On paper - this looked like a savvy attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of Condit's Thursday night meltdown with Connie Chung. On Friday evening the dapper Abbe Lowell appeared on Larry's show doing damage control. Lowell had all the air of an early 60's pop Svengali apologizing for the uncouth manners of his latest teen idol. Of course Gary didn't mean that... No Gary is a temperamental artiste... He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve... And so it went. One almost wished that Lowell was the one in hot water. He'd have made mincemeat of Chung. But alas he's only nominally in charge. Like Basil Fawlty complaining how his hotel would be fine if it weren't for the guests - Lowell has to bear the cross of the ultimate irritation to all lawyers - the client.
Towards the end of the conversation - Lowell ruefully conceded that perhaps he should have suggested that Condit break his silence on King's show rather than with Chung. King gave his trademark barking chortle - and you knew that he would figure in the rehabilitation process. No matter that the CNN audience is a fraction of ABC's network reach - it is practically impossible to fail with Larry King. His sloppy softball questions are tailor-made for shady characters seeking to reposition themselves. His friendly Brooklyn-neighbor schtick imbues all his guests with a sense of importance. His indiscriminate egalitarianism has elevated Paula Jones, Linda Tripp, Lucianne Goldberg, Anne Marie Smith and other flotsam and jetsam from recent political sideshows into semi-credibility.
So - on paper - the notion of the dutiful son appearing on Larry's show playing the 'Defendum Fidelis' Julie Nixon role - could not fail. A way to soften the Condit image. The son behind the robotic blown-dry father who apparently has no facial expressions between 'inane Gary Busey grin' and 'Modesto deer caught in the media headlights.'
Unfortunately what we saw was how the sins of the father can be visited upon the son. Son of Condit was as unrelaxed and stiff as it is possible to be in front of a camera.
One could say that this was just because he was unaccustomed to being on a live TV show. But this occurred just hours after a new Power-Ball millionaire appeared in front of millions on live TV for the first time ever - and fielded questions about his unsavory past in jail for robbery with self-deprecating humor and the grace of a ballerina. It's not the prior experience that counts with TV appearances. It's being comfortable in one's skin that makes the difference. And poor Chad Condit was even less comfortable than his kinetic father.
As one watched Chad Condit flail through 60 minutes of patt-a-cake questions from Larry - the realization dawned that this family really is gloriously out-of-touch. The assumption that Condit's 30 years as a politician - and his son's employment with California Governor Gray Davis automatically imbues these folks with media savviness ebbed away faster than you could say trailer trash.
For all intents and purposes Chad Condit seemed like one of those hapless creatures who pops up on Jerry Springer at the beginning of the show - aware that he's there as the calm before the storm of a dysfunctional family member being hauled out to betray the family secrets.
For a start - Larry King is always "Larry." Even total strangers call him Larry. It may be inappropriate in serious political discourse for complete strangers to address interlocutors on a first name basis - but it happens all the time in the TV world. And Larry King is the Mr. Rogers of interrogators. "Well Mr. King..." Condit Junior would start... Larry shuddered. After the first couple of "Mr. King's" he said "you can call me Larry." "Yes sir" responded Chad - and he continued to call him "sir" or "Mr. King" throughout the interview.
At the end Larry even drew reference to this odd formality and chided Chad gently. "You never called me Larry once. That's military, right?" he offered helpfully. Well obviously Chad Condit must have served a dozen or so years being entrenched in military discipline. "Yes sir" snapped Chad. "I was in the Navy four years." Ah - that explains it. An entire four years. Sir.
But calling Larry King "Mr. King" (which he did several times in the show) - was nothing compared to what Chad Condit called his father. Here was the golden opportunity to soften that brittle Stepford Congressman image. Would Chad refer to "my father" "my dad" "pops" anything... something to humanize the vulcanized image of the past three months. But it turned out that "Gary Condit" is what his son called his father. And occasionally just "Gary."
In the entire hour the younger Condit referred to "Gary" or "Gary Condit" a staggering 42 times (even more times than his father had reminded us of the long duration of his marriage.) It was the filial equivalent of Bob Dole referring to himself as a disembodied third person. There is something disconcerting about seeing the thirtysomething son of an embattled man constantly refer to his father by his public name and scarcely embrace the softness of "my dad" - which crept in a mere 13 times.
After some 18 of these utterances even the baffled Larry asked about it. "You call your father Gary?" "Occasionally" responded Chad - seemingly unaware of the heavy usage - and then proceeded to do so another 24 times in the next 20 minutes. "Does he like that, rather than 'dad'?" asked an intrigued King. "He goes by either" explained Chad helpfully. Unfortunately no one told Connie Chung. Perhaps she should have called Gary Condit "dad."
