The scandal America doesn’t want to know about
What makes the mainstream US media ignore the Enquirer's story? Is it simple snobbery?
Not for the first time in recent political history, an American standing in the checkout line at a supermarket is better informed on a hot issue of the day than the nation's elite who send their maids to buy food and get their news from the New York Times and the Washington Post.
So far as the precise historical record goes, former US senator John Edwards, 55, began his slide into public scandal back on August 25, 2007, when the New York Post's Page 6 gossip column ran a blind item asking: "Which political candidate enjoys visiting New York because he has a girlfriend who lives downtown? The pol tells her he'll marry her when his current wife is out of the picture."
At the time, the millionaire lawyer Edwards was still in contention for the Democratic nomination despite well-founded gibes that his populist rhetoric sounded odd when spouted from a man who had $400 haircuts and a 28,000 sq ft house in his home state of North Carolina. The Post's item kicked off a round of speculation on the web, homing in on the chilling phrase 'out of the picture' - taken by some to refer to Edward's wife Liz, terminally ill with breast cancer.
Soon the blogosphere's sleuths were panting along a trail that led back to a Newsweek item in late 2006 reporting that a 44-year-old film-maker, Rielle Hunter, formerly named Lisa Druck, was doing a series of cine-verite videos of candidate Edwards, paid for by a pro-Edwards group called One America.
Edwards and the self-confessed hard-partying Hunter had met in a bar in New York. By late September 2007, Sam Stein at the Huffington Post wrote about the odd disappearance of the videos, for which, so campaign records showed, she'd received $114,461. Stein didn't speculate on the reasons the videos had disappeared.
On October 28 the National Enquirer ran a front-page expose under the headline 'Presidential candidate John Edwards is caught in a shocking mistress scandal that could wreck his campaign'. The story began: "Sources have come forward to charge that the 'other woman' previously worked on Edwards' campaign... A source close to the woman, whose name is being withheld by the National Enquirer, says that she confessed to having an affair in phone calls and emails, saying that her work with Edwards soon exploded into romance."
Edwards promptly issued a denial. Though she wasn't named in the Enquirer's story, so did Rielle Hunter (right), on a website.
Though supermarket customers couldn't miss the story, not a breath of an alleged adultery by a presidential contender ruffled the pages of the nation's mainstream papers, despite the fact that the Enquirer has many proven scoops under its belt, including sometime presidential candidate Gary Hart's disastrous fling with Donna Rice, Rush Limbaugh's love affair with oxycontin and Jesse Jackson's lovechild. Though down in numbers from its glory days, the Enquirer still has a circulation of 2.7m.
On December 31, 2007, with the early Democratic primaries looming, the Enquirer struck again. It reported that Rielle Hunter was in an advanced stage of pregnancy with Edwards's child and following the Enquirer's October report - that she had been whisked out of New York City and lodged in a condo in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Accommodation and a BMW car were being provided, the Enquirer said, by Andrew Young, a long-term political associate of Edwards, who had a home in the same gated community. A front-page photo featured Hunter, seemingly in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
Fighting off the Enquirer's hounds, Young finally spluttered that the child was his. The Enquirer, plainly well primed by intimates of Rielle ready to pass on email traffic and useful info, noted that Young and his wife had recently enjoyed dinner with Rielle.
Edwards, flanked by Liz, issued further passionate denials. The New York Times, nine weeks away from running a long, highly speculative story about John McCain's possible relationship with the much younger Vicki Iseman, kept its mouth shut as did the rest of the mainstream press. Edwards was able to fight his way through the first primaries without having to battle charges from the national press that he was cheating on a dying wife, and had a pregnant mistress stowed back in North Carolina.
After a weak showing at the end of January in the South Carolina primary, Edwards suddenly quit the race. There was some speculation about a possible deal with Barack Obama, involving an Edwards endorsement against a job in the Obama administration. Edwards duly issued the endorsement and let it be known that he would be agreeable to an invitation to run on Obama's ticket.
On July 21 the Enquirer lowered the boom on Edwards. It reported that it had nailed Edwards visiting Hunter and child in the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles. The same helpful friend of Rielle's, perhaps in receipt of helpful subventions from the Enquirer, had supplied the paper with time and location of the rendezvous. The Enquirer's reporters staked out both Edwards and Hunter, ambushed the former as he stepped out the elevator, pursued the white-faced Edwards until he took refuge in one of the hotel's lavatories, at which time he seems to have called hotel security on his cell phone and was escorted to safety.
Short of a formal portrait of Edwards, Hunter and the new-born baby, the Enquirer's was as solid story as you could hope for. Shortly thereafter Fox News got a corroborating interview with one of the Beverly Hilton's doormen.
The pace is now quickening. This week, under the headline 'John Edwards Secret Payoffs to Mistress' (left), the Enquirer relayed from its spies inside the Hunter camp the news that one of Edwards's rich friends was helping out with scads of cash, with $15,000 a month going to Hunter. This same flush friend "is also shoveling cash to Edwards's pal and former aide Andrew Young – who tried to take the heat off the ex-Senator by claiming he is the father of Rielle’s baby.” A puzzle here is that Edwards himself is a millionaire, presumably with ample resources to cover such incidental expenses.
I’d guess Hunter will soon be showing up soon in some network studio, but so far there’s not been a word in the mainstream press, even though Edwards is certainly a figure of public interest, having been named as a strong contender to be in an Obama cabinet.
Of course there might be compassion for the very popular Liz Edwards, but that's not enough to explain the dogged silence. The New York Times and the Washington Post are quite prepared to investigate possible sexual shenanigans as the Times's floating of the McCain-Iseman imbroglio made clear. The most convincing explanation, it seems to me, is simple snobbery. The mainstream press reckons that any acknowledgement that papers like the Enquirer get credible scoops is distressing to their dignity and increasingly threadbare 'credibility'.
One rationale is that one shouldn't touch stories where money might have changed hands between publication and source. The Los Angeles Times online editor went so far as to alert its bloggers to stay away from the story.
There is a parallel. In January, 1992, Rupert Murdoch's Star the Enquirer's rival ran Gennifer Flowers's account of her long affair with Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. The Star, which paid Flowers $150,000, had plenty of corroborating evidence. Clinton, fighting a crucial primary in New Hampshire, went on CBS, Hillary Clinton at his side, to deny all before a vast audience. The mainstream press, parroting the Clintons' sneering references to "allegations in a supermarket tabloid", went with the Clintons thus saving the serial adulterer's political bacon.
If the Times or the Post had taken the Star seriously, Bill Clinton would not have been president. We would never have had Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. How dull the late Nineties would have been! ·
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