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Journalists Soul Searching Over Edwards Scoop

POSTED: 01:05 PM ET, 08/14/2008 by Derek Kravitz

The National Enquirer's scoop of MSM (mainstream media) in reporting the story of John Edwards's extramarital affair has prompted some soul searching among pundits, analysts and journalists about the media's performance in getting the story.

The Post's David S. Broder says he was as "shocked as anyone could be at the news" of the one-time presidential candidate's affair with campaign staffer Rielle Hunter.

Andy Alexander, Washington bureau chief for Cox Newspapers, told Editor & Publisher that he wondered whether ongoing cutbacks in some newsrooms affected efforts to find out whether the affair was true. Clark Hoyt, public editor of The New York Times, went so far as to criticize collectively the mainstream media's efforts to uncover the affair:

"I think The Times -- like The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, major networks and wire services -- was far too squeamish about tackling the story," Hoyt wrote. "The Times did not want to regurgitate the Enquirer's reporting without verifying it, which is responsible. But The Times did not try to verify it, beyond a few perfunctory efforts, which I think was wrong."

Walter Shapiro, writing for Salon.com, opines that reporters, including himself, have had little success in fully covering vice presidential candidates, failing to unearth some of the less desirable qualities of politicians:


"Without overstating these bonds, I naively believed that I knew Edwards as well as I understood anyone in the political center ring. Yet I never saw this sex scandal coming -- partly because I accepted the mythology that surrounded the Edwardses' marriage and partly because I assumed that any hint of a wandering eye would have come out during the 2004 campaign," Shapiro writes. "But then Rielle Hunter and the National Enquirer brought us all into the real world."

Sharon Waxman, a former Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times and The Washington Post, writes that there's a simpler reason tabloids like The National Enquirer are getting the latest details about the Edwards story: money.

"Last week I spoke to a reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer who said he spent five days in Los Angeles trying to confirm any aspect of the Beverly Hilton story. He came up with nothing. Zero. Zilch," Waxman wrote on her blog, "WaxWorld." "Not because he wasn't trying. Because without a checkbook, the Raleigh News & Observer was not going to be let into the world of Rielle Hunter."

In defense of its coverage, News & Observer Executive Editor John Drescher said the Edwards's story was "difficult" to report, partly because affairs are hard to uncover unless a paper or electronic trail can be found (see Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick).

Drescher also noted that tabloid stories that pay for information need to be fully vetted, saying that "pay-for-play" arrangements can give sources incentives to lie or exaggerate.

"The Enquirer cannot be ignored. But neither can it be trusted," Drescher writes. "We needed to verify the hotel allegations, or at least give Edwards a chance to address them, before publishing. We reported aggressively but used restraint when it came to publication."

"Some readers think we did too much with this story; others think we did too little. I think we handled it right."

Speaking on PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," The Charlotte Observer's Rick Thames said the Edwards story might prove to be a turning point for the mainstream press.

"We're no longer the gate-keepers. Sometimes now, when rumor arises, we're going to need to address it," Thames said. "And, unfortunately, we may need to address it before we can determine whether it's true or not because it's having impact, as it was in this case."

UPDATE 4:28 p.m. Thursday: PBS' ombudsman, Michael Getler, called NewsHour's decision not to air a story about the Edwards affair because he wasn't a public figure a "bad decision."

"The decision not to report the Edwards confirmation story struck me as both patronizing to people who depend on PBS for news, and journalistically mind-boggling," Getler wrote.

By Derek Kravitz |  August 14, 2008; 1:05 PM ET
Previous: Hair Doesn't Match Anthrax Suspect, Fuels Speculation | Next: Murtha Goes to Bat for Troubled Company

Comments

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Well Mr. Edwards just got run over by the ambulance he was chasing...You know the worst part of it all is his wife totally backing him, she is so afraid of her desease that even because her jerk husband dosen't care, she wants to hold on to him, cancer dose that to you, I have seen it happen before.

Posted by: Coulters Revenge | August 14, 2008 2:03 PM

If you cross-reference media publications with a bias towards Obama, you'll find the same publications utterly ignoring this story...

phillr.blogspot.com

Posted by: phillr | August 14, 2008 2:06 PM

You have to want to cover a story before you can do anything effective! All of the major papers and broadcast stations wanted this to go away without comment. Now they are stuck with their lack of integrity and their biases exposed. Thank you National Enquirer

Posted by: Larry Bean | August 14, 2008 2:07 PM

The media weren't just failing to report the story.

