British Writer Claims MSM Silence on Edwards Scandal Reflects Newspaper Decline

Perhaps it takes a foreigner looking from the outside in to give us a clear look at the overall meaning of the mainstream media silence on the alleged John Edwards scandal. In this case it is Guy Adams writing in his US Media Diary in the UK Independent about "The 'scoop' the US papers ignored." (emphasis mine):

That old cliché about everything being bigger in America seems especially pertinent when attempting to describe the sheer scale of the crisis currently afflicting the US newspaper industry, which makes all Fleet Street's woes look like a summer picnic.

Last week, The Los Angeles Times decided to flog its historic downtown offices, on top of sacking 150 of its 870 journalists. So did The Chicago Tribune. Almost every title in the land is now shedding staff; a hundred New York Times hacks have been offered voluntary redundancy; Newsweek recently announced cuts. It's a bloodbath out there, as US media companies attempt to claw a pound of flesh from haemorrhaging readerships.

Consider, against this backdrop of falling circulation and a failing industry, the decision of every mainstream paper in America to ignore the juiciest political story of the month (and possibly the year): the discovery by National Enquirer hacks of John Edwards, in the corridors of a Beverly Hills hotel, where his alleged mistress and alleged love child were also staying, at half past two on the morning of Tuesday, 22 July.

Since Edwards was, until recently, hoping to be president and will almost certainly have a prominent role in any Barack Obama administration, his marital integrity is a matter of public interest. It could yet become an election issue. Yet neither the highfalutin NYT, nor the Tribune, nor even the LA Times, on whose patch the whole sordid business occurred, have yet stepped up to the plate to report it. Their old-fashioned reticence seems quaint, in this day of kiss'n'tell and chequebook journalism. But it's also depressing: one of the reasons America's newspapers are dying is their perceived pomposity. Readers say they are too timid to rock the boat; right-wingers complain (with some justification) that they conspire to suppress damaging stories about Democrats. The general public thinks they have simply become boring.

The Edwards story could be selling truckloads of newsprint. It is attracting enormous traffic online, and has been devoured by viewers of Fox, the only TV network to report it. In ignoring the affair, newspapers are sacrificing potential readers and repeating the mistakes of the 1990s, where they loftily decided against reporting Bill Clinton's many bedroom misdeeds, allowing internet sites to claim the Monica Lewinsky "scoop."

The editor of the LA Times, Tony Pierce, has higher concerns, though. He recently sent staff an edict. "There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair," it read. "Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumours or salacious speculations."

I can't pretend to know what Mr Pierce does with his 870 journalists. But if he'd asked just one of them to check out these "salacious rumours" regarding John Edwards the LA Times might have a few more readers, and fewer of the 870 staffers might have to be cut from its bloated payroll.

And in the MSM Wall of Silence category comes this report from a Kansas City Star TV writer, Aaron Barnhart, featured here in NewsBusters last Friday. In contrast to his earlier claim that the MSM has finally begun to report on the John Edwards scandal, Barnhart has now backtracked on his earlier position about the new "openness" of the media on this topic (emphasis mine):

Perhaps I spoke too soon about the whole "John Edwards story going mainstream" business. After a couple of reports by my colleagues elsewhere in the vast McClatchy chain appeared last week, there was bupkis out of the MSM. I mean, I got more traction trying to climb Airport Road in my 1961 Ranchero during an ice storm.

I think all the serious political reporters are just waiting for the National Enquirer to break more news. Then they'll pounce. It's a weird way to do journalism, for sure, but not that surprising. There's very little upside for news editors to be early on this story (no one is talking up Edwards as a VP right now), while the downside is considerable. The blogosphere, however, has gone wild over this story, and simply by deigning to talk about it, TV Barn — a blog, mind you, kept by a MSM entertainment critic — just had its biggest weekend in a decade of service.

Kudos to Mr. Barnhart for being man enough to admit his error and correcting it. Oh, and also thanks for the inadvertent shoutout by referencing this blog as "the adverserial" in the following description of the blogosphere reaction to his earlier piece:

Reaction to my piece has ranged from the adversarial to the hotly adversarial to off-the-charts, like this blogger whose line-by-line analysis of my story would make any JFK/9-11/TWA 800 conspiracy theorist proud.

However, I do think Barnhart was a bit harsh in his latter description of the DBKP blog as making a "conspiracy theorist proud." Any blog that describes your humble correspondent in the following manner deserves praise, not scorn (emphasis proudly mine):

PJ Gladnick, of Newsbusters Writer Claims Edwards Scandal Story Has Finally ‘Trickled Out’ Into MSM, does a complete demolition of Barnhart’s other claims about why the MSM didn’t cover the story.

Of course, NewsBusters also took a pass on the story in December. But, NBs has been all over the story in its July reincarnation, chiefly through the efforts of Gladnick. Gladnick’s NewsBusters coverage has been a key element in holding the media’s feet to the fire over the last two weeks.

Blush!

P.J. Gladnick
P.J. Gladnick
P.J. Gladnick is a freelance writer and creator of the DUmmie FUnnies blog.