The Case For Covering The John Edwards/Rielle Hunter Scandal

Mickey Klaus disputes many of the arguments coverage of the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter scandal. His strongest argument is the first argument that he was not truly a private citizen:

Edwards was certainly a contender for VP, or a big cabinet post like Attorney General, or even the Supreme Court, before the scandal first erupted in the “undernews” in late 2007. Some reporters say he was still on Obama’s VP list until quite recently. If he’s now finished as far as those big jobs are concerned, it’s in large part because of this scandal, which Obama might never have learned about if everyone had followed the MSM’s lead. Even now, Edwards may not be out of the running for an array of lesser public posts–including cabinet-grade positions–that provide non-trivial power and a platform for future advancement. Important unions back him. Until last week, he’d been traveling the country keeping himself in the public eye in a way well-designed to let him play a big national role in either the Obama administration or the opposition to the McCain administration. It’s silly to say “he’s just a private citizen”–he’s much less of a “private citizen” than, say, William Bennett was in 2003 when Jonathan Alter and Joshua Green torpedoed Bennett’s career by revealing his gambling habits.

What makes the scandal awful and unpleasant–as opposed to the Bennett scandal, which was delicious–is that Edwards has a very ill wife. But, as Susan Estrich has noted, that’s also what makes Edwards’ alleged behavior awful and unpleasant–more objectionable than anything Bennett was accused of doing.

His second argument is based upon hypocrisy:

Ah, but Bennett was a hypocrite– a man whose chief claim to national attention was as a sophisticated moral scold who turned out to have a major gambling jones. Edwards is a hypocrite too, in much the same way. Why, after all, was Edwards ever considered presidential material. Is he a great executive? No. A brilliant policy expert? No. An accomplished diplomat? No. He’s an ex-Senator with one undistinguished term in office who rose in life on the basis of his singular ability to use tearjerking stories to move juries and win large verdicts . His presidential campaign has featured similarly moving anecdotes, such as the famous 10-year old girl “somewhere in America” who goes to bed “praying that tomorrow will not be as cold as today, because she doesn’t have the coat to keep her warm.”

He proceeds to also argue that there is hypocrisy as Edwards explicitly linked his behavior in Elizabeth’s health problems and his fitness for public office. To some degree the hypocrisy argument could be used against any politician as none run while admitting they would cheat on their wife (although in Bill Clinton’s case there was so much evidence of such conduct before he was elected that the Lewinsky scandal should really not have been a surprise). There is some validity to this but the hypocrisy argument is weaker against Edwards than Bill Bennett who portrayed himself as some sort of moral authority.

Edwards’ legal career could be used to claim hypocrisy, but only if one is so naive as to see that career as being based upon seeking justice as opposed to wealth for John Edwards. (Looking back at Edwards’ legal career also raises the question as to whether he might have wound up in Rielle’s hotel due to following an ambulance headed in that direction as opposed to having an affair. Has the Enquirer even checked the local ambulance company records for the night in question?)

The third point of relevance overlaps with the other arguments. The fourth is more significant when Klaus points out the irresponsibility in running for the nomination when this scandal could have broken at a later date, either harming Edwards’ chances for election if it came out during the campaign or once again tainting the presidency if it was exposed after being elected. The coverup is also an issue, but is less meaningful than coverups which include violation of the law as opposed to lying to reporters and paying Hunter to keep quiet. Klaus concludes with an argument that protecting Elizabeth is not a good reason to avoid publication of this story.

The story is being ignored in the liberal blogosphere as well as in the mainstream media. While I believe the media is ignoring story more for reasons I previously noted here as opposed to any desire to protect a Democrat, the motivations of many bloggers are more clearly partisan. Gawker reports that Lee Stranahan was banned from Daily Kos after cross posting his post on the scandal which originally appeared at Huffington Post along with adding additional posts on the scandal. To ignore the story is one thing, but to ban someone for posting about it is far less defensible.

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  1. 1
    Bandit says:

    Obviously Edwards is a public figure – not sure whether he is being hypocritical as I don’t recall him being much of a moralizer at least not in the sense of family values. Pretty hard to see how in today’s environment he would get a privacy pass though.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The question isn’t really whether he is a public figure, but whether he is a public figure who still matters considering that he holds no public office. As he was a top consideration (at least in the media) for VP or a top position in Obama’s cabinet if elected, I’d still consider this story to be worth reporting even if he is not currently in office.

  3. 3
    Karen v.H. says:

    The irresponsibility argument is what I find most distressing and the reason I most wish Edwards would address the allegations squarely. If it’s true that Edwards put himself forward as a candidate for the nomination, knowing that the McCain campaign was highly likely to get ahold of  a weapon that would destroy his candidacy in a day, that’s unbelievably irresponsible. I don’t know whether the story is true or not, but this is what I find most disturbing about the “even if it’s true, it’s his private business” argument that one sees a lot in the blogosphere. Competing for the nomination when you know you may be setting yourself up to hand the presidency to your opponent on a platter is most definitely *not* a politicians’ private business.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    It had been clear all along that this was a story which was likely to break before the election. The first reports came out in October. If it wasn’t true then Edwards was right to ignore it. However if he knew it was true, then Edwards should have also realized that if people knew about it in October the story would not go away.

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