By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: John Edwards

Kurtz on why the media choked

Everyone is writing thumb-sucker pieces on John Edwards and the media. But I think Howard Kurtz perfectly nails how and why the media failed by giving him a months-long pass on news of his affair with Rielle Hunter:

The fact that big newspapers, magazines and networks have standards — that is, they refuse to print every stray rumor just because it’s “out there” — is one of their strengths. But in the latter stages of this case, it made them look clueless. Perhaps there is a middle ground where media outlets can report on a burgeoning controversy without vouching for the underlying allegations, being candid with readers and viewers about what they know and don’t know.

In the end, the much-derided MSM were superfluous, their monopoly a faded memory. People have hundreds of ways to obtain information in today’s instantaneous media culture, and are capable of reaching their own conclusions about what is reliable and what is not.

Kurtz also quotes chief Edwards inquisitor Mickey Kaus as saying that the chief reason the reporters laid off was out of solicitude for Elizabeth Edwards. But, as Kaus wrote, “If a politician whose chief appeal is his self-advertised loyalty to his brave, ill wife cheats on his brave ill wife, what’s he good for again?”

Follow the money

The media shouldn’t give John Edwards a pass just because his political career appears to be over. A New York Times story today summarizes a number of loose ends over his affair with Rielle Hunter. Here are some questions:

  • Edwards says he’s willing to take a paternity test, but Hunter has refused. Why? To put it another way: Who benefits from her refusal? And what would she risk if she said “yes”?
  • If Edwards’ friend Andrew Young really is the father, why isn’t his name on the birth certificate? Why has he made what the Times calls “conflicting statements” about his paternity?
  • Why would Fred Baron throw his own money at both Young and Hunter to help them get out of Dodge? Yes, he’s described as a wealthy Edwards supporter, but doesn’t that seem like a bit much? Again, to put it another way: Was it really his own money? His personal wealth is the perfect cover, is it not?
  • Baron has already been pushed into denying that the money came from Edwards’ campaign funds. OK, but that is the question, isn’t it?

The counter-argument is that the media should leave Edwards alone now that he’s no longer in public life. What good could come of turning over rocks and watching to see what crawls out?

My answer is that the media couldn’t have anticipated the effects of their decision last fall to cover up evidence of Edwards’ affair with Hunter. As I argued yesterday, that decision may have changed the outcome of the presidential race.

Let the rock-turning commence.

All politics are local

At, “Wally Edge” wonders if the Edwards implosion means Deval Patrick’s chances of being named attorney general in an Obama administration have improved.

Paul Begala on Edwards

Here is the CNN exchange between Paul Begala and Anderson Cooper that I mentioned earlier today. Alex Castellanos gets in on it, too.

COOPER: Yes, but, I mean, Paul, you’ve gone through this, obviously, with Bill Clinton. What do you make of the statement that John Edwards released just a few hours ago?

BEGALA: I thought it was bizarre. I thought this …

COOPER: Bizarre?

BEGALA: Bizarre. It was way too detailed. Way too much information. I don’t want to hear him talking about what medical tests he’s going to take. I thought it was way too …

COOPER: You’re talking about taking a paternity test?

BEGALA: Yes. God, shut up, Senator, with all due respect. He needed to say, I did it, I lied, I hurt my wife and I will — I am going to apologize to my wife publicly because I’ve humiliated her publicly, and then shut the hell up.

I thought it was way too self-referential. It was really narcissistic, it was really kind of a creepy statement, frankly. He needed to say a lot less, basically, to say I’m sorry and particularly apologize publicly to his wife.

COOPER: Alex, in the statement he says he’s had become increasingly narcissistic and egocentric. What did you make of the statement?

CASTELLANOS: And then he goes on to produce a fairly narcissistic statement. I thought — I was confused by it. I thought a lawyer or somebody who’d been on the national scene that long would know better.

But you know there are things in there, like I was 99 percent honest. You’re either honest or you’re not. There were lines in there that — you know, I’ve beaten myself up enough. And I’ve been stripped bare.You get the sense that he still thinks he’s the victim here. And I don’t think that most folks looking at this situation would agree.

I’m with Begala and Castellanos. Yuck.

The media and John Edwards

For the past few weeks, I’d been sort of half-paying attention as a few political observers — especially Mickey Kaus of Slate — ripped the mainstream media for not following up the National Enquirer’s stories about John Edwards’ affair. Frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to care, and I felt pretty much the same way last October, when the Enquirer broke the story.

Did anyone seriously doubt that Edwards had been screwing around? Did it matter? (Bipartisan alert: I say that as someone who’s perfectly happy that Larry Craig decided to stick around. His only mistakes were pleading guilty to toe-tapping and sounding like a schmuck in his public statements.)

In Edwards’ case, it took a caller to Howie Carr’s show on WRKO Radio (AM 680) yesterday to snap me back to reality. Her point: If the media had ripped the bark off Edwards last fall, when he was still a semi-viable presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee today.

Good grief. She was right. While Barack Obama was winning Iowa, Clinton was coming in third, behind Edwards. Though she came back and won the New Hampshire primary the following week, she never really recovered from that devastating opening round. And until Edwards dropped out, he and Clinton split the anti-Obama vote. (I will grant you that these things change quickly. Just a few months earlier, Obama and Edwards were seen as splitting the anti-Clinton vote.)

Now, I haven’t gone back and re-examined the post-New Hampshire results, so my logic may not be impeccable. Edwards did fade very quickly, so there probably weren’t too many Clinton votes that he soaked up. But to the extent that he delayed the emergence of the Obama-versus-Clinton steel-cage match, he helped Obama enormously. And it was in those early weeks that Obama won the nomination.

