thrust of many of the partisan attacks on Condit from the right. Josh is worried about this and argues that the two cases are completely different because “in the Clinton case, out-of-control prosecutors used a trumped-up crime to shoehorn their way into getting at private, consensual sex. In the Condit case, Condit’s defenders have used sex as a talisman to ward off attention to what is potentially a crime of the very highest order.” To buttress this argument, Josh cites Lanny Davis, the most oleaginous apparatchik of the Clinton administration. Well, it seems to me that Josh has it exactly the wrong way round. Here’s why. Clinton was accused of a crime – sexual harassment. It was not “trumped up” – unless you mean by feminist legal scholars. Indeed, Clinton’s entire career has been a variation on the theme of sexual harassment, i.e. semi-coercive sex with women in his employ. Condit has been accused of no crime whatsoever, and his sex life has been conducted entirely with individuals (so far as we know) who don’t work for him. Clinton brazenly used the White House itself office for his sexual trysts, making what should have been private public. Condit made strenuous efforts to keep everything in his private life completely private. Clinton lied under oath, obstructed justice and suborned perjury. The worst thing that Condit has been accused of doing is euphemizing his relationship with Chandra Levy during early police questioning – as most adulterers in a similar situation might. He subsequently coughed up the whole truth. His conduct is not pretty, but he is guilty of at most a sin, not a crime. Clinton lied under oath again and again. Unlike Condit, Clinton even now refuses to acknowledge his full criminality. Based on what we now know, then, there is simply no equivalence whatsoever between the two cases – either in terms of the law, the culture, or anything else. Clinton was guilty of criminal acts. Condit has yet even to be charged. Case closed.

P.S.: Some persnickety readers have criticized me for writing that sexual harassment is a crime. Strictly speaking, it isn’t. It’s just unlawful if proven in a civil suit – which was the point of my comparison. Clinton was being sued in a court of law for an unlawful act. I sure don’t believe the charge was “trumped up.” Condit has been sued for nothing and accused of nothing by the police. And perjury is a crime. Even for a president.

CONDIT NEWS NETWORK

The polls (which I don’t believe) say the public is uninterested in the media’s conviction of Gary Condit for murder. But, as Andrew Kohut has pointed out, general public interest isn’t what matters. In cable news, what matters is a small sliver of the general public. The Times shows today how successful the lynch-mob has been. Paula “Psychic News Network” Zahn has ratings now that are triple what she was getting this time last year – even though they’re still only 630,000. Broadcasting psychics might be contemptible, but it works! Even better, much of the average 40 percent gain in viewers for the Chandra channels is in their ad-rich prime time. The bottom-line is that these channels are destroying someone’s reputation, privacy and career for ad dollars. Even when there is no news, even when they are reduced to psychoanalyzing Gary Condit’s facial expressions, character assassination – when the person involved cannot really respond without drowning in the sewer even further – is lucrative. How can I sum up my feelings about this kind of journalism? It makes me sick. Open message to Paula Zahn: please don’t invite me on your show again. I’m getting these psychic signals from somewhere that your journalistic standards are for sale.

LETTERS

From white trash in the Hamptons, why Bush is to blame for Lizzie’s S.U.V., and stupid actor theories. Check them out.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT PANDA: More evidence that popular culture is beginning to fight back against p.c. totalitarianism is a 1999 episode of South Park, the most inspired television show since The Simpsons. I’ve been trying to track the script down for ages, and a reader found it. More proof that this potty-mouthed cartoon is the best antidote to p.c. culture we now have. Here’s the full script of “Sexual Harassment Panda,” a brilliant satire of what happens when eight-year olds are subjected to sexual harassment idiocy. Of course, the little boys sue each other to death for calling each other “ass-sucker” and the like. And one boy’s dad represents everyone in their lawsuits. Here’s how Newscaster Kevin McKarty explains the climax of the plot: “As sexual harassment increases all over the state, the mother of all trials is set to begin! The sexual harassment case of everybody versus everybody begins tomorrow! No matter what the outcome, the public schools are sure to loose a whopping 30 million dollars! Representing the side of everyone is Gerald Broflovski! The lawyer from South Park who plans to make quite a commission! Representing the side of everyone else is Gerald Broflovski! So whatever the outcome, things look very bright for Kyle’s Dad! Personally, I think Kyle’s dad is just a whore taking advantage of everyone in town and… This just in! Newscaster Kevin McKarty is being sued by Kyle’s Dad for slander! The newscaster has yet to be reached for comment! Wait!”
But the best bit is the following, as Kyle’s dad, the whore-lawyer, explains what this is really all about:
“Gerald: Kyle, let me explain something to you!
Kyle: Oh, God! Here we go!
Gerald: You see, Kyle, we live in a liberal democratic society. And Democrats make sexual harassment laws. These laws tell us what we can and can’t say in the workplace and what we can and can’t do in the workplace.
Kyle: Isn’t that fascism?
Gerald: No! Because we don’t call it fascism. Do you understand?
Kyle: Do you?”
Does anyone?
(Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds, who tracked down the script.)

