Reporting The Edwards Affair

What the media wrote before and after John Edwards's admission of guilt

A (non-comprehensive) look at what a few news outlets said about the Edwards affair, before and after Friday’s confession:

The Drudge Report’s straightforward headline on July 22 linking to the National Enquirer read: “NATIONAL ENQUIRER CATCHES JOHN EDWARDS AT BEVERLY HILTON… DEVELOPING.”

TalkLeft, also on July 22, speculated on whether or not “the story becomes national news” and wrote:

According to the National Enquirer, last night he was in Los Angeles where he ran into some sleazoid reporters. I hope the story isn’t true, but it’s beginning to make the rounds. Curious that the reporters included no photos or video footage. What are they saving it for? Or doesn’t it exist?

The same day, LAist linked to the Enquirer article, reminding readers of “last year’s ‘love child’ scandal (aided by Huffington Post) that eventually died down.” Gawker, meanwhile, glowed with pride at the Enquirer’s efforts:

This is a brilliant piece of old-fashioned scandal-mongering from The Enquirer, as it apparently involved months of reporting work and it ended in a perfect, inescapable gotcha moment. It’s actually surreal!

It also waxed ruminative in a different post the same day: “But there’s no reason the paper should have had the scandal all to itself. Isn’t this the sort of thing traditional newspaper tabs like the Post used to cover?”

The telling headline of a Los Angeles Times blog posting on July 23 read: “National Enquirer alleges John Edwards affair; blogosphere readies salt shaker.” Though the LAT’s blog chief had put a moratorium on writing about the Enquirer article until further notice, the post went up anyway:

The National Enquirer yesterday published a story claiming it had caught John Edwards meeting with an alleged mistress and illegitimate child. Then again, the Enquirer hasn’t been able to produce quotes, photos or even eyewitness accounts. And the mainstream media seems to be ignoring it, for the most part.

Gawker took a dig at the MSM on Aug. 6, guessing that it would only start to cover the affair because Denver was looming nearer:

But now it’s about how a speaker at a meaningless convention might distract the media from covering the media event in the way media handlers prefer. In other words, a REAL story.

Slate’s Mickey Kaus commented on Aug. 7: “Does it matter if the NY Times, Time and NBC News don’t report it if mid-level metropolitan papers and bloggers do?” And the same day, the New York Daily News wrote: “The Enquirer story, though uncorroborated by others, has been seen by millions on political blogs and is joke fodder for Jay Leno.”

The National Review’s Byron York talked to reporters at various major news organizations (off the record), and before the Edwards confession on Friday afternoon, he wrote, somewhat contrary to public opinion:

Instead, some big-time journalists seem to believe the Enquirer has nailed the story, and they are waiting for the tabloid to release the full results of its reporting. In the meantime, they are staying away from the story because it appeared in the Enquirer. In other words, they’re waiting for the Enquirer to fully report a story that they wouldn’t otherwise report… because it’s in the Enquirer.

Once Edwards confessed, here’s TalkLeft, the same afternoon:

Kind of gutsy for him to launch a presidential bid knowing this was in his background. Was he thinking if Rudy Giuliani could get away with it, so could he? He had to know it would be discovered. And when it was reported in the media in 2007, why did he deny it?

Here’s the Daily News after the confession:

John Edwards, a onetime Democratic golden boy, confessed Friday he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, then lied to cover up his infidelity while running for President.

His bombshell declaration put his political future into cardiac arrest. Even former admirers lined up to throw him under the bus.

Politico stayed quiet until Edwards came forward. Its post on Aug. 10 (with attention-drawing m-dashes), called his formal statement “remarkable”:

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who cast himself as the most electable of Democratic presidential hopefuls, admitted Friday that he held — and lied about — a secret that could have destroyed his campaign and his party’s hopes for the White House.

The Huffington Post, which was partially responsible for the Enquirer story last year that first reported the affair, stayed mum until the confession, at which point it cited the ABC interview and quickly found its own stone to throw:

Asked by correspondent Bob Woodruff to detail the beginnings of his romantic relationship, [Edwards] said that it started after Hunter was hired to direct a series of documentary films for his One America Committee…A review of political action committee payments, contemporaneous reporting, and emails obtained by the Huffington Post reveal this statement to be false…In the context of admitting to an affair, it may seem innocent for Edwards to have misled ABC about the starting point. But the precise date is important.

Among the other news outlets taking issue with the details of the confession is Slate, where Kaus writes today: “If Edwards is really certain he isn’t the father of the kid, wouldn’t he have demanded a paternity test to clear his name?” USA Today takes a slice of the same pie with an editorial that tosses some advice at Edwards: “The decent option is to tell the public the whole truth, without lawyerly equivocations.”

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.