Enquiring Minds

Well, the National Enquirer is being slapped around again — this time for their “bust” of former Senator (as well as former vice presidential nominee, former presidential candidate, and potential Obama cabinet officer or running mate) John Edwards’ roundezvous with a woman who — it is alleged — recently gave birth to his “love child.”

The Enquirer story is based on solid facts: Rielle Hunter (the woman in question) did recently give birth, the father has not been formally identified, and Edwards did meet with her in a hotel. Further, they have their standard anonymous sources stating that Edwards and the woman had a long-standing affair, starting when she was filming a documentary on him and his campaign for president.

A lot of people have been wondering why this story is getting so little play in the mainstream media. Edwards, as I noted, is a former US senator, former vice-presidential nominee, former presidential candidate, and a possible Obama running mate or Cabinet officer. Also, he made his relationship with his wife (who is fighting cancer) a key point of his campaign.

The most common dismissal I’ve seen is that “it’s just the Enquirer.” After all, they’re just a supermarket tabloid. They don’t have any journalistic credibility.

I beg to differ.

I don’t read the Enquirer, but I do know a little about their history. And to me, that gives them some credibility.

In 1981, they were sued for libel by Carol Burnett after they said she had been drunk in public. They lost that suit, and paid out a hefty sum. And they vowed that they would not make that mistake again.

Ever since then, the Enquirer has been exceptionally careful to not get caught in the wringer again. They double-check their sources, and make sure they have at least one person on the record making the allegation. And that caution has paid off.

The Enquirer — probably in part because they don’t subscribe to common journalistic ethical principles like “we don’t pay sources” — has nailed down quite a few major scoops over the year. They were all over the Monica Lewinski scandal, they broke a lot of the details. When OJ Simpson denied ever owning a pair of Bruno Magli shoes, the kind identified with the killer of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, they dug up a photo of him wearing a pair. They were also first with the word that Simpson had written a book called “If I Did It.” They dug up the illegitimate child Jesse Jackson had fathered on one of his staffers, and that he had used his organization’s money to pay her off. And they were the first to allege Edwards’ affair with Hunter, and to say that she was pregnant with his child.

As I said, I don’t read the Enquirer. Not even at the supermarket line — I usually have few enough items to hit the express lanes, and don’t have the time standing there. I don’t really care for them.

But that dislike is based not on their lack of accuracy, but their news judgment. They are, when it all boils down in the end, a tabloid. They focus on celebrities and sensationalism and lurid headlines, and I don’t care for that.

But as far as accuracy goes, the Enquirer has a damned good record. After the Carol Burnett lawsuit, they’ve gotten very, very careful — kind of like the ex-smoker railing against the evils of tobacco. In fact, I’d put their record for accuracy above the New York Times, CNN, and the major network news operations.

You want to ignore the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter love child story? Fine. Just come up with a better reason than “it’s just the Enquirer.” Yes, they’re slimy. Yes, they’re bottom-feeders. Yes, they’re paparazzi. Yes, they’re scum.

But they have earned a reputation for accuracy, and it’s only the fools who dismiss their reports out of hand.

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