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Breakthrough in Chandra Levy case reignites media frenzy

WASHINGTON – An apparent break in solving Chandra Levy’s murder has revived a mass media golden oldie with some new touches.

Once more, satellite trucks are stacked outside Washington, D.C. police headquarters. Cable television shows are turning to the case. Reporters and producers are besieging Levy’s parents by phone, and national papers are sending journalists to the Levy’s home town of Modesto.

In short, the story is unfolding much as it did when Chandra disappeared back in 2001.

“When this broke, it was like it was before,” public relations specialist Judy Smith, who is advising Levy’s parents, said Tuesday. “It was like no time had passed.”

For now, the mini-frenzy is building in anticipation of a case-breaking announcement in Washington, D.C. On Friday night, Police Chief Cathy Lanier advised the Levys that investigators would soon seek an arrest warrant for the man suspected of killing their daughter. Lanier did not name the suspect.

Lanier’s heads-up, delivered about 10 p.m. East Coast time, was itself a reflection of the ongoing media role in the nearly eight-year-old case.

Police officials had learned television reporter Pat Collins, with Washington’s WRC-TV, was going to be breaking the story about the pending arrest warrant on the station’s 11 p.m. newscast. By calling, Lanier could ensure the family first learned the news directly from a top police official – one already known to the Levys.

“I like her,” Susan Levy said of Lanier, who she had met earlier in Washington.

A D.C. Superior Court judge had not yet issued the arrest warrant as of Tuesday night. Typically, investigators will present prosecutors with a draft warrant along with accompanying evidence showing probable cause. Prosecutors then refine the document before presenting it to a judge.

Smith knew what was coming the minute she heard the news about the pending arrest warrant. Now president of the Washington-based firm Impact Strategies, Smith in 2001 and 2002 had handled press relations for Levy and the family’s then-lawyer, Billy Martin. She said she called the family over the weekend to offer help with the inevitable media crush.“When you go through the stuff we went through, there’s always going to be a connection,” Smith said.

Smith estimated she filtered upwards of 50 media calls on the Levy’s behalf over the weekend, and “30 or 40” on Monday. Geraldo Rivera of Fox News landed the parents for an evening piece, not long after CNN aired an interview with Susan Levy. Fox’s Greta Van Sustern devoted an extended segment to the Levy case, interviewing Chandra’s brother Adam. Brad Garrett, the former lead FBI investigator on the case, showed up on another network.

“Now that there seems to be a development of consequence, and of good news, it would make sense that we would have a spike in interest,” said Mike Lynch, who served as chief of staff to former congressman Gary Condit.

Condit himself has hinted that, in due course, he will have more to say in public. Revelations about his relationship with Levy, criticism over how he handled police and public questions and some raw tabloid speculation all contributed to his 2002 defeat in a House primary election. Condit, in turn, believes the press diverted investigators with its “insatiable sensationalism.”

Condit’s apparent willingness to talk now reflects one of the big differences between 2009 and 2001. Following Levy’s disappearance on or about May 1, 2001, Condit ducked public questions until he gave a widely panned interview three-and-a-half months later with ABC’s Connie Chung.

The broader media environment has also changed. On Monday, for instance, Susan Levy published an essay about her daughter in The Daily Beast. Although Levy’s message was a familiar one, the online periodical published by the former editor of The New Yorker magazine did not exist in 2001.

“We’ve had to come to terms with Chandra’s relationship with Condit and realize that it played a major role in the coverage of the case,” Levy wrote.

Blogs, more generally, were still outside the mainstream media when the Levy mystery began in 2001. Now, blogs abound and unique outlets with names like Lisa Leibow’s Fodder for Fiction, Scared Monkeys and Muckety have all been weighing in after their own fashion. Arrest imminent in slaying, Chandra Levy’s parents told

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