Wow. So the rumor about John Edwards having an affair, and possibly having a child with his mistress, has been kicking around on the Web for weeks. The original source on the story was The National Enquirer, a publication I tend to distrust by default, and the blogs that have picked it up since have usually failed to convince me. But now ABC News has announced that Edwards has admitted to the affair, and they’re airing the interview tonight (making your prime-time network choices this evening the Olympics, live from China, Politics, live from the gutter, or “The Ghost Whisperer”).
I’m a little stunned at myself that I didn’t believe this until I saw it on the New York Times page. I’m no fan of John Edwards’s, so it’s not a block on thinking it’s possible. It was more… I guess it was the fact that every report I read felt like gossip, and so I dismissed it. I see a tabloid cited and I automatically discredit the story, I have to admit. (I know there are people who argue strenously that tabloids should be trusted, because they pay their sources; I still go the other way on that one). The worrying part about this for me as a reader is that I think I tend to lend less credence to stories on blogs than I do stories in newsprint, and that the other content of a blog changes my opinion of its credibility. For instance, the NYT can run a story on Edwards and Iraq on the front page along with links to reviews of “Pineapple Express” and a gossipy piece about the L.A. Mayor making weird comments about Britney Spears, but if I see that same mix of content on a blog I think, well, what do they know about politics, and I move on.
I think that’s defensible, in some ways, because most blogs have much, much, much smaller staffs than the New York Times, and it seems reasonable to trust a story less when it comes from people who are less able to specialize. But it’s also a bad way to read, because most of the blogs promoting/covering the Edwards stories seem to be blogs who specialize in exactly what was needed here: investigation of people’s lives. So perhaps a tabloid or the blogs that love it are the best source in a story like this. I apologize, gossip blogs, for not believing you.
In a way, even now that at least half the story is true, it still is gossip, but it’s gossip that packs a bigger punch, namely this: no one gets to be vice president (or president) when he’s cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, particularly after trying so hard to be the Family Values candidate on the left. I’m guessing knowledge of the danger here is what’s kept Edwards’s name out of the VP short-list news in recent weeks — in fact, none of the news shows have even mentioned him of late, something bloggers point to as a sign that they knew this was a story but wouldn’t run it. I’ve seen blogs saying this is because networks no longer want to get their hands dirty, and maybe the dirtying part is true. I’m just not sure I disagree with the decision to wait on this story until Edwards decided to talk about it.
My feelings would, however, be completely different if John Edwards was still, say, relevant, i.e., if he was the nominee, or if he was still a senator, or even if he was still a threat. My feelings would be different if he was Hillary Clinton. But he’s just John Edwards, Esq., private citizen, and while it’s interesting to note his hypocrisy with the family-focused campaign, I’m not sure it’s much more newsworthy than whatever Lindsay Lohan’s up to today — though I realize the targets on that gossip are two entirely different demographic groups.