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Hypocrisy, Congress and the Voters
By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 13, 2001
Question: Explain to me how Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) thinks it's okay to keep his affair with Chandra Levy secret for nine weeks, and yet three years ago he blasted President Clinton about the same subject.
Answer: Hypocrisy is what many people find to be the most objectionable part of stories about members of Congress who have affairs. I'm reminded of Jim Bunn, the Oregon Republican who ran for Congress in 1994 as a family man, stressing his situation and contrasting it with his Democratic opponent, a divorced woman. Following his victory, Bunn divorced his wife and later married his chief of staff. Voters threw him out of office in 1996.
Enter Gary Condit. In 1998, when the House was beginning to look into Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Condit was one of 31 House Democrats who voted to support a Republican-pushed impeachment inquiry. He said he was "troubled" by the allegations of perjury and called on Clinton to be more forthcoming. In light of that, Condit's strategy of refusing to speak in public is not seen as an especially smart strategy.
Question: I noticed that whenever a newspaper refers to a congressman, the
paper always adds the party affiliation and the state from where the congressman comes, e.g., "Dick Gephardt (D-Mo)." However, I don't see in The Washington Post or other news outlets Rep. Condit's party affiliation or state. Is he not a Democrat from California? Why do the media try to keep this a secret?
Answer: Several readers have brought this to my attention; apparently it came from Rush Limbaugh. According to a study by the conservative Media Research Center, the network news shows aired 179 stories about Condit between May 14 and July 11, only 14 of which noted that Condit is a Democrat. The MRC wonders, "Could this lapse in labeling, which prevents the scandal from tainting the Democratic party overall, be because 89 percent of Washington-based reporters voted Democratic in the '92 presidential election and because the Condit scandal -- if tied to his party -- can only worsen the Democrats' dismal standing on values issues?"
I'm not sure that anything Condit may have done would "taint" the Democratic Party overall. As for The Post, however, it is fair to say that there was not much consistency last week. In Monday's lead story on Condit, the fact that he is a Democrat was mentioned in the fourth paragraph. On Tuesday, there was no mention of his party at all. Wednesday's story had it in the second paragraph. On Thursday it was in the sixth paragraph. And on Friday it didn't appear until the 16th paragraph.
I have no authoritative explanation for any of this, so I can't say that we're facing subtle media bias at work. But how about this possibility -- that Condit has been transformed, thanks to the 24-hour cable television networks' obsession with him, into an O.J.-like figure. This is beyond politics or party label. It's sex and lies and a missing intern, the kind of tawdry stuff that much of the media (and, apparently, the public) thrive on. We can't turn on the TV without seeing him leaving his Washington apartment, or being followed by reporters and cameras, or sneaking out of a congressional side door, all with Chandra Levy's picture superimposed on the screen. Somehow, adding "Democrat-California" to all this seems out of place. Or at least too much of a bother.
Post Script: The June 22 column posed the question about political figures who leave office, only to return in a somewhat lower position; one example cited was the late Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), who 12 years after his defeat in a Senate re-election bid went to the House. Many readers sent in other examples, including:
from Lionel Artom-Ginzburg of Philadelphia, Pa.:
from Jim Vick:
from Steve Garrett of Tahlequah, Okla.:
from Harvey Hudson of Eden Prairie, Minn., who reminds
from David Ray of Annandale, Va.:
a tremendous list from Robert Evins Pickard of Antioch,
Tenn., which includes:
And the July 6 column, in noting that Jeb and George W. Bush are only the second set of brothers to serve simultaneously as governors (following Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller), misstated the dates the Bush boys were in office together. Jeb Bush, of course, was elected in 1998 - not '94, when he lost to Democrat Lawton Chiles - and thus served simultaneously with brother George W. from 1999 through December of 2000.
There was no shortage of readers who caught that error, including David Sakowitz of New York, N.Y.; Benjamin Gibbons of Columbus, Ohio; David Mark of Washington, D.C.; Aaron Kleinman of Washington, D.C.; Warren Miller of Lexington, Va.; Bill Burton; Michael Rebain of Washington, D.C.; Ken Black of Ada, Okla.; Will Cohen of Lakewood, N.J.; and Evan Van Ness of Houston, Texas.
Just what we need, more confusion about Florida.
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