The media were actively attempting to suppress the story and all discussion of it.

That's the thing they need to search their souls about.

Posted by: Prettierthanthou | August 14, 2008 2:07 PM

The real question is why the media is covering this story at all. Since he dropped out of the race, it's really a moot point. With global warming, the invasion of Georgia, our crumbling economy and other real problems, even the Olympics, I'm disappointed to see this story pushes all others off the front pages. What other Enquirer "stories" will the main stream media feel obliged to investigate next? Three-headed Martian babies?

Posted by: Shawn Ernest | August 14, 2008 2:09 PM

Two men run for the office of the POTUS. Both men have wives who are afflicted with a serious malady. Both men commit the sin of adultery. One confesses to his wife, asks for forgiveness and works hard to save his marriage. The other divorces the first wife and marries the much younger, rich adulteress. If you ran a so-called "Christian" organization named "Focus on the Family", which candidate would you endorse?

One is no longer a candidate, the other is still a major Party's candidate. If you're the "Liberal Press", which one do you put on the front page?

Posted by: thebob.bob | August 14, 2008 2:15 PM

Who can we trust today? Edwards fooled me for sure. But in a way for some reason I was always skeptical. But man, this Hunter woman reminds me of Clinton and Paula Jones.

Posted by: truth1 | August 14, 2008 2:18 PM

Had the major papers/networks pursued this critics would be saying, 'oh leave the man alone, what he does in his private life is private, this is between he and his wife, why don't these journalists report on what is important..." etc, etc,

Posted by: Bubba | August 14, 2008 2:18 PM

Learn how to spell before voicing your opinion. You appear ignorant and everything you say is immediately discounted.

Posted by: Please | August 14, 2008 2:20 PM

Edwards is a liberal icon. Therefore he could go and murder a poor black child and still not get covered by liberal news papers/tv or even get protested by the NAACP for that matter.

Posted by: Daedalus | August 14, 2008 2:21 PM

The first time I took a look at Edwards, my adulterer-radar instantly caught his ego-filled demeanor, the insincere eyes a bit too earnest, the smile that on the surface looks genuine and charming as that of any good salesman, but only serves as a passport to his hedonism.

Posted by: thecandypoem | August 14, 2008 2:22 PM

Edwards is a narcissistic egomaniac, that is an undeniable fact, and we are all lucky this pretty boy will never be our president. But far too little blame is being directed toward the cougar that stalked and toppled him. She used her feminine craft to go after a married man who is powerful and rich. She compromised him and got herself pregnant so the hook could not be removed. But we live in a womans world, so he is the dirty rotten scumbag, not her. With women at the wheel our ship will founder and sink, it's just a question of time. Bon Voyage! Hahahahaha

Posted by: woondedeagle | August 14, 2008 2:22 PM

IMHO John Edwards did this all wrong. Couldn't he wait 'til he was a free man, and fall for a woman worthy of his family? And now hiding all this in plain view, instead of taking responsibility. What a sad loss for his family, and what a gain for the USA. At least we were spared from having a leader with such twisted attitudes.

Posted by: aaldea | August 14, 2008 2:25 PM

Too bad the soul searching didn't include asking the question of why John Edwards' private life (like John McCain's or Bill Richardson's or Bill Clinton's) has anything to do with our lives or whether they should be elected officials.

I don't know anyone who thinks having an affair should disqualify one from public office, even the presidency.

Posted by: cab91 | August 14, 2008 2:41 PM

It's interesting that Shawn Ernest mentions his concerns, first global warming, then the invasion of Georgia, etc. What I find interesting is that out of all those problems, he fails to mention the Iraq/Afghan wars. It never ceases to amaze me how indifferent people in this country are to that little issue. Not only that, but I am amazed at how people can look at issues like our economy and fuel prices without connecting them in any way to the war. Personally, I couldn't care less about Edwards' affair. One benefit from it is that we won't have to see him go through another failed presidential campaign, because I doubt he'll make a run for it again with this news out.

Posted by: Jordan | August 14, 2008 3:34 PM

One thing not yet remarked upon is that Ms. Hunter is an aspiring film maker who has, one would think, a significant amount of informal, unguarded footage of Mr. Edwards that she was allowed to take during his campaign.

Posted by: Mike Rawl | August 14, 2008 3:46 PM

What ever happened to that Times expose' on McCain's "friendship" with a young female lobbyist. That went away, didn't it? There was supposed to be more revelations forthcoming...now nothing. If anyone is concerned about Edward's horrendous betrayal of his poor wife and why the news media found nothing....and the so-callled bias....look to the "dropped" or "squelched" Times story on McCain. Let's face it America, the Press is no longer free.

