The lawyer for Edwards, Gregory Craig (a star litigator who was President Obama’s first White House counsel), put it this way when Edwards was indicted: “In the history of the federal election campaign law, no one has ever been charged, either civilly or criminally, with the claims that have been brought against Senator Edwards No one would have known or should have known or could have been expected to know that these payments would be treated or should be considered as campaign contributions He has broken no law.”
Beyond getting lots of color and expert opinion about that defense, as well as previewing the two sides’ strategies for using and countering it, there’s another thing any reporter working this story on Edwards must do: Stick a microphone in his face and ask the multimillionaire former trial lawyer why he didn’t just pay the hush money himself instead of persuading his two top supporters to pony up. That would have been unquestionably legal and remained a completely private matter. I can’t wait to hear his answer. Maybe he’ll stay in his new contrition mode and say that, among his other sins, he’s also cheap and perennially entitled.
Author’s note: I’ve just learned that in January Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter did this comprehensive story that, while because of its early timing wasn’t a curtain raiser for the trial that included a preview of trial strategy, covered exactly the issues I have suggested related to the legitimacy of the charges against Edwards. In fact, Alter even used a version of one of the hypotheticals I spun—paying for college tuition—to illustrate the point.
4. Low-wage, long-distance trade economics:
The various stories recently about Foxconn raising wages for the workers who make Apple, Dell, and lots of other high-tech products, as well as the possible return of manufacturing jobs to the United States because wages elsewhere are gradually rising, reminded me of a shopping experience I had last Christmas: My wife and I bought a few small but elaborately decorated candle sconces (at Kohl’s, I think) for a party and marveled at the $2.99 price. We then noticed, as best I can remember, that the wax and wick for the candles had been imported from Sri Lanka (or it might have been Vietnam), while the sconce holding it had come from another Asian country, whereupon the product had been assembled in China. A three-country production process to ship something to the East Coast of the United States to be sold for $2.99. How could all that coordination and shipping possibly be profitable?
So, I’d like to see an article that takes various products now produced overseas and spells out why it makes sense economically to do so, and how much the wage gap would have to narrow for that work to come home. For those candles, I’m guessing that paying slave wages is what offsets the various shipping and assembly costs (which now makes me wonder how guilty I should feel about having bought the stuff). But I’d still like to see how the economics stack up.
The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley recently did a terrific story about higher-level manufacturing jobs, profiling a woman who runs a Canton, Ohio plant that manufactures space heaters. She had figured out how to streamline the process in a way that enabled her company to move operations back from China. Television being television, the CBS report didn’t have the numbers and other important data—wage differentials, availability of materials, shipping costs, and differences in available skilled or unskilled labor. I’d like to see those details in a story covering a whole variety of products, but one that doesn’t lose the people elements that CBS captured so well.
5. Hats off to The Washington Post:
For journalists, the best definition of a good story may be that as soon as you see it, your reaction is: “Why didn’t I think of that?” Here’s one that appeared in The Washington Post on Saturday that’s so good it deserves a special hat tip.