Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I've gotten no end of flak for ignoring weightier issues in favor of the Gary Condit craziness in recent weeks.

(This, of course, is to be distinguished from flak from flacks -- like Rep. Gary Condit's flack who falsely denied the accuracy of the quote I attributed to her in my recent article in Salon.com ... Okay, okay, I'll stop.)

As a general matter I've always thought it's possible to walk and chew gum at the same time -- following a human interest story, a mystery, doesn't mean you can't also keep up on important political issues as well.

But here's one instance where something of very real importance seems to have been almost entirely lost in the rush of Condit coverage. As Amy Goldstein reported on Friday in the Washington Post, President Bush's Social Security Privatization Commission is readying to release its preliminary report. This tract does much more than repeat the standard doomsaying one normally expects from those who support privatizing Social Security. It also repeats one of the most shameful and dishonest slurs against the current system: that it is especially unfair to blacks, minorities, and women.

It is difficult to convey just how ugly and craven a deception this is, since it is precisely these groups who arguably benefit most from the current system. We'll be talking about this and other matters pertaining to the President's reform commission in the coming days and weeks. But there's such a quantity of bad policy, bad facts, and bad faith piled together here that, for the moment, let's focus on just two points.

First is the basic contention -- endlessly pushed by the administration -- that the government bonds in which the Social Security surplus is invested are no more than mere paper. Just empty promissory notes, not actual assets, they say. This is not only a foolish assumption. For those who make it, it's also a very dishonest one.

Wealthy Americans have long invested a good part of their assets in government paper precisely because it is the safest investment to be had. That after all is why bond investors are willing to accept relatively low rates of return compared to equities -- precisely because these investments are so safe.

There are of course further complexities to this question -- some of which I discussed here. But as a general matter this is the truth of it.

The second point is the odious behavior of former Senator, and current Commission Co-Chairman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan has lent considerable stature to Bush's endeavor, since the former Senator is widely viewed as an expert on Social Security. All this makes it even more critical to point out the fact that for anyone who follows this subject closely, Moynihan has lost almost all the credibility he once had on the subject. Over the last half dozen years Moynihan has used the cloak of his reputation to cover over a series of comical flip flops and ludicrous assertions about Social Security. Some of these fooleries are discussed in this article by Jon Chait and this article by your truly. Let's get the ball rolling with this one:

Moynihan was part of the 1983 Social Security commission that took the program off a purely pay-as-you-go basis and set up a trust fund that could later be drawn upon as baby boomers reached retirement age. Now he says the whole concept is foolish and unworkable and, even more inexplicably, that he hadn't even realized this was being done.
Supporters of Social Security should not hesitate to expose Moynihan's credibility and credentials on this issue for what they are: non-existent.

Much more to come on this subject.

Alright, let's take a quick look at the Condit grab bag.

A number of folks have said that the police could not have been more aggressive with Gary Condit in the early days because they simply didn't have any tangible evidence tying him to Levy's disappearance. All they had were suspicions tied to his relationship with her. This is true as far as it goes. But it misses the point. If police departments had their training manuals written by the ACLU this might make sense. But, needless to say, they're not. If you were a middle-aged married man carrying on a secret relationship with a twenty-four year old and your paramour suddenly went missing, I guarantee you, your local police department would turn your life UPSIDE DOWN. There's no question about it. Nor is there any surprise why -- since more than three-quarters of the time it would turn out that you were in fact the murderer. This sort of calculus may be troublesome from a civil liberties perspective -- but it's standard police procedure. And it's the treatment that would have been given to anyone else.

The next point is this matter of Condit dumping a watch from another girlfriend in a dumpster in Alexandria, Virginia mere hours before his house was searched by police. Apparently, what Condit tossed -- a watch he was given by another girlfriend -- had nothing directly to do with Levy. But it's worth considering for a moment just how bizarre this is.

First, Abbe Lowell clearly has little if any control over his client.