Posted by: Cathy | August 14, 2008 3:46 PM

I have heard many stories of cancer patients in remission get sick again due to stress. This story makes me wonder if John Edwards' infidelity weaken his wife's immunity. Poor Elizabeth - whose death is imminent, could be rushed to her deathbed sooner than predicted. I feel for her children.

Posted by: Candace | August 14, 2008 3:55 PM

I think the papers did the right thing staying out of this for the time that they did. He's not a candidate or an elected official. Further, the wife in the equation a)already knew about the affair, and b) has terminal cancer. She isn't going to be allowed to die in peace now. My deep suspicion, even as a former supporter of Edwards, is that Hunter and Edwards were waiting Elizabeth's death out, as cold as that may seem. For Elizabeth's sake it probably would have been better to allow that to happen. They've wrested whatever peace a dying woman might have had in her final days from her hands and thrown horribly painful events into the public sphere. It's a bad situation all around. I am glad the reputable papers held out for as long as they did.

With regards to McCain, Cindy McCain isn't 'going away'. She's proof of his adultery, and she's beside him at most appearances. Apparently his divorce (from a wife recovering from life-threatening injuries in a car accident) came just a month before their marriage. There is no gray area with regards to McCain being an adulterer, the difference is that he left his wife and Edwards did not.

Posted by: ydthin | August 14, 2008 3:58 PM

Also makes me wonder if this Hunter woman is behind the leak with rushing his wife to her deathbed in mind.

Posted by: Candace | August 14, 2008 3:59 PM

The utter hypocrisy of the mainstreams, PARTICULARLY the "sniffiness" of the NY Times in refusing to cover this story at all because THE ENQUIRER SCOOPED IT makes you want to puke in the sanctimony of it all!

I asked on this board some weeks ago, why no one had seen fit at the Post to at least MENTION the Edwards rumours? No response at the Post-zilch from Chris Cilezza! (where were you on this one, Chris, huh? hiding out with the NY Times?)

The ENQUIRER GETS ITS DUE HERE-AS IT OFTEN SCOOPS THE BIG BOYS. And you know what? Those people who turn their nose up at the tabloids do so at their own risk: I HAVE NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER WITH THEM; I READ THEM OFTEN, BUT, I KNOW THEY PAY TO GET INFORMATION, AND I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM WITH THAT, EITHER, BECAUSE THE ENQUIRER AT LEAST, TELLS YOU THAT UP FRONT, AS LONG AS THE REPORTER OR TABLOID IS NOT DECEPTIVE ABOUT THAT, I CAN TAKE THAT PIECE OF INFORMATION IN WITH ALL THE REST; THEN THE READER CAN ACT AS A JUROR, TAKING ALL THE FACTS TOGETHER, INCLUDING THE FACT THAT THE SOURCES ARE BEING PAID TO TALK, DO YOU FIND THE REPORTING CREDIBLE OR NOT? WELL, EDWARDS VERIFICATION OF THE STORY, AS WELL AS THOSE PICTURES OF EDWARDS AND THE BABY DO INDEED TELL A THOUSAND WORDS!

Posted by: Farfalle | August 14, 2008 4:02 PM

Simply amazing!!!

All this shock and outrage about some political has-been who was done on the national scene several years ago. Let's all pontificate together!!!

Seriously, you Puritans need to get a GD life. Here we are in 2008, the world falling down around us, with a president who invades another country that posed NO threat to anyone. Hundreds of thousands of people dead, maimed or parent-less -- all but a few of them civilians -- and here we are hand-wringing about some bimbo and bimbette getting personal during a political campaign.

Sweet Jeeeeezuz! I'm beginning to think we deserve the leaders we got. Dumb, malevolent, ignorant, but oooooh so close to God.

Posted by: loulor | August 14, 2008 4:05 PM

Oh, the "media" didn't report on this earlier because of "liberal bias?" Or they were "actively attempting to suppress the story and all discussion of it"?

Really? Even Michelle Malkin and Fox News? They didn't want to make Edwards look bad?

Well, at least he didn't abandon his wife after cheating on her, like McCain, or cheat on his new wife, again, with Vicky Iseman, like McCain, or is running for president anymore, like McCain, or had a thieving, lying, pill-popping wife, like McCain, or sell out thousands of U.S. jobs to foreign companies, like McCain...

