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The Edwards Affair and the Media

POSTED: 10:45 AM ET, 08/25/2008 by The Editors

The hand-wringing, second-guessing, teeth-gnashing and crowing over the Edwards affair and the lack of MSM investigation into it continues unabated.

David Perel, editor of the National Enquirer, which has owned the story from the beginning, grandly proclaimed on Huffington Post that "one of the most important byproducts of the Edwards affair" is "the watershed moment of the shifting balance of media power" from the MSM to the blogosphere and more populist media.

Journalistic standards are now being determined in cyberspace, Perel wrote, and any criticism of that "increasingly sounds like a death rattle echoing throughout the pared-down newsrooms of corporate journalism."

As Perel put it:

Days passed with no TV broadcasts or daily newspaper articles about the scandal, but the blogosphere was blazing with hundreds of reports about Edwards' late-night visit with his mistress and baby and for the first time, the average person was aware of a story that had received no 'mainstream media' attention but was thriving on the Web. That simple fact is the true watershed moment of the Edwards affair; it is the bright line demarcating the point when mainstream media's relevancy developed irreparable (and most likely fatal) cracks, when an army of bloggers overran the stodgy elitist guard with the same type of scandal that once turned newspapers and their immortalized Yellow Kids correspondents into daily habits.

To Will Bunch, who writes the blog Attytood for the Philadelphia Daily News, the system worked -- the tabloid media got its hands dirty outing a political scandal that could safely be ignored until the target of that scandal was forced to make a public confession:

What's the solution? Maybe there should be a news organization that makes the sex life of politicians its No. 1 priority, so that other reporters can be left alone to do real journalism. Oh, wait, there already is such a publication! It's called the National Enquirer. They spend thousands on their tawdry probes, and when they're done, the traditional media can judge whether the findings are actually newsworthy (as they were with Edwards) or not. In other words, for better or worse, that is exactly the system we have in place now.

Gabriel Sherman in the New Republic deconstructs how the Enquirer got the scoop. It's a gripping tale.

The story started in September 2007 with an anonymous tip to Enquirer staffer Rick Egusquiza, a bartender turned reporter. The Enquirer ended up putting nearly a dozen reporters on it for months. Within the first month, they had e-mails from Rielle Hunter confirming the affair. The first Enquirer story ran Oct. 10, 2007, using unnamed sources to say Edwards was having an affair but not naming Hunter. "We knew her name, but we withheld it," Perel said. "We were being conservative; sometimes we err on the side of caution."

The next month, the Enquirer sent a team of four reporters to North Carolina to do surveillance of Hunter. They staked out her OB/GYN office for two weeks to get a picture of her outside a nearby grocery store.

Months later, in July of this year, they learned that Edwards would be meeting Hunter at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. With four days notice, they swung into action. A team of seven reporters staked out the hotel, catching Edwards in a stairwell after 2 a.m.

Perel took time out from recounting the Enquirer's successes to bash the New York Times for failing in its pursuit of John McCain and his relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. As Sherman wrote, five Enquirer reporters chased the Iseman story for more than a month without turning up evidence of an affair.

"I wouldn't have run that piece, there was nothing in it," Perel told Sherman. "It was filled with innuendo. . . . When you're done reading it, you're like, there's no there there."

What do we make of all this as MSM editors of an investigative blog?

1. The Enquirer is to be applauded for its investigative effort on the Edwards story. The full-court press it pulled--nearly a dozen reporters over 11 months, four reporters on a two-week surveillance in North Carolina--is the kind of manpower surge no one does anymore. By contrast, the New York Times in pursuit of the Vicki Iseman story employed four reporters for a few months, and no surveillances. In this age of diminishing resources, even the biggest newspapers don't have the kind of resources the Enquirer employed to throw around on a single story that might not pan out.

2. The MSM is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. If it goes after the story and doesn't nail it, it ends up like the New York Times on Vicki Iseman, hammered for running something with "no there there." If it doesn't pursue, it ends up where it is now, looking, in the words of Post media critic Howie Kurtz, somewhat "clueless," old fuddy-duddies outclassed by the new media.

And then there is what happens when the MSM does nail it. Forget the huge backlash the press endured for the Monica Lewinsky scandal. There's an older example that's even more instructive.

In Gabriel Sherman's New Republic piece on the National Enquirer's scoops, he made a big and telling omission. Sherman wrote that the Enquirer "has a remarkable record in driving the mainstream media's coverage of political figures," citing as an example Gary Hart and Donna Rice. Not quite.

The Enquirer did not break the Gary Hart story, the Miami Herald did. The Herald sent four journalists to Washington, D.C., to stake out Hart's Capitol Hill townhouse in an effort to catch him with Rice. The Herald confronted Hart when he came out of the townhouse and published a story.

