09/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gabe Sherman's Eye-Opening Backstory On The Enquirer /Edwards Story

Wow. If you ever needed evidence that the cover-up is worse than the crime, look no further than Gabe Sherman's fantastic piece, posted on the New Republic website last night. It details the National Enquirer's quiet, patient, thorough pursuit of the John Edwards story — also known as the story of his affair and lovechild with former campaign videographer Rielle Hunter.

The resources that were dedicated to getting this story is really something. As Sherman reports, the tip came in to the Enquirer's Rick Egusquiza, in September 2007, and the Enquirer's executive editor, Barry Levine, "directed the coverage that grew to include nearly a dozen reporters." And he put them to work:

In late November 2007, Perel and Levine dispatched to North Carolina a "ghost team," reporters whose job it is to watch but not to be seen. The reporters discovered that Hunter was living in a gated community and having dinner with Andrew Young, the campaign aide who later said he was the father of Hunter's child, and his wife. They wanted a photo, and they wanted comments from both Hunter and Young. "You know, you have sources telling you she's six months pregnant, but let's see it!" Perel says. "We decided to shift into 'go-mode.' "

For two weeks, a team of four reporters-including Alan Smith, who broke the Donna Rice scandal-staked out Hunter's OB/GYN office until she was spotted and snapped outside a nearby grocery store on December 12. "The picture you see where she looks like Camilla Parker Bowles took fifteen days," reporter Alan Butterfield, who was at the scene, remembers. "We sat in our car."

"Ghost Team" — that term should scare any high-profile person doing something naughty. Here's the part that makes you almost feel bad for Edwards — hell, forget "almost":

Four days before encountering Edwards at the Beverly Hilton on July 22, they learned he would be meeting Hunter at the hotel, and, on July 21, a team of seven Enquirer reporters reserved several rooms and set up camp.... Around 9:40 p.m. on July 21, [senior reporter Alexander] Hitchen saw Hunter's friend Bob McGovern pull up to the hotel in a navy blue BMW 740 sedan and take the elevator up to Hunter's room. Hitchen and Butterfield knew Edwards would likely use a less visible entrance and stationed themselves in the lobby for the five-hour stakeout. Shortly after 2 a.m, Hitchen saw McGovern return to the lobby. Expecting Edwards to take the elevator to the basement where he could escape through a rear stairwell, the reporter positioned himself at the bottom of the stairs. Edwards popped out of the elevator and started up the stairs.

Then Hitchen pounced. "Mr. Edwards, Alexander Hitchen, from the National Enquirer. Would you like to say why you were at the hotel this evening to see your mistress Rielle Hunter and your love child?" he asked. Edwards froze and "turned pale," Hitchen remembers. Edwards made a move for the top of the stairs but Butterfield, standing with a photographer, was blocking the exit. "He ducked, tucked, and ran," Butterfield says. The Enquirer reporters ran after him, Hitchen asking questions all the while. "Do you think for the sake of your child, you should admit paternity?" he said.

Edwards said nothing.

Edwards darted into a bathroom and pulled the door shut. Hitchen and Butterfield stood in the corridor, trying to pry it back open. Edwards "was trying to pull the door, and occasionally I'd see his face, and you'd see the stress on his face and his hair tussling around," Butterfield told me. A group of security guards came over. Hitchen explained the situation and handed his card to a guard who went into the bathroom. Soon, the guards shielded Edwards's head with a jacket and escorted him up the stairs and out of the hotel.


One last thing: I appreciated that Sherman took the time to publish Enquirer editor David Perel's scoffing dismissal of Sharon Waxman's blog post weakly defending the MSM's hands-off silence on the story. Waxman sniffed that the only reason the Enquirer got the info was that it paid its sources — certainly true in many cases, but to equate source-payment to success in investigative journalism strikes me as not only a cop-out, but flat-out wrong. I'm pretty sure the NYT could have sent out a ghost team...if they'd wanted to. Waxman's speculation that Hunter was blackmailing Edwards was also sort of ridiculous to anyone who'd been following the story and knew anything about Hunter — because, my God, what awful karma.

Anyhow: Great read. Sort of interesting how the Enquirer is emerging as some sort of journalistic hero in all this. But that's another story. This one is about how they did the work, lay in wait, and got it right.

Open Tab: The Dark Art of the National Enquirer [TNR]
All the Scandalous News That's Fit to Print [HuffPo]

The Edwards Affair: The Law of the Tabloids [Waxword]