NEW YORK – Connie Chung's long-awaited interview Thursday with Congressman Gary Condit was like a televised fencing match that ended with no blood drawn.
Condit, who agreed to the interview and largely set the ground rules, did little to shed light on his role in the investigation into Chandra Levy's disappearance. He left the ABC correspondent clearly exasperated.
"He was determined to say what he wanted and no more," Chung said at the conclusion of ABC's Prime Time Thursday.
The interview was the most eagerly anticipated TV spectacle of the summer, and television journalism's most sought-after interview since Monica Lewinsky. The seven-term California Democrat, who has been a spectral presence on television screens for months, would finally be heard from.
What viewers got was an elliptical journey as Chung tried, to no avail, to pin down Condit's relationship with the missing intern. Condit uttered Clinton-like statements that he made mistakes in his marriage, but said he wouldn't say more about the relationship at the request of the Levy family.
His determination to stay on script cost Chung valuable time, particularly in fruitless attempts to find out about a watch box that Condit had discarded and why Condit would not take the independent lie detector test requested by police.
Fortunately, Chung got some of the basic questions out of the way fast: "Do you know what happened to Chandra Levy?" and "Did you have anything to do with her disappearance?" He answered no to both questions.
Chung researched a Condit quote calling on former President Clinton to reveal details of the Lewinsky affair and sharply threw it back at Condit. His immediate attempts to filibuster foreshadowed the rest of the interview.
Since Condit would agree to talk for only 30 minutes, it left Chung with little time to probe his thoughts on his political career and his behavior as the investigation dragged on.
Ultimately, the one question a viewer wanted Chung to ask Condit was simply, "Why are you here?"
The interview was the most highly anticipated since Chung's ABC colleague, Barbara Walters, spoke to Lewinsky in March 1999. That interview drew an average of 48 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The Condit interview is unlikely to reach those numbers, but will almost certainly be the most-watched TV show of the summer.