So, to return to my original question: Should the media have gone after the Edwards affair last fall? I guess I’d have to say yes, for a couple of reasons.

First, Edwards’ campaign was a serious one, as these things go. He had very little chance of winning the nomination, but his chances weren’t nearly as slight as those of, say, Chris Dodd. And whether we like it or not, sex still matters in American politics. It’s not the media’s job to decide for the rest of us that it doesn’t matter. (Nor should the media overplay it, as they did, most memorably, in the Lewinsky story.)

But whether you like it or not, many Americans want to know if their would-be leaders have been faithful to their spouses, and in that respect the media failed to report important information at a time when it would have mattered.

Second, there was the peculiar nature of Edwards’ appeal. It’s only a slight exaggeration to observe that his entire public persona, other than fighting on behalf of the elderly union folks who lined up behind him at televised rallies, was based on the idea that he had a great family, and that his wife’s battle with cancer had only brought them closer together.

It wasn’t true — or, at least, it was more complicated than that — and, thus, Edwards was engaged at some basic level in consumer fraud.

I first saw Edwards while covering the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000 for the Boston Phoenix. One morning, he spoke to the Massachusetts delegation. I was repelled by his smarmy unctuousness, and though I should probably let him speak for himself, I think it’s fair to say that my then-fellow Phoenician Seth Gitell reacted the same way. (Update: Seth weighs in, and I was right.)

Last night I went to bed rather than watch Edwards’ interview on “Nightline.” I figured if anything noteworthy was revealed, I’d hear about it and could watch it online later. But I read the statement Edwards issued, and like many, was fascinated by its icky self-absorption. Watching CNN last night, I thought Paul Begala might actually throw up in discussing Edwards’ self-pitying tone. Unfortunately, the transcript’s not up yet.

And how about Edwards’ wanting us to know that he never loved Rielle Hunter (turning “I never had sex with that woman” on its head), and that Elizabeth’s cancer was in remission at the time, so it was, well, not OK, but not as not-OK as it would have been otherwise? But I’ve ranged far afield of my original point.

Every day the media put their thumbs on the scale not just in terms of what they choose to cover, but what they choose not to cover as well. No doubt editors and news directors came up with a lot of high-minded reasons for not going after Edwards in October. I might have even agreed with them then.

But their decision — totally contrary to the way they handed similar allegations about Gary Hart in 1987 and Bill Clinton in 1992 — may have changed the outcome of the 2008 presidential campaign. No, they couldn’t have anticipated it. But that’s just another reason why they should have covered the story instead of covering it up.

Photo (cc) by Alex de Carvalho and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Talking about Edwards on Channel 5

I’ll be on WCVB-TV (Channel 5) today during the 11 p.m. news, talking about the fallout from John Edwards’ finally admitting that, yes, he had an affair.

Mickey Kaus has been pushing this story for weeks, so watch him crow.

And about that closing

John King of CNN said a little while ago that the Obama campaign had sent out an e-mail showing that Hillary Clinton’s closing closely paralleled a line John Edwards had used. Please note: It doesn’t matter. But the Clinton campaign never should have started down this road.

Edwards versus student journalism

John Edwards’ presidential campaign is reportedly using intimidation and threats to get a student-produced news report removed from YouTube. As a public service, Media Nation presents the report here:

As you will see, the story — by a University of North Carolina student named Carla Babb — is a fair and neutral piece of journalism on Edwards’ decision to place his state headquarters in an affluent area of Chapel Hill.

Edwards should apologize for the actions of his overzealous aides.

John Edwards, private and public

Charlie Pierce has a good story on John Edwards in Esquire. I’ve never been a fan of Edwards’ public persona, but it’s always seemed that the private Edwards — the father of a son killed in an accident and the husband of a wife with incurable cancer — was more impressive. Pierce’s account confirms that.

I’d still like to see someone ask John Kerry about the truth of Bob Shrum’s poisonous allegation regarding Edwards’ willingness to exploit his son’s death. Typical of the political media, Shrum has been treated like a sage, appearing on “Meet the Press” and the like without anyone challenging him on it.

Will Kerry save Edwards?

Only John Kerry can save John Edwards now. Will he? It depends on who is telling the truth.

I am not an Edwards fan. However, I admire the way he has resolutely refused to exploit the death of his son Wade. Now a new book by Democratic political operative Bob Shrum tells an ugly, ugly tale. My former Phoenix colleague Michael Crowley of The New Republic finds (sub. req.) the relevant excerpt, involving the period when Kerry was considering Edwards as his running mate:

Edwards had told Kerry he was going to share a story with him that he’d never told anyone else — that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body, and promised that he’d do all he could to make life better for people, to live up to Wade’s ideals of service. Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before — and with the same preface, that he’d never shared the memory with anyone else. Kerry said he found it chilling, and he decided he couldn’t pick Edwards unless he met with him again.

Crowley does point out that there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest Shrum’s devastating tale may not be true, writing, “When I asked one person close to Edwards about it, he argued that Shrum’s account makes no sense because Edwards had publicly recounted similar versions of the funeral home story before — and thus wouldn’t possibly have claimed on either occasion that he was telling it for the first time.”

Fair enough. But what gives this legs is that Kerry — who, after all, isn’t running for anything — now has the power to make or break Edwards. If Kerry denies it in firm, straightforward language, then the Edwards campaign survives, and Shrum will henceforth be known not just as a loser, but as a liar as well. But if Kerry confirms it, or refuses to discuss it, then Edwards might as well pull out.

By the way, if Kerry does confirm it, why on earth did he go ahead and put Edwards on the ticket?

Oh, and another thing — Edwards may not be all that big on gays and lesbians, either.

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