‘Wash Post’ Investigations Editor Defends Chandra Levy Series

By: Joe Strupp

More than a week into The Washington Post’s 13-part series on Chandra Levy’s murder — which has drawn both praise and criticism — Jeff Leen, the lead editor on the series, says the investigation has turned up things even some investigators didn?t know.

Leen also says that criticism of the “serial” as too long is unfounded, noting that last year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series on Vice President Dick Cheney was some 5,000 words longer.

“You will know everything that the police know, it does move in a direction and you are left with something at the end,” Leen, assistant managing editor/investigations, promised when asked by E&P if the serial concludes with a definitive suspect in mind. “You have to read it and make up your own mind.”

The serial, which is named as such because it moves in a continuous narrative, not as 12 separate stories, began July 13 and will run through July 27. Each day’s segment covers less than a full page in the print edition. Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. told E&P last week that was done so that it could be easily read each day. It includes 12 “chapters” and an epilogue.

“We have lots and lots of people saying they are reading every word and [other] people say ‘why are you wasting space?'” Leen adds. “But I have never seen this level of interest, readers are really engaged with it.”

The Web site indicates that some 492 comments have been posted with the online versions of the stories, the most coming for the first day’s installment, which has 181 comments as of Monday.

The serial focuses on the death of Levy, the former intern who went missing in 2001 and was later found murdered in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. The case drew interest nationally after Levy was romantically linked to former congressman Gary Condit, for whom she had interned.

“I think there is significant new information here,” Leen said. “We haven’t heard from [police investigators] officially, but we have heard behind the scenes that they’re learning new facts from the series.”

Among the revelations in the serial Leen cited:

? D.C. Police were unaware for a month that Levy in 2001 had used her computer to search for walking and running paths in Rock Creek Park.

? D.C. Police did not know that the National Park Police had shown a photo off Levy to a man arrested for attacking women in the park (Ingmar Guandique) and he had recognized Levy.

“There are a lot of revelations throughout the series like that,” he said.

Asked if he believes the investigation will result in a major breakthrough in the case, or even an arrest, Leen said: “I really can’t say, I really don?t know, that is getting ahead of what I want to say.”

A chat on washingtonpost.com today promised Leen with three reporters from the series, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham and Sylvia Moreno — but some visitors wondered why only Leen seemed to show up? The chat appeared to include only Leen because his name appeared before each response; he told E&P that was done because only one log-on could be used. He said all four of them took part in the chat.

Leen wrote in today’s online chat: “We are not surprised by the criticism. We expected it. Any experimentation draws criticism. People are focusing on the fact that the series unfolds in 12 chapters. But the series is actually not as long as people think when they compare it to other investigative projects we have done. The Chandra Levy series averages around 1,700 words per chapter, where our other major projects usually average 4,000 to 6,000 words per piece ? The Chandra Levy case is one of the most famous unsolved murders in Washington. Over the years we have received tips and information about problems in the police investigation. As time passes, sources in a case like this become more willing to talk. We decided to take advantage of that and also explore a new way of story telling on the Web and in the paper.”

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