Secondly, who drove Condit to Alexandria? And did they know what he was going there to do? I suppose he could have taken the Metro (the DC subway) but that's a little hard to figure. The point is that it seems like someone near Condit was willing to help him dispose of evidence prior to the police search of his house. And it would seem worthwhile to find out who that person is -- for pretty obvious reasons.

Thirdly, doesn't this stunt make you wonder just what universe Gary Condit is living in? When I first heard this report I was sure it would be quickly batted down as false, just as an earlier report that Levy had been spotted on a 7-11 surveillance camera the day before her disappearance later turned out to be a misindentification. I mean, the guy's apartment is staked out 24-7 by the media. He's discussed relentlessly on cable and talk radio. His face is plastered everywhere. And it seems like a good plan to head out to the suburbs and toss a mysterious package in a trash can? It's not even so much that this inculpates him as it throws into question -- and I say this in all seriousness -- his very soundness of mind. I mean, just what was he thinking?

Needless to say, once you've gotten caught getting rid of one piece of evidence in a dumpster ... well, you know where that goes.

In the department of reassurances that aren't that reassuring, tonight we find this gem from tonight's Wolf Blitzer show:

BLITZER: Is the D.C. police department qualified -- knows what it's doing in this kind of investigation in your experience?

HENNESSY [Former DC Detective]: As a matter of fact, I think that D.C. police department is probably more suited to handle these types of cases. I mean, there's probably been -- there's no department in the country probably has more experience handling murders than D.C. because of the murder rate that we had in the 90s. So the investigators certainly are very qualified.

What's that line about an ounce of prevention?

I plan on making this the last post on this question, but this is instructive.

Here's the key portion of Marina Ein's second statement on my July 16th Salon article; it's dated July 18th.

I did not, and would not, make the statements that have been attributed to me ... I am the mother of a daughter who is approximately Chandra Levy's age, and I am a female professional. The suggestion that I would make comments like those attributed to me is abhorrent.
Here's a clip from the New York Daily News' Thursday article about the Chandra Levy investigation, with emphasis added:
Ein released a statement denying she told reporters DePaulo was working on a story about Levy's alleged one-night stands, calling the suggestion she would say such things "abhorrent."

But the Daily News has confirmed that Ein made the comments to reporters for at least three news organizations.

She did not return calls from The News but told The Washington Post: "I'm so exhausted, and frankly I'm at the end of my rope with this whole thing."

I guess it turns out that this is one of those suggestions that is both "abhorrent" and true.

At least so says The Daily News.

As a devoted fan of HBO's The Sopranos I wasn't just disappointed, I felt almost insulted, when I heard that HBO's next drama series would be about a family of undertakers, Six Feet Under. This seemed like a classic example of network execs trying to carbon copy a good idea and failing pitifully rather than daring to use the same originality and abandon that got them a blockbuster in the first place.

Oh, you think the show about the crime family is good? Well, hey, this one's gonna be about a family of undertakers! It can't lose! They're handling dead guys all the time. It'll be great! That or like, you know, a sitcom about a hapless serial killer who's got a heart of gold. You get the idea. Anyway, it turns out this new show is really good. Dark, and muted, and anxious, with a mix of clotted emotion and deathly detachment. No, Sopranos it ain't. But then what is? It's an impossible standard. Definitely give it a try.

I believe I can tell you with some assurance that today was the weirdest day of my entire life. I've had better days, I suppose. And I've certainly had worse. But for sheer immersion in the surreal, this one pretty much takes the cake.

As I write it is about 3:15 AM on the East Coast and I am watching the final rerun of tonight's Larry King Live. The topic thus far is one in which I have to say I have a great deal of interest and no little expertise. That is, whether or not I am a liar.

(The issue at hand here of course is the article I published in Salon about Condit flack Marina Ein, in which I quoted her saying that "Chandra Levy has a history of one-night stands." She has now issued a press release insisting that she never said any of the things attributed to her in my article, and thus presumably didn't say what I quoted her as saying. Needless to say, that is absolutely false.)

