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'Enquirer' Drives Coverage Of Edwards Affair

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

The political career of John Edwards unraveled yesterday. He finally confirmed the rumors that had dogged him for months. He did have an affair with Rielle Hunter, a woman who had done some work for Edwards' presidential campaign.

(Soundbite of TV program "Nightline")

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Democrat, North Carolina; Former U.S. Senator): I was wrong, and I am responsible.

SEABROOK: John Edwards on ABC's "Nightline" last night. The story didn't come out in the mainstream press, though. It came out of the supermarket checkout aisle, The National Enquirer.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from our bureau in New York City, and David, this story developed in the most twisty, turny way.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: That's right. I mean, there were rumors surfacing, apparently, at the end of last summer, and you saw the New York Post have what's called a blind item, where it doesn't mention who the candidate is but says he likes visiting New York to see his girlfriend.

Then you saw the Huffington Post, a blog, do a reported piece talking a little bit about Ms. Hunter's video clips, which had been done for John Edwards' campaign, disappearing from the campaign site.

In October, questions were raised by the Enquirer, saying that John Edwards had had a long-running affair and then a couple weeks later claiming that Ms. Hunter was pregnant with his child.

SEABROOK: So it sort of bounced from the New York Post, which is sort of tabloidy itself, to blogs, to the Enquirer before it ever - this is way before it ever gets to the mainstream media, but then what happened?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he denies it, and part of what the story is is what didn't happen. You didn't see it show up in the august pages of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or on our air. It was talked about a lot on the blogosphere. You saw Mickey Kaus of slate.com flog the horse endlessly, but it kind of laid dormant, as in this realm of political rumor, as, you know, obviously former Senator Edwards' own candidacy fizzled in the face of Senator Obama's emergence, and…

SEABROOK: But then the Enquirer tracks him down inside a Beverly Hills hotel and reports that he was there visiting his girlfriend and that the baby is definitely his.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. There was a confrontation of staffers of the Enquirer with former Senator Edwards. Obviously, they'd been tipped off. He had met with Ms. Hunter and, you know, he called their story tabloid trash but not particularly compellingly.

They then came out with a photograph, saying that this was a picture of him visiting Ms. Hunter in that Beverly Hills hotel and holding what was, you know, presumably her baby.

Senator Edwards addressed that last night on ABC News. I think we have a clip on that.

(Soundbite of TV program "Nightline")

Mr. EDWARDS: I'm saying - you asked me about this photograph. I don't know anything about that photograph, don't know who (unintelligible) or who that baby is. I don't know if the picture has been altered, manufactured. I was not in this meeting holding a child for my photograph to be taken.

SEABROOK: David, you know, why didn't mainstream outlets, including NPR, pick up the story earlier? I mean after all, there are real facts to back up this story. Why weren't investigative reporters digging into this?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, you're absolutely right. There are legitimate questions here, questions about his political future, questions about whether, you know, Ms. Hunter was paid off.

It's a distasteful thing to explore the inside of someone's marriage, and in fact, it was very difficult to confirm until there was this confrontation by the Enquirer's reporters at the hotel in Los Angeles.

That said, a number of news organizations, such as the Los Angeles Times, said they did try to report it out, and it was too difficult to do. They weren't able to confirm it. This was flushed in the open really by the Enquirer, and then, when political figures started talking on the record about that, that's when the endgame started to show up.

SEABROOK: Okay, David, my last question. How often does the National Enquirer break news?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, more often than you might think. I mean, if you think back to the O.J. case, it broke stories on that. If you remember that famous picture of Senator Gary Hart with Donna Rice in his lap at the boat in Bimini, you know, that certainly sank his second presidential bid. Why, you know, that came courtesy of the National Enquirer, as well.

So this is the new chapter of the National Enquirer at times bursting onto the political scene and forcing the mainstream press to take notice.

SEABROOK: NPR's media guy, David Folkenflik. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.

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