As I explained last night a number of readers have written in questioning what I earlier said about Lisa DePaulo, the author of the buzzful article on Chandra Levy and Gary Condit in the new issue of Talk magazine. They had read a post on Bob Somerby's Daily Howler site and wondered whether I hadn't gotten it wrong. To recap: I said she was wonderful and very knowledgeable about the whole Chandra-Condit story; Somerby thinks she's neither.
Many of the things Somerby says are simply ad-hominem remarks. So in those cases there's nothing for me to say but that I disagree with him. Let me also say that I really don't like knocking Somerby because his column was so good last year during the presidential campaign, knocking down countless half-truths and untruths about Al Gore. Having said that, though, let me just give one example of how a little knowledge and lots of attitude has allowed Somerby to say some unkind and untrue things about DePaulo.
In the post in question Somerby lays out the following facts. In a Larry King interview a few nights ago Chandra Levy's uncle said they first told the police about Chandra's affair with Condit on May 15th. Yet a short time later on the same broadcast DePaulo repeated her claim that Levy's aunt and uncle had told the cops about the affair from "day one."
Here's what Somerby said about the apparent contradiction:
But, if Katz is to be believed, "Aunt Linda" did not come forward on "Day One," and neither, it would seem, did the Levys. DePaulo has repeatedly claimed on Kingâs program that the police knew about the affair "from Day One." Last night, she continued to make the melodramatic claim even after Katz seemed to say it wasnât true.
In other words, Somerby says that DePaulo is either ignorant of the facts of the case or indifferent to them.
Does any of this matter? It only matters if youâre trying to determine what has actually gone on in this case. But it matters in a different way too; it makes a difference in the hagiography which pseudo-journalists like DePaulo have been peddling. In truth, DePaulo has been functioning like a novelist; she wants to tell a morality tale, and she wants it to work Just One Way. She wants the Levys to be Totally Righteous, and she wants Condit to be a mustachio-twirling villain. Therefore, she doesnât want you to think that the Levys, like Condit, may have initially withheld what they knew of the sexual affair. When Katz suggests that the Levys did not tell police about the affair, she rushes to clean up the story.
Let me explain Somerby's mistake.
There are two issues here. One is whether the Levys suspected the affair with Condit from the first or only made these charges much later. I know the former is true because they told numerous people so at the very outset of the case.
In his post Somerby says the Levys first called police on May 5th (ten days before the uncle says the matter of the affair was broached.) That's true. But Somerby seems only to know the date with little of the context.
On May 5th, the Levys first called police but were basically blown off. Again the following day they called, this time more intently and begged police to visit Chandra's apartment. They did so, but conducted no search. Then several more days went by until police warmed to the idea that something was seriously wrong and conducted a full forensic search of Levy's apartment. I don't have the precise dates in front of me. But the point is that by the time the police were taking the case seriously -- doing searches, conducting interviews with Chandra's aunt and uncle, and so forth -- it was a good week later. In other words, pretty close to May 15th.
Somerby's idea seems to be that the first frantic phone call Levy's father made to the police on May 5th should have gone something like this:
Officer, we're terribly worried about our daughter. She hasn't responded to our calls in days. We're very worried. It's not like her. Can you please send someone to her apartment? And ... oh yeah, officer, by the way, she's been doing the wild-thing with our Congressman Gary Condit.
Somehow I don't think this is what Lisa meant. By "day one" I think she meant that from their first conversations with the police the Levys told them that they suspected Chandra had been having an affair with Condit. Not only do I believe this is true; but the timeline DePaulo mentioned makes perfect sense if you have more than a passing understanding of the details of the case.