Person of the Week: Gary Condit

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The media pursues Rep. Gary Condit as he leaves his D.C. apartment

Why we chose him: Because the Condit case has ascended to the high-pitched level of OJ and JonBenet and Congressman Condit is at its confusing and frustrating center.

Because with the appearance Thursday of the literal and figurative "cadaver dogs" — including Bob Barr, who became the first member of Congress to call for Condit's resignation — the "Search for Chandra" finally reached the point where Gary Condit is at its bitter center.

Because by now, even the cops know the currency of fascination when they see it glitter. "This is probably the No. 1 case that we've had during my time here, and I've been policing for 30-some-odd years," said Police Chief Charles Ramsey on Thursday. "It's on the O.J. Simpson-JonBenet scale, I would think."

Because the Levys' next stop on their media rooftop tour is "America's Most Wanted" — and in case you hadn't realized, there's no fugitive in this case, not even a suspect.

And because of course there is one suspect, a suspect who may in part have brought suspicion on himself through his own silence, and that, of course, is Congressman Condit.

The media eye has turned

This was the week the apparent chaff — the Hell's Angels ties, the Bill Macy comparisons, the alleged attempt to hush a stewardess — finally fell away. Condit ended last week by admitting Saturday in his third interview with police that he had indeed had a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy. And with that the hounds were loosed.

Not that the scandal-trained media had ignored the story before. It was July 4 week, with its congressional recess and all-around dearth of news, that marked the Condit tale's ascendancy into the tier just below Monica and O.J. and Jon-Benet. But there was still more unsaid than said, some restraint in the airwaves. Condit's leaked admission was the cutting of the leash.

In a rather neat crescendo, this week's increasingly meaty tidbits took care of that. The further investigations into Condit's correspondence with Anne Marie Smith. The minister whose then-18-year-old daughter had had her own affair with Condit and feared for her own safety. And finally the on-camera appearance of the police, searching Condit's apartment before setting out among the dumpsters and abandoned buildings of Adams Morgan.

What's Taken So Long?

From a criminal-justice standpoint, the start of the searching seems ridiculously tardy. Chandra Levy has been missing since April 30, and to put it baldly, physical evidence is probably in short supply by now. But from a media standpoint, a slow accumulation of angles and subplots is most desirable — the news-consuming public wants a mystery, a topic of conversation, not a data dump.

Condit himself has dribbled out the details like he was working for the tabloids. Only a few years after Clinton proved to everyone that these sort of sexual dalliances were eminently forgivable, Condit has let pass all his opportunities to play the innocent. An early admission of the sex, a loud rejection of guilt, and an energetic and public search for the missing girl, might have diverted the media into a less-interesting missing-persons adventure. But while dature may abhor a vacuum, dark media suspicions flower in one. Condit's public pose — the politician's equivalent of pulling your coat over your head — has left the hordes one of two impressions: of a cowardly (and foolish) innocent or a cagey monster.

Finally, while the corporeal center of the case of Chandra Levy is Chandra Levy, the media would never have swarmed all over "The Search for Chandra" if it were only Chandra they were looking for.