Politics & Policy

John Edwards: The Picture of a Scandal

New developments in the story that cannot be reported.

‘We’re working off our timetable, not yours,” says David Perel, editor of The National Enquirer. “I’m not letting other media drive the story for us.”

Perel is talking about the issue of whether the Enquirer should have published, by now, photos of a July 22 confrontation in a Los Angeles hotel between its reporters and former Sen. John Edwards. Edwards had, the Enquirer reported, come to the Beverly Hilton to see a woman named Rielle Hunter, with whom he has had an affair and a baby. In an almost surreal scene described on the Enquirer’s website, Edwards was said to have fled to a men’s room, pushing against a door while the reporters pushed and asked questions from the other side.

By now, it’s well known that the big news outlets — the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, as well as the broadcast and cable networks — have largely ignored the story. Some observers have speculated that those outlets would report the news if the Enquirer published the pictures. And now, sure enough, Perel has published a picture — just one, a fuzzy image the Enquirer calls a “spy photo,” of a man who appears to be Edwards holding a baby. The paper says it was taken inside the Beverly Hilton room in which Edwards met with Hunter.

What is a spy photo? I ask Perel.

“That’s a good question,” he says, without answering.

“Was it taken surreptitiously?”

“Well, it’s not a photo that he handed out, let’s put it that way,” Perel answers. He declines to say who took the picture or under what precise circumstances.

We’ll see if the new photo changes any minds at the big media institutions. It’s more likely that editors and reporters who don’t want to report the story will continue to not report the story, perhaps saying the picture is not clear enough. And Perel says he doesn’t care; he’s concerned with the Enquirer’s story and the Enquirer’s timetable.

But just what is that timetable? “There are a lot of factors that go into it,” Perel tells me. For one thing, the Enquirer has been closely watching Edwards and the Edwards camp for reaction. “We learned a lot the first time around,” Perel says, referring to Edwards’s denials of Enquirer reporting. Edwards called the July 22 story “tabloid trash,” said he didn’t know anything about it, and avoided reporters who wanted to know more. But he didn’t deny it.

Last December, when the Enquirer first named Hunter, Edwards did deny it. A couple of months earlier, when the Enquirer published a thinly-sourced story claiming that Edwards was “caught in a shocking mistress scandal that could wreck his campaign,” Edwards quite emphatically denied it. “The story is false,” he said then. “It’s completely untrue, ridiculous. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been in love with the same woman for 30-plus years.”

Since then, the Enquirer has reported that a man named Andrew Young, an Edwards aide, claimed that he, Young, is the father of the child (although the baby’s birth certificate lists no father). The Enquirer has reported that Edwards or his allies have made monthly payments to Hunter, supporting her first in North Carolina and now in California. And the tabloid has reported that Edwards or his allies relocated Young from North Carolina to California to support the story of his fatherhood. Continuing to develop that angle — most people would call it a cover-up — is, Perel says, part of the Enquirer timetable.

But is there anything else? Maybe the Democratic National Convention, coming up in a little more than two weeks? “Obviously, the convention has not been our driving force behind the story,” Perel says. “The reporting takes however long it takes. It took seven months to go from the December story to the [Beverly Hilton] meeting….But if it happens to be a happy coincidence — if the story just happens to be breaking around that time, in terms of maximum exposure –” Perel pauses. If the convention wasn’t part of the timetable before, it is now. The Edwards pictures might make a nice splash with the Democratic delegates gathered in Denver.

So the Enquirer continues to hold off on publication of the Beverly Hilton photos. And the big press outlets continue to stay away from the story, although the local Edwards press, like the Charlotte Observer, are moving closer to the story. In any event, more and more people know about it through the Internet — and now, late-night comics have been making their share of jokes about it. It’s all part of a phenomenon described by a headline in a Los Angeles gossip website, Deceiver: “John Edwards Anti-Scandal Continues to Not Continue.”

And so it will.

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