Posted by: Dread Pirate Robert | August 14, 2008 4:29 PM

woondedeagle:

Misogynist much?

Posted by: tm | August 14, 2008 4:40 PM

Journalists? LOL! there are no more journalists. oh and screw you and your "full rules" washington post.

tell us more how the poor hacks had to agonize . . . as to whether this would be a good career move.

Posted by: blog hater | August 14, 2008 4:42 PM

The sad thing is, mainstream media is referring to this tawdry affair as news.

Posted by: onthego | August 14, 2008 4:42 PM

do these morons even know that they are at the same level of trustworthiness as the enquirer? the ny times? LOLOL!

Posted by: blog hater | August 14, 2008 4:44 PM

"Well, at least he didn't abandon his wife after cheating on her, like McCain..."

Yeah, Edwards just banged a crack ho and paid her from campaign funds. Of course after having made a fortune perpetrating frauds upon various courts, why would be be surprised?

Posted by: Chuck Cardiff | August 14, 2008 4:47 PM

Souls? They wring their bloody hands over this?
The press no longer serves a free society.
The New York Times and the Washington Post's complicity in taking us into the Iraq war stands as evidence.

Posted by: hen | August 14, 2008 4:48 PM

Well, the Post and the Times can make up for their shameful lack of involvement in pursuing this story by finding out where the hush money is coming from.

Posted by: Sally | August 14, 2008 4:51 PM

Liar, liar pants on fire, AND he keeps on lying. I wonder where he learned that? Pathetic.

Posted by: sassycassy | August 14, 2008 4:52 PM

Doesn't having an affair QUALIFY him to be president? I am confused.

Posted by: Brian | August 14, 2008 4:52 PM

Of all the comments made, the most telling was by Hen:
"Souls? They wring their bloody hands over this?
The press no longer serves a free society.
The New York Times and the Washington Post's complicity in taking us into the Iraq war stands as evidence.

Posted by: hen | August 14, 2008 4:48 PM "

I agree absolutely. The two papers gave a PASS to George W. eight years ago, have never explained why, and now in a campaign we are supposed to look to them for uncovering news? Give me a break.
Find the BBC for decent coverage. Not great, decent.

Posted by: Gary Duncan | August 14, 2008 5:00 PM

"Edwards is a liberal icon"

oh, PLEASE. FDRoosevelt is a liberal icon. MLK is a liberal icon. Gandhi is a liberal icon. Edwards is a failed VP candidate and guy who came in third in the primaries. He was a respected candidate, but a long, long, long way from an "icon"

Posted by: Anonymous | August 14, 2008 5:02 PM

What we know on a factual basis is that John John Edwards yielded to temptation once and had a somewhat brief affair with a wild and extremely sexually charismatic woman. Someone commenting above now writes what a good thing it is that we were spared from having a leader with such twisted attitudes.

Well, people have already mentioned how minor Edwards's transgression looks in comparison to McCain's affairs, but what about other political figures in our recent history? What about Eisenhower (during the war)? And of course we don't even need to mention Bill Clinton. What about JFK? Are we being told that JFK was weird and twisted? Certainly his sexual behavior was much more extreme than what we know of Edwards.

What's weird and twisted is the way so many here in the US are willing to buy into the idea that one of the most important qualifications for being president is an individual's sex life.

Posted by: Lee Lady | August 14, 2008 5:27 PM

Good comment, Lee Lady. A couple of other things: who's going to tell us about the infidelities of the people digging up all this dirt on the candidates? And what does the situation tell us about Elizabeth? Didn't she participate in the fraud on those who believed in and contributed to her husband? She remained silent knowing that this scandal might have broken after his nomination or even election.

Posted by: charles manning (manning120) | August 14, 2008 5:41 PM

I for one want to know if the child is Edwards. He has tried to save his butt to perhaps start back in politics in the future. He should have NO future or trust of the american people if, besides lying to us, has denied his OWN child! Please persue this. If not WaPo the the National Enquirer. Heck, they probably have the DNA now anyway.

