By Ben Whitford, Slate Magazine
(Ben Whitford writes for the Guardian, Mother Jones and Newsweek.)
The Washington Post leads with one-time Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards’ admission that he had an extramarital affair in 2006 with a filmmaker employed by his campaign. The former senator’s startling confession, also fronted by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, followed months of denials in the face of tabloid reports; in a public statement and a televised interview Edwards continued to deny having fathered a love child and said he had not made payments to the woman involved.
In admitting to an affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign staffer he’d hired after a chance meeting in a New York bar, John Edwards did his best to stage-manage the inevitable media feeding frenzy. “Textbook PR timing: Friday, Olympics, a small war,” notes Slate‘s Mickey Kaus. “Not quite a Jo Moore Day, but not bad.” In a contrite public statement, Edwards said that he had been “egocentric and narcissistic,” adding: “If you want to beat me up, feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.”
Both in his statement and in an interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff, Edwards sought to squash the most salacious speculation about his tryst, saying that he had never loved Hunter, was not the father of her child, and had not paid her money. In what NYT columnist Gail Collins calls “a new high in the annals of weaseldom,” Edwards also pointedly noted that the affair had taken place while his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, was in remission for cancer, and that he had ended the affair and privately confessed before her cancer returned in 2007. In an unusual move, Elizabeth Edwards published a statement of her own on the Daily Kos website, attacking the media’s “desire for sensationalism and profit without any regard for the human consequences” and praising her husband’s courage and “honesty in the face of shame”.
That did nothing to reduce the exclamatory gloating from the National Enquirer, which first reported the affair in October 2007 and confronted Edwards last month at a Beverly Hills hotel where he met with Hunter for several hours. (Edwards says the meeting was an attempt to persuade Hunter not to go public.) The news also raised questions about the mainstream media’s reticence in following up on the tabloid’s reports; the NYT says it investigated but uncovered little of substance. The LAT also struggled to confirm the scoop: “We’re not in the business of printing things we don’t know to be true,” said Craig Turner, one of the paper’s Page One editors. “The problem with a story like this is that it’s very, very difficult to ascertain the truth until one of the people steps forward.”
It’s unclear what happens next for Edwards, although the scandal probably dashes his hopes of a role in a potential Obama administration. Vacationing in Hawaii, Barack Obama appeared to signal that John and Elizabeth Edwards would not attend the DNC convention. “They have to work through a process of healing,” he told reporters. “My sense is that’s going to be their top priority.”