THE HYSTERIA DISSIPATES

So now the DC cops, over-stretched by the absurd resources devoted to one of 120 missing persons in D.C. this year, have begun to curtail their search for Chandra Levy. Meanwhile Mike Isikoff helpfully debunks a few of the crazier lies peddled by the Condit lynch-mob in the past few weeks. Phone calls between the two seem to have petered out in April: “Either way, the available evidence points to no emotional crisis between Condit and Levy before she disappeared. Other widely circulated accounts are also inaccurate. The police have found no evidence that Levy was pregnant. Media speculation that a substance found in Condit’s apartment might have been Levy’s blood turns out to be entirely false, according to the FBI crime lab.” Thanks, Mike. But don’t tell Fox News. It would wreck their summer.

PINTER’S HATE: You may have seen all the glowing reviews of Harold Pinter’s latest play in New York in which he stars. And in the U.S., he is still revered for his extraordinary skills as a play-wright. But like many other brilliant literary types – the mind drifts inexorably toward the image of Gore Vidal – Pinter is also a full-bore political extremist. His hatred for anything to do with the United States is legendary. He backed Saddam Hussein against the West; now, he’s joining a campaign to free Serbian fascist war-criminal, Slobodan Milosevic. Pinter described the West’s belated attempt to restrain Serbian genocide as a policy of “kiss my arse or I’ll kick your head in.” If Milosevic is tried for war-crimes, Pinter argues, so should Bill Clinton, for promoting a policy that used “cluster bombs that cut children to pieces – from those brave bombers at 15,000ft. And this is an act which [Tony] Blair, with his moralistic Christianity, applauds.” What is it about the theater and movie industry that turns the minds of so many who work in it into paranoid, self-righteous mush?

PRIVACY ON THE BRINK: Fascinating mob crime case in the Times today. The mafia is apparently smart enough to record illegal dealings using encryption technology on the relevant files in their computers. Under court order, the police managed to infiltrate Nicodemo Scarfo Jr.’s computer and record every key stroke. Scarfo’s lawyers are arguing that this is unconstitutional. Scarfo’s encrypted files were private to him, even encrypted with a program called PGP or Pretty Good Privacy. The whole purpose of the bar on unreasonable searches and seizures came from state seizure of private diaries in the eighteenth century. Doesn’t even a mobster have a right to his own private documents – and not to have the password on them decoded? We had the Carnivore snooper; only recently a criminal was jailed for writing thoughts in his own private diary; in the Starr prosecution, Monica Lewinsky had all her personal emails examined; Chandra Levy’s privacy has also been trampled through. The Supreme Court has an excellent record in some of these matters. It recently barred the use of police technology to detect hear sources inside private homes. I hope they take up the Scarfo case and strike another blow for eighteenth century values over twenty-first century technology.

