As chronicled by your humble correspondent in his NewsBusters story yesterday, the UK Sunday Times took great delight in tweaking the American mainstream media for maintaining a hypocritical wall of silence on the alleged John Edwards love child scandal. However, dawn has broken over a new day and a few minor cracks in this MSM wall of silence has emerged in the form of opinion columns. One such crack was in today's Hartford Courant column by Kevin Rennie, a lawyer and former Republican state legislator, speculating about Elizabeth Edwards making a dramatic speech at the Democrat convention. It didn't take long for Rennie to go from Elizabeth Edwards to John Edwards:
An appearance by Edwards would give a nod to decency. A story involving her husband John Edwards has been developing since late last year. You may grimace when you read that it's been coming from the National Enquirer. Early last week, Enquirer reporters observed Edwards skulking his way into the Beverly Hills Hotel, where they heard he was to rendezvous with the mother of his new baby.
Although Rennie warned about grimacing, he did not shy from providing the sordid details of the alleged scandal:
Edwards serpentined around the hotel, before reaching the rooms where both his alleged paramour and baby were staying, according to the Enquirer, which appears to have had a platoon of reporters in strategic spots. Edwards probably thought he would not be noticed when he left at 2:30 in the morning, so he alighted upon the lobby from an elevator. Reporters greeted him when he stepped out.
The former presidential aspirant and vice presidential nominee took refuge in a men's room until hotel security could escort him out and block the five reporters who wanted a few words with him. Edwards later issued a brief statement criticizing the tabloids. He didn't address the love child story, though it was the right time to deny it if it isn't true. Whether it's true or not, his behavior was bizarre for a potential attorney general.
After providing details that sound like something out of a Benny Hill chase skit, Rennie discusses the media's wall of silence on the alleged Edwards scandal:
The big media enterprises have so far ignored the John Edwards story told by the Enquirer. It's become widely known beyond the Enquirer's 1 million readers, however, through the online Drudge Report. Last week, Jack Shafer in Slate.com dissected the media bias that last summer led reporters to pounce on creepy Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's arrest in an airport bathroom for importuning, while reporters are now ignoring the Edwards love child story a year later. Shafer concedes the analogy is not exact, but it's close enough to reveal vastly different standards in treating these tawdry tales.
The love child story is not going to go away. By the time the Democrats gather in Denver, it will rival the 1996 Dick Morris with a hooker tale that broke as Democrats met in Chicago.
Another crack in this MSM wall also occurred today in the form of a column by Phil Valentine, a radio talk show host, writing in the The Tennessean. The title of his piece, "Media decisions over gossip vs. news get tangled in politics," sets the tone for Valentine's column:
The tardiness of the mainstream media to the John Edwards love-child story brings up some very interesting questions as to what constitutes news and, even more crucial, what doesn't.
The National Enquirer, not your most reliable news source, has been dogging the former senator's trail for the better part of a year. They first reported that the presidential contender was having an affair. They later added that he had a child with this woman. Most recently, they reported on seeing Edwards in the Beverly Hilton in the middle of the night paying a visit to this same so-called mistress.
Is it true? Who knows? And that's not really the point here. The point is the arbiters of news have a different set of standards as to what passes for news depending on the party affiliation of the person involved.
After giving several examples of how the media jumped upon reporting a scandal about Newt Gingrich while initially avoiding reporting on scandals involving Democrats, Valentine questions why it seems to be left to the National Enquirer, not the MSM, to report on "inconvenient" scandals:
In ignoring such a huge story, the mainstream media have forced us to ask an uncomfortable question: Do we now have to rely on the likes of the National Enquirer to bring us the real story? Gosh, I hope not. I view the Enquirer as tabloid smut as much as anyone in this business, but when they do stumble upon a legitimate story, it is incumbent upon the news outlet to report it. Not wanting to stoop to the level of the Enquirer is certainly understandable, but it's also inexcusable when it means ignoring real news.
The really disturbing aspect of this is the arrogance with which news organizations cull the news. We all do it. We all have to. We can't possibly report everything. In my case, there's just not enough time. I perform what I call "topic triage" each day. Most assuredly, I home in on stories that interest me. After all, a radio talk show is not a news outlet in the conventional sense. But, when the Sen. Larry Craig footsie-in-the-bathroom story broke, I went with it. I didn't try to bury it because he was a Republican. It was a news story, albeit quite an odd one, but it was news.
Ironically, it is liberal blogger Lee Stranahan, writing in todays Huffington Post, who presents some compelling reasons why this alleged scandal is worthy of coverage in the media:
John Edwards Matters This isn't a Mike Gravel affair. (Sorry to put that image in your head.) John Edwards been the conscience of the Democratic Party this primary season and a compelling presence speaking out on the growing gap between rich and poor. If he wasn't going to be Vice President, most Democrats wanted him somewhere in an Obama cabinet.
Video Clips Galore! Cable news loves showing video clips, usually in looping montages. Those webisodes that Hunter made that were taken down? They look flirty and suspicious in light of the alleged affair.
It's Fresh The Edwards affair happened during the primary campaign. This isn't ancient history. What if he's WON the primary? Would he really have taken the nomination and handed the race to McCain?
Primary Revisionism Will the affair change the way we look back on the primary? Why did Edwards drop out of the race so quickly? Why did Edwards not endorse anyone until his endorsement was a moot point? Endless debates will ensue.
DNA! The press loves any story with DNA. Drama! DNA test refusals. Acceptance. Test goes out. What will happen? It's like Montel Williams but it takes weeks!
Democratic Convention in Denver happening soon. Will Edwards speak? Will he appear at all? What about Elizabeth? Oh, the drama. You'll see.
"How could he do that to his sick wife?" This whole thing doesn't play well with women voters. Or women non-voters. Or men.
"Should we care about politician's sex lives?" Whatever your answer, that's a hook for the press. As soon as the story reaches a big tipping point, the mainstream press will question the story.
"Liberal media bias" - here's the big one. Republicans have had a lot of embarrassing, juicy sex scandals of their own lately and boy, do they want some payback. It doesn't look good that the Los Angeles Times banned bloggers from discussing the story. Where's the Times investigation - seems like the story is in their backyard. And that silence you hear from the mainstream press right now? The GOP is going to "play the refs" and jump all over the media for not reporting or investigating this story. The media will eventually break down and do what they do - saturate us with the story they missed just to prove how unbiased they really are.
So far the only cracks in the MSM wall of silence on this matter have come only in the form of opinion columns. However, it will be increasingly difficult in the days to come for the MSM to refrain from reporting on this. Unlike the days before the Web, such a story cannot remain permanently on ice. There are just too many sources already covering it and for the MSM to refrain from reporting on this scandal just makes them look even more foolish than they already are.