The John Edwards Sex Scandal and Media Bias
Even those who still deny the mainstream medias blatant liberal bias (The Washington Post editors recently pronounced themselves surprised at the huge discrepancy between the number of photos the paper prints of Democratic candidate Barack Obama compared to the relatively meager number of photos run of John McCain. Now how did that happen?) have to concede that the failure to cover the increasingly interesting story of John Edwards alleged mistress and love-child is odd.
The National Enquirer published a story last October asserting that former senator Edwards, John Kerrys running mate in 2004, was having a secret affair with a woman who was pregnant with his child. Last month, the much-reviled tabloid (which actually has a pretty good record of being accurate when it comes to celebrity affairs and illnesses) posted a story online chronicling how Edwards had visited the woman, Rielle Hunter, and their child in the early hours of July 21 at a Beverly Hills hotel. The Enquirer reporters confronted Edwards after a 2 AM chase, and Edwards muttered non-answers to their inquiries. Though the story is a live topic on blogs and the other tabloids, no news outlet has touched it yet. Why? The same cable news stations and newspapers will report the affairs and indiscretions of the most minor show-business celebrities on the thinnest of provocation, despite the fact that such stories have no larger significance whatsoever, and the fact that their objects did not just run for president and do not have a wife with terminal cancer. Edwards is, at least nominally, a vice-presidential possibility for 2008.
This story isnt news, or worth investigating? Speculation about the protective shield around Edwards has been aired in such publications as Slate, whose Jon Fine ventured five reasons why the story hasnt made it past the supermarket check-out counter:
1. Edwards never broke the Presidential plausibility threshold. He never looked like he might be nominated, especially once he lost the Iowa primary.
Fine, who deserves credit for raising and discussing the issue, doesnt mention as one of his prime reasons one other factor that certainly has played a part in allowing the serious news media to rationalize its contrived ignorance of the Edwards affair: the distain in which the National Enquirer is held by most journalists. But the chasm between the ethical standards of traditional journalism and the dubious ethical standards of the tabloids has shrunk to the size of a mere fissure. The Edwards story is already more substantial and has more tangible evidence than the infamous some aides reportedly say John McCain spends too much time flirting with a pretty lobbyist non-story that the New York Time felt was worthy of its front page. Some commentators have suggested that the Enquirers sources may be more reliable than those seeding stories for the respectable news media, because they are sometimes paid, in open violation of journalism school ethics. But a paid source only collects if the information is true.
The ethical bottom-line question is this: whether or not the media is demonstrating its bias by ignoring Edwards love triangle when it usually shows no such restraint in sex scandals involving more rightward politicians, is this a story that, in the abstract, news media has an obligation to cover? The answer to that question is an unequivocal yes, because the answers to these questions are also yes:
Is Edwards still a significant figure on the political scene?
Has he previously demonstrated questionable integrity?
Yes. This was a presidential candidate, remember, who claimed that he took a princely fee in the service of a hedge fund in order to learn about poverty.
Does he still have a following in the Democratic Party?
Might he be an influential force in the future?
Would the public, or a significant portion of it, think less of Edwards if the scandals was confirmed and reported?
Yes. It would eliminate whatever reasonable doubt still surviving that Edwards is a posturing phony who cannot be believed or trusted.
Would that portion of the public want to know, in that case?
Then, to use the hoariest and most over-used of media justifications in the context it was originally intended to be used, does the public have a right to know?