Four-journalist stakeout, confronting the candidate as he leaves his mistress, sound familiar? Here is what the Enquirer did in that scandal: a few days after the Herald story, the Enquirer reportedly paid $250,000 for a picture of Gary Hart wearing a Monkey Business T-shirt with Donna Rice sitting on his lap. The Enquirer got worldwide publicity for that. The Herald got its story and it, too, got worldwide publicity. But the Herald also got roundly criticized for doing the Hart story in the first place. Reporters had "hidden in bushes" and "snooped" in windows and violated a candidate's privacy and the rules of journalistic probity. The newspaper was widely condemned by many journalistic elders for going too far.

How soon they forget.

---Jeff Leen

By The Editors |  August 25, 2008; 10:45 AM ET
Previous: Picks of the Week: Milwaukee Schools Spending, Border Tracking, and Child Hunting Deaths | Next: The Daily Read

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



It's odd that Leen would cite the Lewinsky scandal, given that that story first broke in Drudge. It's also maybe worth remembering that the Post originally didn't think the Paula Jones story was newsworthy.

Gary Hart had to literally dare the press to follow him.

And yet, the press never seemed to raise this reluctance and these anguished self-examining questions when reporting on the sex lives of David Vitter, Larry Craig, Robert Livingston, Bob Packwood, Newt Gingrich, Dan Burton, Henry Hyde, Helen Chenoweth, etc. What's the common factor here?

Posted by: Tom T. | August 25, 2008 12:33 PM

Tom T --- there are millions of newsworthy stories that go unaired in the media. And too many that get way too much time...

Posted by: wolf | August 25, 2008 3:44 PM

"David Vitter, Larry Craig, Robert Livingston, Bob Packwood, Newt Gingrich, Dan Burton, Henry Hyde, Helen Chenoweth, etc. What's the common factor here?"

The common factor was their insistence on being the Family Values Party. The party of Christian Morality. The holier than thou on marriage and homosexuality. Their insistence that they had a monopoly on "The Values" required to govern America. They're hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Posted by: thebob.bob | August 25, 2008 3:47 PM

It was interesting to hear John Edwards say that his affair took place after his wife's cancer was in remission. Only a trial lawyer would find a way to make it sound almost honorable.

Posted by: hamishdad | August 25, 2008 4:40 PM

it's somewhat ironic that on the sidebar you have Chandra-- and basically the allegations that ripped through the press like wildfire destroyed a congressman's career... he didn't kill her. With so much more solid corruption ongoing that can be investigated and documented, perhaps best to leave the Nat Enquirer to its traditional mud pies and if the slogging bloggers wish to join, it's okay. There's another little difference that MSM must consider: legal fees. A minor factor is audience. Gossip is expected in tabloids, bloggers (and copycats, plagiarists et all of the internet hoi poloi), but newspapers are supposed to be something other than gossip sheets-- digging for an affair runs on the seamy edge of gossip--for NYDaily News or Sun or Blesk or Kurier, acceptable along with the nudie on the back page. best left to CNN and FoX... So Edwards had an affair in 2006, yawn, we're over that, even if his colleagues aren't. He's not Prince Charles and there's no wanky tidbits to quote. Edwards is not going to endorse new brand of Tampax. Leave him be-- he's got enough hardship already. It's not like a court judge playing with himself under the table, is it? or ejaculating on someone in the court chambers? there's tons more seamy things to write about than Edwards.
http://tinyurl.com/6q8wpd
The problem is that Edwards is just targeted for national scandal to trash him. It's easy enough to destroy somebody's reputation, but sometimes it makes the mongrels feel self-righteous when they do it. they could pick much easier and probably better targets. What about the sex scandal with the Congress pages? then there's Kozinski http://tinyurl.com/648yha

and Brookins-- Texas seems to offer a lot of material...
http://www.prisonlegalnews.org/displayArticle.aspx?articleid=19604&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

and then there's the cuddly affair between Harriet, W and Rove...

who needs Edwards for news? especially old news.

Posted by: pogo | August 25, 2008 4:44 PM

The Common Factor in the wingnut busts are just that - Hypocritical wingnut busts. The Liberals LOVE SEX and we admit it. It's the Republicans and the Christian Right that are so attached to them, that are so hateful of Sexual rights! Another thing my wingnut friends, if the media would have followed the big bad Edwards mistress story, Edwards wouldn't have had a chance to be nominated, therefore wouldn't have had a chance to ruin the Democrats chances at the presidency!
Wingnuts - Think for a change!

Posted by: Sousa the Patriot | August 25, 2008 6:06 PM

As a sheep, I am still waiting for my $150 refund check from the Edwards.

Joh, Elizabeth, Caty, the grandparents --- they all dupe innocent me out of $150!

Now, if they could prove that that money went towards pizzas for the volunteers, I won't mind. But I think it and tens of thousands of small donations like it went to help pay for his mistress's mansion in California,,, as well as the aid who also got a few million home allowances,,,

Posted by: Anonymous | August 25, 2008 8:17 PM

Edwards made a mistake. We all do. I can forgive him for the mistake of being unfaithful to his wife. But stop lying about it now, John. That's what disgusts me.

