Friday, August 24, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 3



Staff Editorial


Crystal J. Doucette        Ed De La Garza 
Ken Fountain     Nikie Johnson       Ellen Simonson

Media embraces the meaningless

Since early May, Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) has been at the center of attention with the mysterious disappearance of a young graduate
student from Modesto, Calif. Dark-haired Chandra Ann Levy, who was from Condit's Congressional district, was a federal intern in
Washington, D.C., One week after her internship ended May 1, she abruptly vanished before her trip back home.

Media outlets quickly latched on to the story as details unraveled that the married representative may have had an affair with his young
constituent. Rumors soon followed he might also be involved in her sudden disappearance.

Condit immediately retreated from the media, refusing to discuss the case, canceling press conferences and declining interview requests,
until recently. ABC's Connie Chung was given an interview with Condit, which aired yesterday on Prime Time

Somehow, listening to Chung stumble through questions about when Condit had expected to call Levy before her disappearance and
when he had thought he was going to hear from her again felt like some bad dialogue from a soap opera, rather than the "News Exclusive"
it was touted as.

Washington, D.C., police have said Condit is not a suspect in Levy's disappearance, but rumors he could be involved have been the
subject of intense scrutiny and extensive coverage by local news stations and all-news cable channels in the past three months.

Though he has more recently admitted a relationship with Levy, Condit still maintains he had nothing to do with her disappearance and
the extensive attention being paid to him is unwarranted.

"This isn't about the Condits, it's about the Levys," Condit said in the ABC interview.

Condit's decision to boycott the press may have been based partly on the same principles some media held in believing coverage of him
prurient -- it just wasn't news. Day after day, viewers were treated to "breaking news" in the Levy case that resulted in very little more than
sensationalism that produced no real concrete evidence resolving anything whatsoever.

So few were the actual developments in the case and, more importantly, so lacking was substantial news matter in the topic as a whole,
that CBS news anchor Dan Rather refused to report on the Levy case on his Evening News program until 11 weeks into the story. Rather
chose to take a stand on the entertainment value of modern news coverage. It was a stand some other media could possibly have adhered
to instead of lambasting the public with so much tabloid news.

Did news outlets jump at the opportunity to discuss a missing intern's affair with a married politician because it was important and worthy of
coverage, or did it just make for good entertainment? Maybe these reporting pieces should be called "Breaking Entertainment." This way
we will know we're not actually about to get any news that's relevant, important or helpful, just entertaining and good for gossip.

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