In previous weeks, I have written about a variety of people in this column: historian Joseph Ellis, talk show host Rosie O'Donnell and President George W. Bush, not to mention Bob Kerrey and Lou Dobbs, Jesse Ventura and Timothy McVeigh. In all cases, I have raised the same question: how are the media dealing with these people?
This week, the other way around: how is a person dealing with the media?
The person is Gary Condit, Democrat, member of the United States House of Representatives from Modesto, California. How is he dealing with the media? Terribly. There is no reason at this point to think Condit is a murderer. There is every reason to think he is a fool.
Actually, Condit is but the latest in a long line of fools: men and women in the public eye who continue to underestimate the relentlessness of the American media, who believe their lies will not be investigated, their backgrounds not researched, their secrets not revealed.
Don't these people ever read a newspaper? Don't they ever watch an all-news network? Don't they realize that the media are like dogs with bones? Long-toothed dogs. Tasty bones. They never let go, never, especially if the story involves such tabloid elements as adultery, disappearance, possible abduction, possible murder, and ignoble conduct by an elected official.
Every time a fool steps out of the long line and into the spotlight, I have the same thought. I've got to change careers. Give up writing this column, give up hosting Fox News Watch, and become a media consultant. I would work with yub-yubs like Gary Condit, and I would give them all the same advice. Three words, twelve letters, an entire world of wisdom: Tell the truth.
Not because it's the right thing to do, not because it's the moral thing to do, not even because it's the easy thing to do, the truth in almost all cases being easier to remember than lies. No, I would tell the Gary Condits of the world to tell the truth because, if you don't, the media will sink their excisors into you until you admit the lie, and when it finally happens you will look like an even bigger scumbag than you did before.
Then I would give the Gary Condits of the world a bill for $125,000 and walk away happy, knowing that my services had been well worth the cost.
Apparently, Condit thought that by lying about his relationship with Chandra Levy he could save his marriage, or at least spare himself the embarrassment of publicly admitting an affair. But in the process, he impeded the police investigation of a serious crime, and now that the facts are out, Condit has shown himself for all the world to be a liar as well as an adulterer.
In other words, Condit's notion of damage control was responsible for greater damage. By keeping mum about his affair for so long, he showed himself to be more concerned with his own image than with Chandra Levy's welfare, and although that might be an understandable impulse, it is also an unforgivable one. Regardless of how the Levy case turns out, Condit will not be forgiven. Nor should he be. His political career is over.
If only he had been honest with the police when they first came to him. If only he had told them that his affair with Levy was the result of a powerful attraction, and that because of it he would do anything he could to help them find her. If only he had admitted how lousy a husband he had been, but explained that his primary concern right now had to be Levy's safety.
If he only he had come to me and asked for advice.
Maybe, since he's such a fool, I'd have given him a discount.