DEAR ANDREW: One of the best things about this new kind of journalism is the instant response of readers. If I screw up, you let me know. If I ask for suggestions, you send them in droves. If I write something more than usually boneheaded, many of you politely point out I’m full of it. But alongside these emails, there are dozens of others that just convey relevant experiences, thoughts, ideas, that I brazenly purloin or learn from. That’s why I read them all – they’re worth the time. I’ve included a few of them recently as emails of the week. But now, they’re going to have their own separate section. Click on the Letters icon down there on the right and you’ll get the letters page. If you want to contribute, a few rules: please keep emails short, i.e. under 400 words. Please tell me if you don’t want an email for publication if you don’t. Otherwise, they’re all fair game. To protect your privacy, I will routinely edit out any identifying details. I’ve also decided to keep all the emails anonymous. Why? The anonymity is one reason, I think, these emails are often so revealing and intimate. Like users of the web in general, email writers often use anonymity for new and fascinating purposes: mainly to make points rather than to posture or gain attention. The point of the email section is to provide a kind of running commentary on the Dish and pieces. I will only publish criticism – not praise – since praise rarely makes a new point. The point is to flesh out other sides to issues; relate real experience, and generate a deeper level of debate. Enjoy. And let me know if you have any bright ideas for the section as well.

WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH UNILATERALISM?: The latest assault on the Bush administration’s largely sensible response to the ill-conceived treaties and negotiations it inherited from the Clinton administration centers on one notion: that other nations are doing all sorts of things, while the United States is dangerously “standing by”. Before long, this “standing by” becomes something called “unilateralism,” which morphs imperceptibly into the notion of “isolationism.” This was the gist of Tom Daschle’s typically shrill attack on the president even as he left for a European tour. But hold on a minute. All this unilateralism means is that the United States is figuring out from case to case what is in its best interests. If it doesn’t make sense for the U.S. to back a Kyoto agreement that will send Europe and Japan into an extended recession for an elusive and unproven goal, why on earth should the U.S. go along? Ditto the ABM treaty. It is not the first role of the U.S. president to figure out what is in the best interests of the French or the Russians or the rest of the world. It’s great if our interests coincide – but not if they don’t. And it’s important to confer and communicate – but that doesn’t mean follow. Besides, being isolated in the world community is not in and of itself a bad thing. Remember out-of-step Ronald Reagan on arms control in the first few years of his presidency? The criticism of Bush’s foreign policy only makes sense if you start from the premise that international agreements are goods in themselves, rather than means to nationalist ends. I for one am relieved that the Bushies don’t share that premise.

THE CONSERVATIVE CASE FOR EQUAL MARRIAGE RIGHTS

Jonathan Rauch goes to bat for a deeply powerful argument. It’s a home-run – in defense of federalism and humane, conservative social policy. How any conservatives with intellectual integrity can support the proposed constitutional amendment on marriage is simply beyond me.

NEGATIVES

An Oakeshottian take on George W. Bush’s political style. See my new TRB opposite.

CORRECTION: Several readers have pointed out to me that the study forwarded to me by another reader (see “EMBRYO STEM CELLS AND PARKINSON’S” below) isn’t quite as I presented it. It’s about the implantation of neurons from fetal tissue – not from embryonic stem cells – into adults with Parkinson’s. Closely related but not identical. And it was indeed reported by the New York Times on March 8. My apologies. Nevertheless, it seems to me its impact on the debate should be stronger than it has been. The experiment was a disaster. The Times reported that “Dr Paul E. Greene, a neurologist at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a researcher in the study, said the uncontrollable movements some patients suffered were ‘absolutely devastating … They chew constantly, their fingers go up and down, their wrists flex and distend.’ And the patients writhe and twist, jerk their heads, fling their arms about. ‘It was tragic, catastrophic,’ he said. ‘It’s a real nightmare. And we can’t selectively turn it off.'” Despite this, an AP report today says the following: “Freed and Dr. Evan Y. Snyder of Harvard Medical School led a team of researchers who developed a way to treat Parkinson’s disease in adults by injecting into their brains fetal neural cells that make dopamine, a brain chemical that is deficit in Parkinson’s. Although the researchers used stem cells from an aborted fetus, Freed said further research may show that repairing the brain could best be done using neural stem cells that are grown from embryonic stem cells.” Aren’t some important facts missing here? And yes, my own opposition to such research does not hinge on its effectiveness or otherwise. But I don’t see why this data shouldn’t be as much a part of this debate as, say, a failed test should be part of the debate about missile defense.

LINKS: Some of you regularly tell me that some links to articles aren’t working. Alas, this is because of AOL’s lazy-ass policy of caching sites only twice a day, which means that if you’re using AOL, you are always getting a slightly delayed site, and the links are a few hours behind the content. There’s nothing we can do about this. But you can. Avoid this problem by using a non-AOL browser.