Luckily (and accurately) the consensus seems to be that I am not a liar. Although Mark Geragos -- one-time lawyer for Susan McDougal and Roger Clinton -- keeps raising the possibility, or suggesting that the panel consider the possibility, that I am lying about what Marina Ein said to me when I interviewed her on Monday afternoon. Sitting at the very desk where I did the interview, and typing on the very computer on which I wrote the article, I assume you can imagine how hearing all this on my TV set might constitute a rather bizarre experience. To Mark I can only say, well, actually why don't I not say, so as not to offend ...

I'll come back to this in some more detail, but there's one more thing I need to mention. During the first segment of Larry King Live I watched with great pride and affection as my friend and Salon editor Kerry Lauerman resolutely defended me and my article when King asked if Salon had any doubts about the piece or any plans to pull it. Let me take this opportunity to publicly thank Kerry and the rest of the folks at Salon.com for their immediate and unwavering support during this whole episode.

I've had a slew of emails over recent days asking why I haven't or when I would comment on the New York Times article on overseas absentee ballots. I will very soon.

As you might imagine I've been buried under an avalanche of Chandra-related stuff in recent days. And then there's that added matter of defending myself against Gary Condit's spokeswoman who has falsely accused me of including falsehoods in my article about her and her client. (Be not afraid loyal Talking Points readers: the facts are very much on my side.) But I will soon be discussing the Times article at some length. Also soon to come is comment on the stunning political news out of Great Britain.

On Talking Points I usually dish out comment and speculation with a mix of sarcasm and jest. But some issues require more seriousness and precision. This is one of them.

As you may have heard, or may yet hear, Gary Condit's spokeswoman Marina Ein (the subject of my article which appeared today in Salon) has publicly accused me of including multiple falsehoods in my article. Particularly (and here I quote from Ein's letter to Salon), she says:

"As it is, these statements, and others attributed to me in Mr. Marshall's piece are false and destructive. Further, the premise of the piece - that I was somehow engaged in an effort to cast aspersions on Ms. Levy's character or past - is entirely false."
It is worth noting that in her letter (which I assume Salon will publish tomorrow) Ms. Ein never denies having said what I quoted her as saying. That one quote being: "What about the fact that Lisa DePaulo is working on this article for Talk magazine and it turns out Chandra Levy has a history of one-night stands?"

I understand that there will be at least a couple articles written on this mini-controversy in tomorrow's papers. So when I read them I will comment on whatever Ein or anyone else is quoted as saying.

But for now let me state the following clearly and unequivocally: I stand behind the article 100%. The quotation in question is a word-for-word quotation from Ms. Ein from an on-the-record phone interview yesterday afternoon. Anything anyone states to the contrary is untrue, period.

P.S. If you'd like to see me say the same thing on TV, I'm on O'Reilly tonight on Fox News. And then on some other Fox show -- I'm not completely sure which -- at approximately 9:30 AM EST tomorrow morning.

I wrote a piece tonight in Salon detailing how Gary Condit's press spokesman Marina Ein told me that "Chandra Levy has a history of one-night stands." Were this true, it might be relevant to police trying to figure out how she came to harm and, so forth. But let me be clear: I have good reason to believe that this is actually not true. Not that I don't know it to be true, but that I have positive reasons to believe it is false.

In any case, as I noted in the piece, this really isn't very effective PR, to put it mildly.

Certainly this isn't going to make Condit look very good. But it goes beyond that. Gary Condit's biggest problem thus far hasn't been the police, for better or worse. It's been Chandra's aggrieved and heart-broken family who've dogged his every step with an endless stream of anecdotal tidbits, morsels, and veiled accusations.

And that was before his flacks started trashing their daughter.

On another matter, this article in Tuesday's Washington Post says the Condit team has still not turned over the polygraph results they trumpeted last Friday. Chief Ramsey mentioned this on the Sunday shows. Ein told me on Monday afternoon that one portion of the test results had been sent to police on Friday and that the remainder had been sent on Monday monring. Are they really still holding on to those records? And if so, why?