Why the Media Ignored the John Edwards Scandal

Byron York, who has been following the John Edwards – Rielle Hunter scandal since mid-2008, has a must-read piece at Town Hall.com: “Why The Media Ignored A Scandal.”

Two weeks before the 2008 Iowa caucuses, the National Enquirer published a detailed story reporting that Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards had had an affair, and that the woman involved — campaign videographer Rielle Hunter — was pregnant, and that Edwards had arranged for an aide to falsely claim to be the father, and that Hunter and the aide and the aide’s family were being taken care of financially by a wealthy Edwards supporter.

It was, to say the least, explosive.

At the time, Edwards was a serious contender in the Democratic presidential race, so when the story was published, his aides prepared for what some believed would be an onslaught of media scrutiny.

But it didn’t happen. Although Edwards could not have known it at the time, it turned out that many journalists just didn’t want to report the news and didn’t try very hard to uncover the facts.

The tale is told in the new book “The Politician” by former Edwards aide and confidant Andrew Young, the man who, at Edwards’ insistence, claimed that he, and not the candidate, was the father of Hunter’s child.

York then goes on to chronicle development after development in this sordid episode, including the National Enquirer’s stunning July 2008 story that included a detailed account of an Edwards visit to Hunter’s Los Angeles hotel room. The Edwards campaign repeatedly expected the major media to pounce on the story after each revelation, but the onslaught never came. York concludes:

An explosive scandal had been kept out of the press for months at a time when the man at the center was an important player in national politics. Why?

Young thought it was because the Edwards camp so tightly controlled information that journalists weren’t able to find sources to corroborate the Enquirer’s reporting. While that may have been part of it, the fact was, many editors and reporters just didn’t want to tell the story.

Maybe they admired Edwards’ cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth. Maybe they saw no good in exposing Edwards’ sordid acts. Maybe they looked down on the National Enquirer. Or maybe they were just biased. “In the case of John Edwards,” said Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, “even though it was clearly out there — everybody in America knew about this well before CNN and the New York Times and the Washington Post got into this game — there was still a great reluctance.”

Of course, in the end the story came out anyway — but only after the sheer weight of Edwards’ corruption made the facts impossible to ignore, even for sympathetic journalists.

This bears an uncanny resemblance to the news media’s deliberate decision to suppress its knowledge of Bill Clinton’s personal problems and scandals during the 1992 Presidential campaign. The press even gave Clinton the opportunity to publicly distance himself from womanizing allegations with the now-infamous “stand by your man60 Minutes interview, aired on Superbowl Sunday in January 1992. Eventually Clinton’s womanizing caught up with him; proof again that no matter how hard the media tries, it cannot eradicate corruption simply by choosing not to report it.

It will be worth seeing how future generations analyze the mainstream media’s reporting of the 2008 Presidential campaign, particularly the incredible contrast in standards between its insatiable appetite for dirt on Sarah Palin and her family, and its decision to willfully suppress what it already knew about the sleaziness of John Edwards.

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