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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Mystery overwhelms US airwaves
Representative Gary Condit
The scandal threatens the political career of Gary Condit
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Summer is a quiet time in Washington, and news organisations sometimes have difficulty filling the air and the Internet with stories.

But fortunately for news editors, this summer they have a story - and a mystery at that, with all the makings of a blockbuster movie: Sex, power and deception.

It involves the disappearance of a Washington intern and a congressman who at first denied and then admitted to having a relationship with her.

What began as the sleepy story of a missing person in Washington has grown into a media obsession that threatens to overwhelm the airwaves and undo a political career.

The story

Intern Chandra Levy was last seen near her apartment on 30 April.

Chandra Levy
Chandra Levy was last seen April 30
The story began slowly as signs went up in Washington seeking information about her disappearance.

Washington police are investigating her disappearance as a missing persons case. They say they have no evidence of a crime and no suspects.

They have questioned some 100 people in the case, including Representative Gary Condit, who represents Ms Levy's hometown of Modesto California.

The story began to build shortly after her disappearance with reports that Ms Levy might have had a relationship with the representative. He first denied it, but later admitted it in interviews with police.

The media frenzy

After that, the story has mushroomed into what the Washington Post has called "a national melodrama".

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel now rehash the story every 12 minutes or so

Howard Kurtz,
Washington Post media critic
Another woman has come forward to claim that she also had a relationship with the California congressman.

From a trickle to a flood, the story has built into hourly developments and national coverage.

The Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz wrote: "CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel now rehash the story every 12 minutes or so."

Tabloids are offering money for leads on the story, and camera crews are staked out in Washington and in Representative Condit's home district in California.

Parallels drawn to President Clinton

And the story has ironies that have not escaped press attention.

Representative Condit counselled President Bill Clinton to be forthcoming about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.

The representative urged the president to tell the truth and "let the American public make up their minds".

The saga has reached that white-hot, Lewinsky-like state in which every blip (Condit doesn't march in Fourth of July parade!) fills the vast media echo chamber

Howard Kurtz
Some of the players are even the same, as columnist R Emmett Tyrrell Jr points out. Representative Condit "has even had one of former President Clinton's lawyers, Abbe Lowell, spin the press", he wrote.

Mr Kurtz wrote, "the saga has reached that white-hot, Lewinsky-like state in which every blip (Condit doesn't march in Fourth of July parade!) fills the vast media echo chamber."

The media is already saying that the repeated denials and reversals could spell the end to Representative Condit's career, but the press is not improving its approval ratings either, according to some media critics.

In the wake of a recent story about the case in the Washington Post, Mr Kurtz wrote, "The story could also provide ammunition to those who say the media keep scavenging through Condit's personal life for ratings and circulation."

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See also:

11 Jul 01 | Americas
Chandra Levy: Accusation and denial
11 Jul 01 | Americas
Congressman under the spotlight
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