General News

Is Chandra Levy story news?

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Jul 20, 2001 | 1:22pm EDT

After being lambasted by rivals for more than a week about their decision to ignore the Chandra Levy story, CBS Evening News producer Jim Murphy and anchor Dan Rather are finally finding some journalistic allies to champion their position.

In an article published on the History News Network Web site, Leonard Steinhorn, professor of communications at American University, compares the aspersions leveled by the media against Rep. Gary Condit to those they directed against Atlanta security guard Richard Jewell during the 1996 Olympics.

"Condit ­ like Jewell ­ has become yet another bystander whose personal life has been ripped open by a media twister fueled by ratings and our thirst for scandal," Steinhorn writes. "Turning someone's private life into a public soap opera may be entertaining. But it's not journalism and shouldn't be news."

Hendrik Hertzberg, writing the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" column, observes that a similar story about the disappearance of government lawyer Joyce Chiang, who had worked as an intern for California Congressman Howard Berman, was treated almost exclusively as a local Washington D.C. story two years ago -- even when her body was found washed up from the Potomac. But Condit's affair with Levy -- and his attempt to cover it up -- naturally led to an intense police investigation, he notes.

"To have thought it would do otherwise," Hertzberg concludes, "is as absurd as imagining that the media -- Jim Murphy and Dan Rather excepted, of course -- can resist a salacious ratings-booster of a story."

Rather continues to defended the decision not to report Levy story on his nightly CBS newscast.

"I thought there was, and I still think there is, a real danger an innocent person could be convicted in the court of public opinion based on rumor, gossip and speculation," he said on the Don Imus radio show Thursday.

Nevertheless, in a seemingly odd admission, Rather added: "I want us to stand for something, and we tried to stand for something, and it didn't work."

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