A television writer for the Kansas City Star, Aaron Barnhart, who stayed at the Beverly Hilton at the same time the National Enquirer reporters and John Edwards were engaged in a Yakety Sax Benny Hill chase in that hotel, is claiming that the Edwards scandal story has finally "trickled out" into the mainstream media. Barnhart makes some interesting observations but comes to erroneous conclusions:
Who knew that the biggest story to break at the television critics' tour would happen while we were all in our rooms getting some shut-eye?
In the wee hours of Tuesday, July 22, John Edwards — the former senator from North Carolina, former presidential candidate and running mate in 2004 — was confronted by reporters for the National Enquirer at a men's room of the Beverly Hilton, the very hotel where TCA summer press tour had concluded a few hours earlier. They believed he was there to pay a visit to the child he had fathered out of wedlock and the baby's mother, an ex-campaign staffer named Rielle Hunter.
On Wednesday, the story finally started to trickle out into the mainstream, beginning with Wikipedia and followed today by a news story in our sister paper, the News & Observer. Given the Enquirer's stellar track record in reporting such things, why was the media so slow?
Sorry, Aaron, but a simple check of Google News shows that the coverage of this scandal story by the MSM reveals very limited coverage by them. They continue to drag their heels. Only a few bits and pieces about the John Edwards scandal story have made it into hard print...and when have you heard the scandal being discussed on Hardball? Barnhart goes on to deny that there was some sort of liberal conspiracy to keep this story under wraps:
If I were you, I'd dispense with the idea that a liberal conspiracy of silence kept this story under wraps. It wasn't under wraps. In December 2007, Drudge Report passed along this National Enquirer story confirming that Hunter was, indeed, pregnant and living in a gated community near a close Edwards confidant (who had argued, in a lovely parallel to the Anna Nicole story, that the baby was actually his).
Edwards was still running for president last December. Why didn't his opponents jump on this? Why didn't the story get any traction? One likely reality is that vigorous denials from campaign staffers, veiled threats to put reporters off the bus if they persisted, and the absence of any follow-up reporting from the Enquirer or any other source combined to take the air out of the story.
So because the National Enquirer didn't do any follow-up reporting at the time, that was an excuse for the mainstream media not to investigate? Somehow one suspects that if Edwards had an R after his name, the media would have been all over it, National Enquirer or not.
Why has the MSM been dragging its feet on this story? Barnhart attempts an explanation:
That doesn't explain why it took 10 days for the Enquirer ambush — which was almost immediately confirmed by a security guard — to make it out of the tabloidosphere. Paul Harris and listeners were talking it up on WLS Radio in Chicago last week. Yet the story just sat there. And even though bloggers love to talk about the MSM's irrelevance, smart ones like Mickey Kaus recognized that mainstream coverage was indispensable to getting Edwards, and the Democratic left, to finally treat his open wound.
You can argue that Edwards is a private citizen, and that merited extra caution. I don't buy it. Even if Howard Fineman is right and Edwards isn't on Obama's short list for vice president, until the running mate is actually named, it's ridiculous to treat him as though he's returned to Mount Vernon like Cincinnatus.
So that leaves the Elizabeth factor. Regardless of what one thinks of John Edwards or his politics, the popularity of and public affection for Elizabeth Edwards is undeniably high. She was an effective campaigner because she was seen as the honest broker her husband, the candidate, couldn't always be.
Elizabeth Edwards is the real reason this story hasn't gained traction until now. I think that out of respect for EE, and a desire not to compound her grim cancer scenario with further emotional pain probably caused editors to hold back reporting the story until something else came along.
So the reluctance of the press to cover this story was out of respect for Elizabeth Edwards? Suspicious minds might think it was because the liberal media didn't want to tarnish one of its icons. However, Barnhart now claims that this scandal story has finally been pushed over the edge although there is as yet little evidence it has made much headway in the MSM:
Two things happened Wednesday that seem to have pushed this over the edge. First, after more than a week of acrimonious debate, Wikipedia editors gave in and began including references to the alleged affair in its John Edwards entry. As Wired's reporter aptly put it: "Some users wondered why ... The New York Times' John McCain lobbyist affair (story) could be relied upon, but not a tabloid like The National Enquirer."
Then on Wednesday, John Edwards bolted from reporters after a public appearance. In a weird parallel to his Beverly Hilton encounter, he ducked out of a hotel kitchen area on Wednesday in the hopes of avoiding the press. Not a good way to erase suspicion.
Perhaps that's why our McClatchy Washington bureau has put the Edwards story on the wire.
And the story is still kept under wraps, Aaron. Until I see Chris Matthews discussing this on Hardball or the story headlined in the New York Times, I can only conclude otherwise. Barnhart continues to deny liberal bias was a factor in suppressing this story:
I doubt that anything was lost in the 10 days since the late-night encounter at the hotel — other than a chance for me to score an exclusive camera-phone shot of the room where the senator allegedly visited his love baby — but I am not sold at all on the idea that liberal squeamishness was the reason the press held back on this story. (If anything, the ineptitude with which the Times fast-tracked its allegations against McCain should be a cautious lesson about rushing a story to press.)
Barnhart concludes with an observation that casts moral aspersions upon John Edwards and possibly himself:
And let me say this as someone married to a breast cancer survivor. If I were in John Edwards' position, and I could pull myself away from the nearest mirror (that hair is to die for), I would play the Elizabeth card as aggressively as I could. I would have my advisers tell the press, on the QT, to keep quiet about the story because it's a painful time for the family as it is. That's an unpleasant truth (not that I'd ever cheat on my wife), but as long as it kept alive the possibility that this story might go away again, I'd do it. I wouldn't be proud to do it, but I'd do it.
Then again, it sounds like John Edwards doesn't have much to be proud of lately.
In stark contrast to Barnharts analysis of the John Edwards scandal coverage by the American media comes this report from Alexander Cockburn in the FirstPost that makes this observation: "What makes the mainstream US media ignore the Enquirer's story? Is it simple snobbery?" Although Cockburn is a liberal he often diverges from leftwing dogma such as his skepticism on the topic of global warming. Cockburn makes this very apt observation on this topic:
Not for the first time in recent political history, an American standing in the checkout line at a supermarket is better informed on a hot issue of the day than the nation's elite who send their maids to buy food and get their news from the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Although the liberal Cockburn declines to attribute liberal bias as a reason that the media has been reluctant to report this story, he does provide another very good rationale as to why the press has been dragging its feet:
Of course there might be compassion for the very popular Liz Edwards, but that's not enough to explain the dogged silence. The New York Times and the Washington Post are quite prepared to investigate possible sexual shenanigans as the Times's floating of the McCain-Iseman imbroglio made clear. The most convincing explanation, it seems to me, is simple snobbery. The mainstream press reckons that any acknowledgement that papers like the Enquirer get credible scoops is distressing to their dignity and increasingly threadbare 'credibility'.
And don't forget the blogosphere, Alexander. While the MSM continues to drag their feet, the blogosphere is up front investigating this scandal story. The National Enquirer and the blogosphere are going where the liberal media fears to tread. Meanwhile newspaper circulation continues to tumble. And their lack of coverage on a topic that the public is interested in provides a great example of why they are on the decline.