Posted by: beebop | August 25, 2008 8:38 PM

Instead of journalists trying to explain why they didn't report the Edwards story, they should be explaining why they DID.

www.pahrumpvalleytimes.com/2008/Aug-20-Wed-2008/opinion/23397872.html

Posted by: Anonymous | August 25, 2008 8:42 PM

You know, those of us who believe in personal freedom might well agree John Edwards' private life should be just that -- private. On the other hand, when he blabs OBVIOUS whoppers ( that will be found out because the media -- and public -- aren't as dumb as he seems to think we are) about his babymomma and the paternity of the child that looks like his clone, and when there are serious questions about campaign donations being misdirected to support his bimbo in a style to which she had never been accustomed before -- then it becomes PUBLIC ( and maybe LEGAL) business. http://www.nolanchart.com/article4591.html

Posted by: Sher | August 25, 2008 9:12 PM

Give me a break! If your spouse cheated on you, would you want it publicized, especially given their high-profile lives? Talk about excruciating anguish! I know. I've been there --- twice. Don't you think Elizabeth Edwards has had enough pain in her life without blaming her for not broadcasting the fact that John had had an affair? Give the poor woman a break! She was trying to protect her children. Would any decent mother do any less? And now, because of her health uncertainty and concern for her children, she has chosen to stay with a man she probably loathes at this point. I certainly wouldn't want to be in her shoes. Would you? So quit second-guessing her decisions. I believe she deserves all the compassion she can get.

Posted by: BeenThere | August 26, 2008 3:24 PM

This was an election in which 7 out of 10 candidates had a known history of cheating on their spouses.

Political affairs go way back - and if you want to uncover a presidential love child, you can read all about it in "The Privilege of Voting."

It's a new free e-mail series that follows eight great women from 1912 - 1920 to reveal ALL that happened to set the stage for women to win the vote.

This is no boring history report.

Two beautiful and extremely powerful suffragettes -- Alice Paul and Emmeline Pankhurst are featured, along with Edith Wharton, Isadora Duncan, Alice Roosevelt and two gorgeous presidential mistresses.

There are tons of heartache for these heroines on the rocky road to the ballot box, but in the end, they WIN!

Exciting sequential 10-minute e-mails, perfect for coffeebreaks or anytime.

Subscribe free at

www.CoffeebreakReaders.com/subscribe.html

Posted by: Virginia Harris | August 26, 2008 5:15 PM

This is an election in which 7 out of 10 of the primary candidates have a known history of cheating on their spouses.

Political affairs go way back - and if you want to uncover a presidential love child, you can read all about it in "The Privilege of Voting."

It's a new free e-mail series that follows eight great women from 1912 - 1920 to reveal ALL that happened to set the stage for women to win the vote.

This is no boring history report.

Two beautiful and extremely powerful suffragettes -- Alice Paul and Emmeline Pankhurst are featured, along with Edith Wharton, Isadora Duncan, Alice Roosevelt and two gorgeous presidential mistresses.

There are tons of heartache for these heroines on the rocky road to the ballot box, but in the end, they WIN!

Exciting sequential 10-minute e-mails, perfect for coffeebreaks or anytime.

Subscribe free at

www.CoffeebreakReaders.com/subscribe.html

Posted by: Virginia Harris | August 26, 2008 5:17 PM

This is an election in which 7 out of 10 of the primary candidates have a known history of cheating on their spouses.

Political affairs go way back - and if you want to uncover a presidential love child, you can read all about it in "The Privilege of Voting."

It's a new free e-mail series that follows eight great women from 1912 - 1920 to reveal ALL that happened to set the stage for women to win the vote.

This is no boring history report.

Two beautiful and extremely powerful suffragettes -- Alice Paul and Emmeline Pankhurst are featured, along with Edith Wharton, Isadora Duncan, Alice Roosevelt and two gorgeous presidential mistresses.

There are tons of heartache for these heroines on the rocky road to the ballot box, but in the end, they WIN!

Exciting sequential 10-minute e-mails, perfect for coffeebreaks or anytime.

Subscribe free at

www.CoffeebreakReaders.com/subscribe.html

Posted by: Virginia Harris | August 26, 2008 5:17 PM

Well, like I read somewhere there are more "madams" in DC than anywhere else in America. Hmmm...wonder who calls on them? Right - so they all do it. It would be a shock to think this is the first affair John Edwards had - only thing is the other women he cheated with prior were not after his fame and fortune, this one was.

Sure, name me someone who's been cheated on go around telling everyone their spouse cheated on them but they are forgiven. Only ones that scream and fight are the ones that end up taking the cheating spouse to the cleaners.

Posted by: Whotoblame | August 26, 2008 11:48 PM

The details: Vicki Iseman was married during the time in 1999 with John McCain

Vicki Iseman was married during the time frame that the New York Times noted that top McCain advisors were "convinced the relationship had become romantic" with John McCain. Read the story again with the thought she was married and it changes the story.

Ms. Iseman was divorced in the middle of the relationship in August 1999 from lobbyist husband who has telecommunication clients.

webofdeception.com

Posted by: Robert LEwis | August 31, 2008 10:42 PM

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