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August 11, 2008

The End of John Edwards


One of the more bizarre subplots of the presidential campaign finally came to a head Friday when Sen. John Edwards admitted that he had indeed had an affair with former campaign staffer Rielle Hunter in 2006.


The admission, coming in a statement and later in a televised interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff, denied that the 2004 vice presidential nominee had fathered Hunter’s child, or that he had paid off Hunter in any way. Edwards showed quite a great deal of PR savvy in releasing the statement at 5 p.m. on a Friday in August, and giving an interview that aired opposite the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.


The admission ended a truly odd song and dance that began last fall, when the National Enquirer reported that Edwards – while he was still in the race and his wife Elizabeth had cancer – had engaged in an affair with Hunter and was the father of her then-unborn child. The Enquirer story got little mainstream traction, and another Edwards aide, Andrew Young, claimed paternity of the child.


Aside from frequent flogging by Slate’s frequently liberal-bashing liberal blogger Mickey Kaus, the story remained largely dormant until last month, when the Enquirer caught Edwards, at 3 in the morning, in the lobby of a Beverly Hills hotel where Hunter was said to be staying. Days prior to Edwards’ admission, a photograph had surfaced of Edwards at the hotel.


(The night Edwards was ambushed, the same hotel happened to be hosting a convention of the nation’s television critics. One such critic, Aaron Barnhart of the Kansas City Star, was able to confirm that the curtains behind Edwards in the photo were in fact those at the hotel.)


Edwards is guilty of the affair itself, betraying one of America’s most respected and revered women, lying about it for some time and potentially putting his party in a dire position. What if he’d won the nomination, and then this had come out? What if he were already vice president? And what was he doing visiting a woman who is not the mother of his children in the middle of the night?


But beyond that, the biggest question many have about the issue is why the mainstream media ignored it for so long.


A liberal media conspiracy? Those who subscribe to the Liberal Bias Theory of Everything certainly think so. But don’t forget that, at least until a few days after the Enquirer scoop, the Drudge Report and Fox News had all but ignored the story too. When the attack dogs of the right refuse an opportunity to pile on a liberal who they vocally loathe, there’s usually reason to question the meme’s legitimacy.


Let’s also remember the reason we usually hear about these things. Most of the major political sex scandals of the past decade – from Clinton/Lewinsky to Gary Condit to Jim McGreevey to Larry Craig to Mark Foley to David Vitter to Kwame Kilpatrick to Eliot Spitzer – have come to light due to either a criminal investigation, arrest or some other sort of legal process.


There was no such angle to the Edwards story. And when The New York Times implied in an article earlier this year that John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, the paper was pilloried for it. Editors likely were skittish about going with another affair story that might not pan out – like the one in 2004 about John Kerry having an affair with a staffer, which turned out to be bogus.


Not to mention, I thought the media was supposed to be “in the tank” for Barack Obama. Why wouldn’t they have flogged a story, after the first Enquirer report, which would end the career of one of his rivals? And besides, liberal media solidarity did little to protect the very Democratic Spitzer from exposure and mockery.


The big “undernews” story of the campaign that remained confined to supermarket tabloids and blogs – the accusation by a man that he’d had gay sex years ago with Obama – was also ignored by the media, including Fox and Drudge. And for good reason – the guy turned out to be a lunatic with a long criminal record who was arrested on an outstanding warrant at his own press conference.


John Edwards is likely finished in politics after a short, strange career that consisted of more presidential runs (two) than Senate terms (one). It’s uncertain how he will surface next, but one thing is certain: This story is much more interesting than another debate about his hair.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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