John Edwards’ adultery was back in the news last week. Well, okay, “back” is probably not le mot juste, given that the former presidential candidate’s mistress cum campaign videographer wasn’t exactly front-page news even in the days when he was coming a strong second in the Iowa caucuses or being tipped as a possible vice-presidential nominee. Every editor knew the “rumours” (i.e., plausible scenario with mountains of circumstantial evidence), but, unlike, say, Sarah Palin’s daughter’s ex-boyfriend’s mother’s drug bust, this wasn’t one of those stories you need to drop everything for.
Only when the hard-working lads at the National Enquirer doorstepped Senator Edwards in the basement stairwell of the Beverly Hilton after a post-midnight visit to his newborn love child and forced him to take cover in the men’s room did the Los Angeles Times swing into action. Alas, it was to instruct its writers to make no comment on a story happening right under their own sniffy noses. The editor Tony Pierce emailed as follows:
“There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair. Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations. So I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notified.
“If you have any questions or are ever in need of story ideas that would best fit your blog, please don’t hesitate to ask
“Keep rockin.” If only. I think we can take it as read that, if Senator Edwards were delivering his mistress’s octuplets on the editor’s desk at the Los Angeles Times office, Tony would still insist we need a couple of corroborating sources before we can run with this thing.
While no doubt grateful for the Times’ efforts, by now even the adulterer had concluded it was time to fess up to his adultery. So he admitted to an affair with Rielle Hunter, but said that he only began it after his wife’s cancer had gone into remission. Er, so that’s okay then. And he insisted the kid isn’t his. Even Oprah found that a tough one to swallow: in her interview with Elizabeth Edwards last week, she observed that there aren’t a lot of guys who jump on a plane to scoot off to some Hilton in the middle of the night to hold a baby that isn’t theirs for 10 minutes.
Like so many of daytime TV’s happy homemakers, Mrs. Edwards produced something she’d prepared earlier:
“Golly, then you don’t know that many politicians. We do it all the time. Holding babies is what we do.”
Go on, try it yourself when you’re running for office. Wander into an EconoLodge at 2 a.m., and bang on the doors till you hit some obliging mom.
I met Mrs. Edwards when she was campaigning in 2004. And, compared to her oleaginous husband, she seemed very real. Operative word: “seemed.” It’s tempting to do as Oprah did—cast her as the victim. Yet she knew the truth about his affair throughout his second run for the presidency. In Iowa, Edwards pushed Hillary into third place. Had Mrs. Clinton gone on to lose New Hampshire the following week, Democrat primary voters might have concluded Edwards was the only viable alternative to Obama, and perhaps a better bet for the general election. The one-term southern senator was running on biography—son of a mill worker, happily married, stood devotedly by his wife during her cancer—and, although the press were aware the biography was false, they decided their readers didn’t need to know that. It’s not an Edwards scandal, it’s a media scandal.
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