Posted by: narnia | August 14, 2008 5:55 PM

The Post report,"But then Rielle Hunter and the National Enquirer brought us all into the real world." (Walter Shapiro). Okay, but let's have the punishment the crime. If a reporter cheats on his wife, he loses his career. If a doctor cheats, he loses his license to practice. If an airline pilot cheats when he is away from home, he loses his license. Ditto a major league ball player; no more $20 million a year. Now explain how all those guys can do their job after a period of infidelity,but not a politician. If this is the "real world" the only people we can count on are those not offered sex. That may not be bad, but there is no evidence it is better. It is the red states that lead in most unsavory statistics, not the blue states. It is time to see sex for what it is, not the most important thing in life, and as Lord Chesterfield said, "The pursuit of office is like the pursuit of women - the position ridiculous, the expense damnable and the pleasure fleeting." Edwards would have been a better president than Clinton or Obama, hard to imagine that after ignoring Clinton's mistakes with Gennifer Flowers, we would have abandoned Edwards over this.

Posted by: Harrison Picot | August 14, 2008 6:03 PM

"Well, at least [Edwards] didn't abandon his wife after cheating on her,"

But he did abandon his child....

Posted by: Tom T. | August 14, 2008 6:04 PM

You SHOULD be agonizing over the fact that you did NOTHING while BushCo screwed AMERICA.

Posted by: ccatmoon | August 14, 2008 6:24 PM

It was never more than a sordid little story pursued by a sordid little newspaper. Calling the delay in mainstream news coverage some sort of liberal conspiracy is moronic, especially given the free ride McCain has received (so far) over his past, not so little marriage indiscretions.

With that said, press coverage this year in regards to everything election-related is looking to make 2004's clueless crapfest seem positively Morrow-like. Nothing like having a whole bunch of people showing up at polling places with not the foggiest of notions of what's really going on....

Posted by: BC | August 14, 2008 6:25 PM

At least he isnĀ“t gay

Posted by: samurai3 | August 14, 2008 6:30 PM

For years, there were rumors of Bush 1 having an affair with an aide. Why haven't we ever read a fully investigated story on that? The rumors were persistent for a long duration.

I'm wondering when we'll hear about the current President, too.

I'm disappointed in Edwards but frankly, do you think Americans are a little crazy in expecting their politicians to be faithful? Their main interest is in their own careers and power, no matter what their politics.

For me, as a voter, since Edwards hasn't been chosen as VP candidate, I don't really care about what he did 2 years ago. I'm sure his wife cares, and so do his children.

As for critics of Mrs. Edwards, I have no idea what I would do in her position, but I am confident that no one can criticize here regardless of what she decided, whether to remain married, or to divorce Edwards.

Posted by: George HW Bush | August 14, 2008 6:32 PM

Excuse me , but I don't read the newspapers to follow the private lives of various sentors and public officials. I'm glad the mainstream media didn't waste more resources on this story. It's irrelevant to the well-being of our nation, which is in sad shape these days. LEte's hear more about energy, health care and protecting the right of citizens to be free of government snooping. The media that kept a lid on this non-political issue acted appropriately.

Posted by: Deborah Klugman | August 14, 2008 7:01 PM

Narnia-you must not be following the story, Edwards HASN'T denied his own child; that's simply not the way he is, he loves children-and if you go to the national enquirer website and/or buy their paper you'll see that although grainy, there's a picture that looks EVER so much like Edwards holding a little 5 month old approximately baby and that baby sure looks an awful lot like the man holding it! Ha Ha Ha!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 14, 2008 7:07 PM

I feel like something is getting lost in all of the hub-bub... I don't really care where John stuck his wanker. What I do care about is that he straight-up, without any sort of hand-wringing LIED multiple times to the public. And then, when he couldn't lie anymore, he 'confesses' in the most self-serving and lamest manner he could (well, the wife wasn't sick at the time) instead of just admitting he did it in the first place and refusing to offer any 'justifications' for the behavior.
Americans seem able to forgive just about anything, if you ask me, as long as we're not lied to. It's the hypocrisy of presenting himself and his marriage as solid while doing something else that angers me.
Just as it did when Larry Craig tried denying his foot-tapping and Bill C. when he tried to twist that getting a hummer isn't the same as 'having relations' and the same as all of the other recent sexual scandals.
Look, your caught... just own up. It's the lying that gets to me.

Posted by: Robgnow | August 14, 2008 8:04 PM

Hunter's Choice - Is there Rielle Love?
by yuenck
08/14/2008, 7:27 PM #
Rate this topic Delete Favorites Reply
Allow me to raise a new angle: with all the stories swirling around, Rielle Hunter is now worth millions in books deals and tabloid interviews, even playing herself in a movie; how long can she hold out? Would she remain in hiding waiting for Elizabeth Edwards to die so she can marry John, or make a break for it now?
--------

Posted by: yuenchungkwong | August 14, 2008 8:44 PM

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