The Pulitzer Prize Board has officially accepted The National Enquirer's submissions for breaking the John Edwards scandal, according to sources close to the Board. In a historic move, the Pulitzer Board conceded that the self-proclaimed tabloid is qualified to compete with mainstream news outlets for journalism's most prestigious prize. The Enquirer is in the running for the Pulitzer in two categories: "Investigative Reporting" and "National News Reporting" for The National Enquirer staff.
"We're excited to be officially part of the Pulitzer competition," The Enquirer's Executive Editor Barry Levine told me when contacted for his reaction to the decision. "We know we'll be judged against other very outstanding submissions, but our work on Edwards is truly worthy of the Prize."
My grassroots campaign for The National Enquirer to get the Pulitzer Prize has gone from one column in early January to widespread mainstream media support and public demands for fairness. The Pulitzer Board's decision to give The Enquirer its rightful place in the competition for the award shows the old guard journalists recognize and respect the importance of the investigation by the paper's reporters, photographers and editors.
Before The Enquirer submitted its nomination, the Pulitzer's long-time administrator Sig Gissler attempted to pre-empt this campaign by telling reporters that the tabloid is not eligible due to various technicalities. Gissler, however, showed great humility and fairness by reading The Enquirer's submission and admitting that the paper is eligible to compete. Gissler has given The National Enquirer the legitimacy it long deserved for breaking a political scandal of national significance.
The National Enquirer single-handedly broke the stories about Edwards' affair with a campaign staffer, their out-of-wedlock child, the expensive cover-up and the federal grand jury investigation of possible misappropriation of campaign funds. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the other reporters covering Edwards' campaign did little if anything to follow up on the published stories in The Enquirer.
Whether the mainstream media ignored well-reported stories from The National Enquirer because of elitism or bias is unknown. But as a result, former Senator Edwards was able to win second place in Iowa's Democratic caucuses and continue his presidential campaign through the birth of his daughter by staffer Rielle Hunter and his continued affair with her.
Even after he ended his second presidential campaign, Edwards continued to publicly deny his mistress and daughter in order to maintain his viability to be, first, Hillary Clinton's running mate and then President Obama's attorney general. Edwards finally admitted to ABC News in August 2008 that he had an affair with Hunter, but explained it was while his wife's stage-four metastatic cancer was in remission.
In the same interview, he denied that the baby in The Enquirer pictures was his own, saying "I don't know that baby." Recent books have explained that Edwards believed that by admitting the affair but continuing to deny the child, he could maintain his viability for a position in an Obama administration.
In 2009, The Enquirer broke the story that DNA tests prove that Edwards was the father of Frances Quinn Hunter, which he continued to deny. Finally in January, confronted with both DNA tests and a threat by Hunter to take him to court for $17,000 a month in child support, Edwards put out a written statement admitting paternity of the almost two year old girl. Elizabeth Edwards separated from her husband of over 30 years and is expected to divorce him after the required 12 month legal separation is completed.
Most importantly, The National Enquirer's investigative reporting directly led to the federal grand jury probe of whether he used his presidential campaign donations to pay for the lavish cover-up to hide Hunter and the baby from the public. The grand jury in North Carolina is expected to announce if it will indict Edwards within the next two months.
Recently, The Enquirer reported that Edwards and Hunter are now engaged to be married and living together in a $3.5 million beach house he purchased for them. Andrew Young — Edwards' long-time loyal aide who even falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's child at his boss's request — wrote in his new book that Edwards believed Hunter deliberately got pregnant and called her "that crazy slut."
(Cynics who have read about the volatile Edwards-Hunter relationship and his hitting on women as recently as last month believe he is marrying her to keep her from testifying against him in a federal trial. Hunter testified against him to the grand jury, bringing their baby to court with her. But, if the grand jury indicts Edwards, by the time the federal trial starts, his divorce will be final and he will be re-married to Hunter, so she will have spousal immunity from testifying.)
The decision by the Pulitzer Board gives The Enquirer legitimacy, which is long overdue for its work uncovering political scandals — including Gary Hart's affair and Jesse Jackson's love child — the old-fashioned way, by investing the time and manpower into a long-term investigation. The media establishment is also showing that it recognizes that the landscape has changed, so small or non-traditional outlets are breaking important stories.
The Pulitzer Prize Board should be proud to buck the traditional media bias and accept The National Enquirer into the competition. In doing so, the Pulitzer has shown itself to be an institution based on an honest judge and jury of journalism, from even the most unlikely of newspapers. I believe, too, that the massive grassroots campaign by the public to push the Pulitzer Board to recognize the national importance of The Enquirer's reporting of John Edwards shows the best of Americans' core values — hard work, fairness and equality for all — even for tabloids.