Update: I spoke with David Perel, the editor of The National Enquirer. When I asked if he was confident in the reporting about Edwards being at the hotel, he laughed and said "We KNOW it's true." Perel also noted that Edwards hasn't denied being there.
Before I dive in, let me get the 'objectivity' thing out of the way. As a citizen journalist whose main claim to fame is producing satirical comedy, I can be upfront about my political leanings. I'm a recovering libertarian and currently I'm a registered Democrat who is excited to be voting for Barack Obama in November. I like John Edwards and up until a few days ago, he would have been my first choice for Vice President on an Obama ticket. I'm far from Puritan -- anything two or more consenting adults want to do is fine by me. I also think it's obvious a person's sexual life doesn't keeps them from being an effective politician.
I'm judging this situation using two standards; 1) what's the truth? 2) how's it going to play out in the media?
The truth is that I believe anyone who looks into the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter affair story will see that Edwards has, at best, acted in a very suspicious manner for over a year now. When the Larry Craig story was breaking, I didn't buy his particular line of bullshit and I don't buy Edwards's either after I've spent the last couple of days Googling with my wife. (That's not as dirty as it sounds.) At first, I was skeptical of the National Enquirer story catching Edwards leaving the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel at 2:45am because there were no pictures and the tabloids aren't reliable. Now it turns out that Edwards was at the hotel, so was Ms. Hunter, and that he when he saw reporters he hid in the bathroom until security guards came and got him.
I got more suspicious after reading a story on The Huffington Post from last September by Sam Stein detailing the weird story of some short webisodes about John Edwards that mysteriously were pulled off the internet. Read it yourself here and fold it into the mix of the current allegations.
Let's go with the assumption that Edwards is innocent for a moment; he didn't have the affair so the baby isn't his. If he didn't do anything wrong then it seems like he'd have good reasons to stop the rumors. A DNA test months ago would have ended all speculation about the paternity of the baby. Isn't that a better, less suspicious move than pulling down all the videos that Rielle Hunter helped produce about him for his campaign? And if there are rumors and you're innocent, WHY go visit the subject of those rumors at a hotel and leave at 2:45 in the morning? Why hide in the bathroom when reporters catch you leaving? These actions don't make any more sense to me than Craig's 'wide stance/dropped my toilet paper' defense did.
How's it going to play out? It seems to me that this is going to be a tsunami-sized scandal for the Democratic Party and right now the coming typhoon of press coverage is close to breaking. We're at the point of calm before the big waves hit but there are signs of the impending deluge. Jay Leno is making jokes about it. Perez Hilton is on the story. The mainstream media is fairly quiet but the most ominous silence right now is from the progressive blogosphere.
The progressive blogosphere is ignoring this story at its own peril because it's going to be big. At this moment, there's a weird state of denial about the entire thing. As of 4pm Saturday, nothing at all on TalkingPointMemo.com. DailyKos did a dismissive post making fun of the Enquirer. FireDogLake? Nothing. Americablog? Nada. These are some of my favorite blogs, by the way.
The Huffington Post has at least hovered about the edges of the story as it's been unfolding. There have been a couple of half-hearted, nothing-to-see-here blogs but also news reports on the latest events. A blog by John McQuaid said that there's no "physical evidence a la Bill Clinton." Well, there's a baby. Not a stained dress left to hang in the closest for a few months but a real cooing, smiling little baby who I assume looks adorable on camera and probably has nice hair. That lil' tyke is stuffed full of DNA, too. Cute little DNA.
Despite what some people are going to say, this is news. A former Senator and Vice Presidential candidate who was running for President less than six months ago and is now on the short list for Vice President has an long affair during the campaign and fathers a child, covers it up, and then is caught at a hotel with the mother of the child. News! Oh -- and his wife made regular appearances on the campaign trail and has been diagnosed with cancer. If it were Mitt Romney, you'd be hearing peels of laughter and the satisfying smacking sound of Merlot and Starbucks fueled high fives coming from the nearest blue state. Would it have made the progressive blogs? C'mon, of course it would...with funny pictures and as many self-satisfied comments as you can shake a Macbook Air at.
It's a juicy story that has so many elements that are easy hooks for those short segments on cable news where two people argue while the news anchor asks softball questions. Here's a quick list of all the story angles I can think of just off the top of my head.
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.
Lauren and I are organizing the information we've found just by doing some internet research ourselves and for what it's worth, we'll posting it on my blog at Stranahan.com. If you're part of the progressive blogosphere, don't put your head in the sand and hope this goes away because I don't think it will. Don't leave the reporting to Fox and the tabloids. Investigate it yourself. Talk about it, write about it. Disagree or agree but don't just dismiss it because there's too much to just dismiss. If Edwards made a series of personal errors here, at least it should be his friends and allies who help him transition into the next phase of his life. Please make me wrong on this...there's too much at stake.
Update: Seems like I've touched a third rail here. I cross-posted this piece at Daily Kos and it got over 400 comments. Unfortunately, a large number of the comments were nothing but insults. One person suggested seriously that all the videos I've made lampooning Republicans (including my Mike Huckabee video that Kos himself called the 'best political parody of 2007) were just a ruse so I could weasel my way into the progressive blogosphere, apparently in anticipation of John Edwards being caught at hotel.
Follow Lee Stranahan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Stranahan