THINKPIECE: Gary Condit's reputation might have stood a chance hadhe been forthcoming ... maybe

How many weeks has it taken to tarnish California Representative

Gary Condit's 30-year political career? Eight. How many words did it

take to heighten Condit into a household name? Zero.

Sadly, another intern scandal has topped the media circuit, and all too

conveniently for the media during the slow-news summer months. But this

one's not about the affair(s). It's about the silence.

Condit made a naive and selfish choice. He chose to protect his private

life and his career when the media had questions for him about his

relationship with intern Chandra Levy, whose whereabouts are still


The concept of investigative journalism was born in this country. Did

Condit honestly believe that silence would quell the 'media frenzy,' as

his attorney has stated? If anything, silence in this case has not only

fed the beast, but has cast a shadow of doubt on a man who has never

even been considered a suspect in the Levy case.

Elected officials are charged with the responsibility to be forthcoming

on behalf of their constituencies. And, ironically enough, the

constituencies often rely on mass media to learn about their elected

officials' actions for the good of their communities. Affair aside, Levy

is still a missing member of Condit's congressional district, and

Condit's silence has come with the price tag of trust.

The role of a PR practitioner or reputation manager is not to tell a man

how to lead his personal life. When his professional life is involved,

that's a different matter.

Condit should have sought forgiveness from his family and from the

people he represents, and moved on with life and with a genuine

commitment to the search for Levy, awkward moments and all. We are

trained as a society to forgive, and by coming clean with his admittance

of the scandal earlier - 67 days earlier, to be exact - Condit's

reputation would have stood a good chance.

If Condit had been truthful in his dealings, this would have been a

24-to-48-hour story as opposed to a still-unfinished novelette. And the

public may not have associated doubt with a presumably innocent man;

Condit's $10,000 contribution to the reward fund wouldn't have

gotten lost in the silence; he would have the support of his district,

Levys included; and we would not be faced with another classic example

of why 'no comment' is the dirtiest phrase in the PR language.

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