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by Alexander Cockburn

An "Irresponsible" Press Is Best

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 while getting their news from The New York Times and the Washington Post.

So far as the precise historical record goes, former senator John Edwards, 55, began his slide into public scandal back on Aug. 25, 2007, when the New York Post's Page Six 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 square-foot 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, Elizabeth, who was very 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 filmmaker, Rielle Hunter, formerly named Lisa Druck, was doing a series of cinema verite videos of candidate Edwards. Edwards and the self-confessed hard-partying Hunter had met in a bar in New York.

On Oct. 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. And though she wasn't named in the Enquirer's story, so did Rielle Hunter, on a Web site. Not a breath of an alleged adultery by a presidential contender ruffled the pages of the nation's mainstream papers.

On Dec. 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, N.C. Accommodation and a BMW car were being provided, the Enquirer said, by a long-term political associate of Edwards, who had a home in the same gated community. A front-page photo featured Hunter, seemingly in the late stages of pregnancy.

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.

On July 21, the Enquirer lowered the boom on Edwards, who at that time was telling reporters he'd be happy if Obama picked him as his running mate. The Enquirer reported that it had nailed Edwards visiting Hunter and child in the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles. The Enquirer's reporters had staked out both Edwards and Hunter, ambushed the former as he stepped out the elevator, and 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 then escorted to safety.

On Aug. 6, the Enquirer released a photo -- probably one taken with a telephoto -- of Edwards dandling a baby in a room the Enquirer insisted was in the Beverly Hilton. Still barely 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.

There is a parallel story. 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. 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 '90s would have been!

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   August 8, 2008   (

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