Edwards Affair Rules the News Cycle for Three Days

John Edwards probably hoped his broadcast mea culpa – the public apology for his extramarital affair on ABC's August 8th Nightline – would get buried in the hype of the opening ceremonies of the 29th Olympiad.  But that's not the way the Internet-dominated news cycle works. 

As soon as ABC News announced that Edwards had confessed to infidelity, the story was headline fodder, leading the Drudge Report and no doubt wreaking havoc in news rooms around the country.

ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, MSNBC and CNN all opened their Friday evening newscasts with the Edwards admission. The story continued to play out over broadcast and cable television over the weekend and was on the A-List of topics for the Monday morning news programs. Predictably, the coverage has had a liberal spin.

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CBS's Smith: John Edwards 'Targeted' by Mistress

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CNN Anchor: Edwards 'Much Loved,' 'All About Integrity and Honesty'

CNN's Yellin: Edwards Story Unimportant – He Wasn't a Contender

The near-cacophonous coverage was in stark contrast to the media silence on the topic despite rumors of an Edwards affair circulating since October of 2007.  More recently, the National Enquirer stirred the pot with a series of articles alleging Edwards had fathered a child out of wedlock and his campaign staff was paying the child's mother hush money.  While the Drudge Report linked to the National Enquirer stories, and Fox News confirmed many of the details, the liberal media were MIA on the story.

A survey of the archives of Newsbusters.org shows that conservative news watchers and analysts for the Media Research Center have wondered for weeks when the media elite were going to start paying attention to the scandal rumors.

    On July 24, 2008 Tim Graham, MRC's Director of News Analysis, commented on a column in the liberal online Web site Slate which wondered whether there was a double standard when it came to John Edwards vs. Larry Craig.

    July 26, Newsbusters' blogger Dave Pierre noted that the Los Angeles Times had “muzzled” its staff on the Edwards story.

    July 28, Newsbusters' blogger P.J. Gladnick noted that Wikipedia refused to let their John Edwards entry be edited for references to the alleged scandal.  On July 31 he blogged that “cracks” were emerging in the “wall of silence” around the story.  Gladnick was referring to a story run in Edwards' hometown paper The Charlotte News and Observer,  with the headline “Facing Questions, Edwards evades reporters.”  An ensuing post on August 1 documents a TV writer for the Kansas City Star saying the story had “finally 'trickled out' to the mainstream media.”

That was probably a bit premature because the liberal media didn't really start paying attention until about 3:00 on August 8th when ABC posted its story online.  Prior to Edwards's taped confession, the Drudge Report had been running a picture of the National Enquirer headlines for a few days and speculating whether leaders of the Democratic Party were pressuring Edwards to confront the story so that it wouldn't interfere with the upcoming convention. On August 6 the McClatchy News Service ran an article headlined “Tabloid's claims threaten Edwards' role at party's convention.”

Why did Edwards choose to come clean on August 8? Bob Woodruff didn't ask that question during the entire Nightline interview.  He did ask about the affair, about fathering the child, about money paid to Rielle Hunter, the woman at the center of the scandal, and about Edwards' political future. 

Edwards admitted he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, informed ABC's Bob Woodruff that in 2006, at the time of the infidelity, he'd confessed to God and his wife and had been forgiven.  He said he initially lied about the affair when confronted last year because it was a private family matter and that his family knew all the details.  He alluded to John McCain's infidelity to his first wife but didn't pursue that talking point.  He denied fathering the child or paying any money to his mistress.  He admitted meeting her recently in California to talk about not taking the affair public.  He maintained he was contacted by a friend of Hunter's to have that meeting.

As to his political future, Edwards said he wasn't sure he had a “political career for the future anyway” and said he wanted to spend the rest of his life “serving …. people whose voices never get heard.”


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.