'Enquirer' Drives Coverage Of Edwards Affair

John Edwards' nationally televised confession of an affair had its roots in an odd place — supermarket tabloids.

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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.

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Edwards Admits Affair, Denies Fathering Baby

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards admitted Friday to an extramarital affair that he said ended in 2006. But he denied that he could be the father of a child born to the woman in question.

Reports of the affair and allegations that Edwards fathered a child with Rielle Hunter, 42, were first reported by the National Enquirer.

Edwards had campaigned vigorously for the Democratic nomination for president with the help of his wife, Elizabeth, who has waged a much-publicized battle with breast cancer. He said Elizabeth Edwards' cancer was in remission at the time of the affair with Hunter. He said he told his wife and family of the affair in 2006.

Late Friday, Elizabeth Edwards said that after what she called a "long and painful process," his family is supporting him.

In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Edwards called her husband's affair a "terrible mistake." But she says the healing process was "oddly made somewhat easier" after her diagnosis of breast cancer in March 2007.

She said she was proud of the courage her husband showed despite his shame. She said her family has been through a lot and pleaded for privacy.

Edwards had initially dismissed the reports as "tabloid trash," but on an interview to be aired on ABC's Nightline, the former U.S. senator from North Carolina acknowledged the affair with Hunter, who did video work for Edwards' presidential campaign. He denied fathering the baby girl, however. A former campaign aide for Edwards has said he is the father of the child.

In a statement released Friday, Edwards said, "In 2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs."

He added: "I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices. With my family, I took responsibility for my actions in 2006, and today I take full responsibility publicly."

NPR's David Folkenflik tells Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, that he finds Edwards' statement "fascinating."

"He's trying to in some ways to navigate this delicate point, which is that, of course, it seems that he betrayed a woman who herself was terribly, terribly sick," Folkenflik says.

Edwards was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, and NPR blogger Evie Stone says, "It's safe to say this revelation ruins any chance of Edwards being selected as Barack Obama's running mate" for the 2008 election. Edwards, who was John Kerry's running mate in the 2004 presidential race, recently endorsed Obama for president.

From NPR and The Associated Press

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