Kausfiles Special

Condit-Obsessives’ Corner: Watch the Watch!

I’m probably way behind veteran Conditizers on this, but the more I think about it the more the watch seems important. That is, the TAG Heuer wrist-watch whose box Rep. Gary Condit was caught disposing of in an Alexandria, Va., trash can shortly before the police were scheduled to search his apartment.

The widely accepted innocent explanation for this escapade–that Condit was trying to hide evidence of yet another affair, since the watch was given to him by a mid-1990s girlfriend, Joleen Argentini McKay–doesn’t make a great deal of sense, as has been noted by Joshua Micah Marshall (and, undoubtedly, countless Web posters). Why throw out the watch box, when surely the most important evidence of the romantic gift would be the watch itself? If the watch exists, what extra harm would the box cause Condit? If the watch doesn’t exist … well, doesn’t that raise the interesting question? What happened to it? Why would Condit not want people asking what happened to it?

Was Condit really worried that the police would say, “Congressman, there’s a watch box here, but no watch. You wouldn’t have kept the box because it has romantic significance because the watch came from yet another paramour, would you?” That’s a plausible, but not especially obvious scenario. (It’s a watch, not a bouquet of red roses!) If the watch was innocently lost, but Condit kept the box for sentimental reasons, that might justify folding it up and sticking it in the back of his hardware drawer. It wouldn’t seem to justify a risky excursion to Virginia. Did Condit throw out any and all other gifts from his women? (And if the box had romantic significance obvious to the police, mightn’t Chandra Levy have been suspicious too? Yet Condit kept the box throughout their relationship.)

Two other scenarios suggest themselves. (Note to Bernard Kalb: Sorry! When public figures who are also logical murder suspects are caught furtively throwing out possible evidence before police searches, people will speculate.) First, the watch may not be around, and Condit may not have wanted police asking where it was because there is something suspicious about where it is, or about the watch itself. (Irresponsible B-movie suggestion: blood!) Second, the watch box might not be for the watch McKay gave Condit after all, but rather for a replacement watch Condit more recently bought to stand in for the now-disappeared original.

There are a couple of things about this last, replacement-watch, scenario. First, it would explain–as well as the sentimental-attachment possibility–why Condit still had the box lying around to dispose of. (Do you keep all your watch boxes?) Second, it better explains the urgency to dispose of the box. If the box goes with the original watch, which has now disappeared, presumably Condit could say, “Oh, yeah. I lost that watch a year ago.” Or, “That damn watch never worked and I gave it away.” (Having owned a TAG Heuer watch myself, I would find the latter explanation extremely plausible.) But if the box was new and demonstrated clearly that a replacement watch had been recently purchased, it might, in the paranoid mind of someone caught in a bind, seem like potentially damning evidence to be disposed of at all costs.

Third, this replacement-watch scenario is potentially easily checkable–all the police have to do is show the actual box they found to McKay and see if it’s the same box she gave to Condit, or if it’s a box for the same model watch she gave to Condit. If she doesn’t remember, maybe it could be checked against the records at the store where she bought it.

I wish I had enough confidence in the D.C. police to think that they have already done this.

Latest “Bully Broads” Developments: The previous edition of kausfiles discussed whether Neela Banerjee of the New York Times should have credited Elle magazine when she basically re-reported a  piece  Ruth Shalit had written for Elle a month earlier–a piece on the “Bully Broads” management training program for over-assertive women. Banerjee defended herself by noting that a Nexis search turned up two pieces about “Bully Broads” that precede Shalit’s.

It turns out, as several alert kausfiles readers have pointed out, that there was a third piece on “Bully Broads,” in Business 2.0, that also preceded Shalit (but that isn’t listed in Nexis). At 1,800 words, this piece, by Colleen O’Connor, is longer and more analytical than the other pre-Shalit pieces, which I dismissed as “cursory.”

Both Banerjee and Shalit (and Shalit’s editor, Laurie Abraham) say they were unaware of O’Connor’s year-old piece until after they learned of it a few days ago, when it came to light in the controversy over Banerjee’s piece. That limits its moral relevance. But its existence does strengthen Banerjee’s argument that it’s “not like [Shalit] had broken the story.”

I still think Shalit has a justified beef. Her piece was the first to put “Bully Broads” in the larger context of the general anti-feminist and “difference feminist” trends, which is what Banerjee did too. Indeed, Banerjee told me that you “couldn’t write this piece” without mentioning the anti-feminist marriage manual, The Surrendered Wife. Well, O’Connor doesn’t mention The Surrendered Wife or the broader antifeminist trend–by Banerjee’s definition she didn’t write the same “piece.” Shalit did. (O’Connor generally doesn’t have much fun with “Bully Broads.” Let’s hope she does better with the man she’s currently covering for People  magazine: Gary Condit!) The verdict of kausfiles’ Props Review Service is hereby affirmed. But you can read O’Connor’s piece and judge for yourself.

P.S.: Yes, this is the same Ruth Shalit who was on the other end of a different sort of journalistic appropriation scandal a few years ago. (There’s a non-free NYT article about it here.)