Actual malice is a legal concept used in civil law (specifically libel cases) indicating that someone published a false statement knowing it was a lie.
It’s what Gary Condit accuses–through implication and outright statement–the media of doing to him in the wake of the Chandra Levy scandal in early 2001.
Condit’s role in the saga is relayed through Breton Peace’s Actual Malice.
Condit was a rising star in Congress, representing California, in 2001 when he was introduced to a constituent who was a friend of an office aide and an intern in Washington, D.C., Chandra Levy.
Levy and Condit began a no strings attached affair, to hear Condit tell it, that was ongoing up to the time of Levy’s disappearance.
As police attention quickly turned to Condit as a source of information, the media seized on him as a possible suspect and aimed to take him down in a Bill Clinton type cloud of shame.
But in Condit’s telling, many of the media’s tactics and stories were nothing but baloney, based nowhere in truth.
Some of that can be proven with the help of court records and multiple, inconsistent stories sources gave to varying media outlets as the scandal stretched on for more than a year at its peak.
However, some of the stories Condit says are false cannot be entirely disproven. And herein lies my problem with this book.
I understand Condit wants to share his side of events, but why wait 16 years to do it so thoroughly? Why do it through a book that is written by a lawyer associated with the family and not a neutral third-party?
Devils’ advocates would argue Condit has lost trust in the media and the justice system because of what he has gone through, and to an extent, that is true.
But Condit argues he was dragged through the mud without sources checking information and doing their due diligence. He does the same in this book in discussing how the reporters did their jobs.
As a member of the media, I am appalled by some of the stories published during the scandal and some of the tactics described. They are the actions that give all of us a bad name and reputation and are disgusting.
But chastising reporters for tracking down leads and asking to speak with people connected with a person involved in a potential scandal isn’t fair. That is what reporters are required to do. We need to chase down possible leads to a story, wherever that takes them.
Granted, we are then required to at least try and verify information and be willing to accept the consequences of what we publish.
However, Condit and Peace don’t try to talk to the reporters or their editors for this book about the tactics they used or what they published. He just takes their word for it.
If he wanted to show he was truly above them and was truly dragged through the mud and was nothing more than a scapegoat for them, they should have done that due diligence and proven they were thorough. Document in the book when they called reporters to try to interview them, document emails or letters sent as they did with regard to actions taken at the height of the publicity of the case. But they don’t.
This book is clearly biased in favor of Gary Condit, so everything in it must be taken with a grain of salt, regardless of how you feel about Condit, the scandal, Chandra Levy’s murder and subsequent legal proceedings (the man ultimately convicted in her death had the charges against him dismissed in 2016) or the media. As a critical reader, you have to consider the source.
I remember the Chandra Levy case as one of the first scandals where I was old enough to understand some of what was going on. I didn’t know everything (I wasn’t even a teenager yet) but I knew enough. This book is an interesting viewpoint into the case from an insider’s perspective.
It’s worth the read (borrow it from a library to not provide financing to either side of the case) and an examination of the case from this new angle.