Nary a peep



On page 222 of his newly-released book, The Politician, which tracks the downfall of John Edwards, former aide Andrew Young recalls how the candidate's entourage braced for a media frenzy in the wake of the National Enquirer's first Rielle Hunter revelation, in October 2007:

"The (Enquirer) accusation and (Edwards') denial rippled through the mainstream media but did not build into a wave. In fact, if you got your news from the big papers or TV networks, you probably didn't know a scandal was rumored...Remarkably, the senator's denial, Rielle's statement, and our effort to keep her away from reporters and photographers dampened interest in the story advanced by the Enquirer and a few other outlets. From mid-October to mid-December, we heard barely a peep from the press."

He was particularly relieved that The New York Times hadn’t peeped; as he notes on page 96, “even in the Internet age, The Times still sets the media agenda, especially where TV network news operations are concerned.”

But in mid-December, the National Enquirer followed up by reporting that Hunter was pregnant with Edwards' child. The Edwards camp squashed that one by claiming publicly that Young, in his role as Edwards' doormat, was actually the father. As Young writes in his book, the whole point was to quash the scandal in advance of the impending Iowa caucuses. (This was around the time when Edwards made the cover of Newsweek; in the article, which highlighted his popularity in Iowa, he vowed: “I’m going to speak the truth.”) Again, everybody braced for a media frenzy. From page 240: "But to our relief, no serious newspaper or TV network picked up the story because they couldn't find a source to confirm it."

Well, that was hardly the sole reason for the media silence. It's clear that major outlets with the requisite investigatory resources simply lacked any appetite to pursue the story. A New York Times editor subsequently told the paper's ombudsman that Edwards-Hunter was "classically not a Times-like story," and top editor Bill Keller said there was a "hold-your-nose quality about the Enquirer." (By contrast, Keller apparently deemed it "Times-like" to insinuate, in a front-page story during the '08 campaign, that John McCain was canoodling with a lobbyist - or, to be more precise, it was "Times-like" to report that McCain's aides were troubled that some might perceive that he was canoodling.)

And while looking down his nose at The Enquirer, Keller failed to credit the tabloid with busting a few big ones in the recent past - such as the '03 story about Rush Limbaugh's pill addiction; and the '01 story about how two convicted felons paid 400 grand to the law firm of Hillary Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, in the expectation that Rodham would lobby President Clinton for pardons. Rodham did it. When the mainstream media picked up the Enquirer story, Clinton - who had pardoned one of the felons and commuted the sentence of the other - insisted that his brother-in-law give the money back. (The Enquirer is a bit like Ryan Howard. It whiffs a lot, but when it does connect...yeesh, it goes yard.)

Anyway, after the Edwards dust had finally settled, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz remarked on the mainstream media's "great reluctance" to pursue the scandal; in his words, "everybody in America knew about this before CNN and The New York Times and The Washington Post got into the game."

Andrew Young knew darn well that this was a newsworthy story; as he observed on page 221, the issue was public hypocrisy: "(Edwards) had sold himself to the American public as a devoted husband and father and family man who talked about his faith in order to appeal to Christian voters." Not to mention the fact that Edwards at the time was a major player in the '08 contest, and that, if he had somehow squirmed his way onto the '08 ticket, his hypocrisy may well have imperiled the Democratic party in one of its rare moments of ascent.

Word is, The Enquirer editors have submitted their Edwards scandal coverage for a Pulitzer this spring. Good luck with that. But good for them.