These issues of nomenclature were but further indicators that not all is normal in so-called Condit Country. At first it was hard to pinpoint - and then it became apparent. Chad Condit was occupying a place - rather like his father's hairstyle - at least 15 years behind the times.
In referring to Anne Marie Smith - a woman who has appeared to give up her career as a promising air hostess to become this story's conscience (hell hath no fury like a flight attendant scorned - let alone one two-timed for a younger woman) - Condit Junior constantly referred to what he believed to be Smith's lawyer's desire to appear on "Geraldo."
He used the word "Geraldo" as a pejorative - clearly equating it with the Jerry Springer-style syndicated show that Geraldo Rivera used to host in the 80's and early 90's. But anyone remotely savvy with the worlds of politics and media must surely be aware that Geraldo has spent the last eight years hosting a legal-themed show on CNBC. Lawyers appear on that show with monotonous regularity. It is no prize for a lawyer to be booked on that program - and it seems a rather skimpy reward for dragging a client through the mud. Of course Anne Marie (who Chad insisted on calling Marie Anne) is not exactly a reluctant woman. Like Paula Jones before her - she is only out there to clear her besmirched name. Even though many more people now know about her sex life than would have had she simply ignored an article in The Star in which her room-mate named her as a Condit concubine.
Of course her appearances on Fox News, Larry King's own show and Tuesday's "Good Morning America" do boggle the mind. This is a woman whose principle area of expertise is distribution of peanuts and ensuring that our tray tables are in an upright position. And yet her views are being sought on the judicial system, the location of Chandra Levy (whose parents she claims to have bonded with) and the psychology of Gary Condit. Being told that ten months of a sexual dalliance didn't constitute a "relationship" in the eyes of Gary Condit and that she was in unwitting rotation with a younger model would steam up any female - let alone a seasoned flight attendant. (Incidentally - Larry King was unabashed in using the politically incorrect term "stewardess" - spitting it out like a paternal figure in a 30's screwball comedy would say "showgirl.")
Of course just as diverting as Condit Junior - was the always boggling high-wire act of Larry King himself - who defies syntax-control as readily as our glorious President.
At one point Larry actually asked Chad how he felt about his father "being a motorcycle"! I don't make this up. Here's the transcript. "How do you react to these stories about him being a motorcycle and she might have gotten on a motorcycle and motorcycle people being involved?" Of course Larry was referring to the Hell's Angels theory currently being perpetrated by Dominic Dunne - who offered it first on Larry's show last Friday as he shamelessly shilled his latest crime-themed book. The genuinely tragic loss of his daughter many years ago has apparently transformed Dunne into one of the foremost experts on crime - at least in Larry's eyes. He is only one step behind Mark Furhman who has taken the Richard Nixon course in self-declared rehabilitation. A couple of books have transformed him from proven racist and perjurer into criminal law guru.
Meanwhile Chad was causing much confusion to Larry - who at one point called Chad "Gary" and said "your names are too much alike and you keep calling your father Gary and I'm getting lost in this whole thing." Larry was right of course - and it was then that Chad made his one very astute quip. "Now you know why we don't go on shows." He was rewarded with the King guffaw.
Larry went on to prove that he was indeed confused by renaming Connie Chung as "Chonnie Kung" ! "I'm getting every name mixed up tonight!" he exclaimed - blissfully unaware how much pleasure his novel use of the English language regularly gives his stalwart fans. Not wanting to be outdone - Chad decided to rename Anne Marie Smith's lawyer Jim Robinson as Dick Robinson - which he pulled off twice - despite corrections from a kindly Larry.
Underscoring the bizarre Ozzie & Harriet world in which the Condit children had obviously grown up in - Chad kept using the term "law enforcement" - for example describing his dad (sorry - his Gary) as "a true American citizen that wants to cooperate with law enforcement." It all sounded like a preachy speech from Dan Aykroyd portraying the 40-years-out-of-date Joe Friday in the 1990's movie of "Dragnet."
The grand finale was not what young Chad had intended. After spending much of his time refuting allegations that his father was a killer or a murderer - he fielded a curve ball question from Larry asking if there was anything he disliked about his father. It turns out that he disliked Gary Condit beating him at basketball. "At his age he can?" queried Larry. "Yeah, he's a sharpshooter" responded Chad. Just what the Levy family wanted to hear...