Chung vs. Condit
ABC’s Connie Chung won the battle of the get, landing an interview with U.S. Rep. Gary Condit. Her half-hour, unedited talk with Condit on August 23 marked the first time the public could see the California congressman respond to questions about his relationship with Chandra Levy and what he might know about her disappearance on April 30. AJR Assistant Managing Editor Lori Robertson talked with Chung about the interview.
By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.
How did you feel right before the interview?
Actually, I wasn't nervous. I was focused. And a day or two ahead of time, I came to the simple realization that I needed to pay no attention to anything I read or saw--I mean by that, the pre-Super Bowl hype. And that it was my job to simply concentrate and focus on the interview the way I always do.
What did you do to prepare for the interview?
I did what I always do and that is read the research, read the time line, which was put together by the investigative producers and reporters who have been covering the story.... I asked Teri Whitcraft, with whom I usually work. We work together on a little team that consists of Teri, me and another producer, Santina Leuci. She develops stories and helps me get 'gets.' Santina had already done her job.... I asked [Teri] to get together with the investigative producers who had been following the Condit-Levy story and get their suggestions. While they did that, I worked alone developing my own list of questions. And then we sat down together, Teri and one investigative producer, Chris Vlasto, and we sat together to go over and combine my questions and their questions.... That was Tuesday. Wednesday, the day before the interview, we all flew out to Modesto, and I studied on the plane to San Francisco from New York and then studied in the car ride from San Francisco to Modesto, and asked the hotel to shut my phone down so I could concentrate. The only phone calls that I really wanted to take were from my husband [TV's Maury Povich], who was apparently more nervous than I was. He kept calling me saying, 'Are you OK, are you nervous, are you prepared?' And finally, that night, Wednesday night, we stayed up, meaning Teri, Chris, Santina and a vice president of news, Phyllis McGrady. We sat up and pared the questions down, because we had too many for a half-hour interview. They asked me if I wanted to do some sort of mock, you know, Q&A. And I've never done that before in my life, and I said, 'No!'... Essentially then I took the list, and I like to handwrite my questions. So I handwrote them, and I also like them in sections, in subject sections--last meeting, meaning Condit's last meeting with Levy, last conversation, disappearance.... I had written up six pages of handwritten questions.... Underneath the camera that was pointed at me, the director had rigged up a digital way of giving me time cues.... I didn't look up again at that camera until 15 minutes had gone by.... I was so consumed with listening to the interviewee and following up on questions regarding the relationship.... And I thought, 'Oh, my God.' I'm halfway through and in my mind I knew I had about four pages to go.... That's when I started moving at a clip.
What was going through your mind when you first asked if he had had a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy and he declined to answer?
I was shocked. Completely and totally incredulous. Because I thought of the possibility that he may not acknowledge the relationship as an intimate one, but I was so surprised, because I didn't think, I just didn't think that he wouldn't acknowledge it. So the next few questions I asked were still, I was still trying to get over my incredulity.
When it was over, were there other questions you wished you would have had time to ask?
I wanted to ask him more about his career and whether he was going to run again and ask him more about how this affected him and his family. Although, I did ask that...and he answered it in part and then very thoughtfully turned it to the Levys. He said this isn't about me or my family, it's about the Levys.... The best question that emerged out of the pieces that I read after the interview was over [was]: At the conclusion of that half hour, the Levys, Chandra's aunt, the police, Anne Marie Smith, so many people were either wrong, confused or lying. And could he explain that? Could he explain how so many other people could be mistaken? I think that would have been a good question.