thoughts on politics

August 10, 2008

“So far, so sordid”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 1:08 am
Tags: , , ,

The typical sex scandal of an also-ran these days hardly merits comment, but John Edwards’ recently revealed steppin’ around has more import than others might. Just to fill readers in, the National Enquirer recently reported following Edwards to a meeting with his mistress at the Beverly Hills Hilton, cornering him as he left, and chasing him into a bathroom where he blocked the door from the inside until hotel security came and took the journalists away.

I first heard of it a couple of weeks ago on drudge. It was just a scummy story from the National Enquirer, and even after reading it, I was inclined to dismiss it because I looked in several places, and they were the only paper reporting this. No “reputable” source even mentioned it to say it was untrue.

Finally, this past week, Edwards confessed that the Enquirer story was (partially) true: he’d had an affair with a campaign worker in 2006, and says he ended it then. (Though he’s admitted to that, a few other messy details remain unexplained: the woman now has a baby whose father is unknown–the birth certificate does not give a name. Edwards denies being the father of the child, and one of his campaign workers in fact came forward claiming to be the father, but even though Edwards says he’d submit to a paternity test, the woman is apparently not allowing it. Even if this version of the story is true–a campaign love triangle producing a child with an unknown father–it’s not nice, and it doesn’t fully make sense. The only way his claim could be true is if both Edwards and the other guy were sleeping with her at the same time, which means the only way he could be sure he wasn’t the father was to take a paternity test, so how does he know he’s not the father? Just sounds like a Maury episode waiting to happen.)

Tim Rutten from the Los Angeles Times, however, has a good column on why this story actually matters.

But what’s really significant here is the cone of silence the nation’s major newspapers — including The Times — and the cable and broadcast networks dropped over this story when it first appeared in the tabloid during the presidential primary campaign.

As pressure mounted on major newspapers to take some aspect of the unfolding scandal into account, editors and ombudsmen issued statements saying it would be unfair to publish anything until the Enquirer’s stories had been “confirmed.”

Well, there’s confirming and then there’s confirming. One sort occurs when an editor mutters, “Find somebody and have them make a few calls.” Then there’s the sort that comes when that editor summons an investigative reporter with a heart like ice and a mind like Torquemada’s and says, “Follow this wherever it goes and peel this guy like an onion.”

Suffice to say that the follow-up of the Enquirer’s story fell into the former category in too many newsrooms, including that of The Times.

It’s interesting that what finally forced Edwards into telling the truth was a mainstream media organization. ABC News began investigating the Edwards affair in October, but really began to push after the Beverly Hilton allegations. When ABC confronted Edwards with its story (which confirmed “95% to 96%” of the tabloid’s reporting, according to the network), he admitted his deception.

With that admission, the illusion that traditional print and broadcast news organizations can establish the limits of acceptable political journalism joined the passenger pigeon on the roster of extinct Americana.

The problematic aspect of this whole scandal is not so much that Edwards had an affair and lied, but that the entire mainstream media seemingly deliberately (to my mind) tried to stamp it out by denying it coverage. Indeed, the media “blackout” had that effect when I first saw the story: as I said, when only the Enquirer was reporting it, it was dubious.

Dan Rather once defined “news” as “anything that someone somewhere doesn’t want you to know.” Edwards’ extramarital relations themselves aren’t that big of a deal–people mess around all the time, and it doesn’t make headlines. What makes it news is that Edwards, like all politicians, seeks to cultivate an image of honesty and strong family values, which this story obviously deflates. What makes this story most discouraging is how the mainstream media outlets resisted so strongly in doing their jobs and investigating/reporting this very big news.

edit: for the Enquirer’s take on Edwards’ shocking admission, click here. A little different spin, there.



  1. Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Alex — August 16, 2008 @ 6:37 am | Reply

  2. […] I wrote in my last entry to reference the National Enquirer (boy, I never thought I’d be using that tag again), Dan Rather’s definition of […]

    Pingback by Cotton Candy « thoughts on politics — September 15, 2008 @ 4:20 am | Reply

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