By the time the MSM deigned to take notice that former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) may have fathered a “love child” with campaign staffer Rielle Hunter – a story broken by the National Enquirer – it had become a staple of Jay Leno’s monologues, the blogosphere was abuzz and Fox News had corroborated the Enquirer’s reporting. These alternative sources of news and information building on the Enquirer’s legwork induced Edwards to admit to the affair in an interview with ABC’s “Nightline.”

To make matters worse, the MSM even got scooped about getting scooped about the Edwards story.

Well before New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt’s acknowledgement that readers “wondered why The Times and most of the mainstream media seemed to be studiously ignoring a story of sex and betrayal” involving “a major presidential candidate with … a wife of 30 years with incurable breast cancer” Slate media critic Jack Shafer compared the field day the MSM (and his own employer) had with Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) getting busted at an MN airport bathroom stall for “playing footsies” to the self-censorship the media exercised about Edwards peccadillo (or should that be “peckerdillo”?):  

Craig’s true offense, said the press and the clowns, was hypocrisy, which they consider an inexcusable crime. Craig … had earned a perfect 0 rating (PDF) from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay lobby. And he had denied and denied any and all gayness while trying to recruit some action in a bathroom! …

Edwards, too, may be a sex hypocrite. The tabloid called Edwards a cheater last October and the father of a love child in December, and last night the Enquirer posted a story about Edwards’ visit to his alleged mistress and child at the Beverly Hilton on Monday night. …

As he rejected the Enquirer‘s charges, Edwards was making his wife and their marriage a central component of his campaign. If Edwards had had no affair, he wasn’t a hypocrite, not then and not now.

But if Edwards had an affair and lied about it, shouldn’t he suffer scrutiny akin to that of Craig? …

So why hasn’t the press commented on the story yet? … [A]re they observing a double standard that says homo-hypocrisy is indefensible but that hetero-hypocrisy deserves an automatic bye?

Perhaps. But here’s what The Times’ executive editor Bill Keller tells Hoyt about why the paper did not even try to check out the Enquirer story “beyond a few perfunctory efforts”:

“I’m not going to recycle a supermarket tabloid’s anonymously sourced story,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor. By the time the Enquirer reported on its hotel stakeout, Edwards was no longer a presidential candidate and, according to Times reporting, not even under serious consideration as a running mate to Barack Obama.

Now, compare that to Keller’s reasoning for running an anonymously sourced article about Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and an alleged affair with a lobbyist that was beneath The Enquirer’s journalistic standards (devastatingly lampooned by Dinesh D’Souza):

“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members. But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

Let’s be real: The point of the story was to damage McCain and create disarray in the GOP’s nominating process so as to counteract the damage Hillary Clinton was inflicting on Barack Obama, and the disarray she was causing in the Dem’s coronation process by not quitting the race – The Times tipped its hand in this editorial a couple of months later.

And while Edwards is currently not under consideration as Obama’s running mate, he was expected to be a given a prominent speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention, and was angling to be named Attorney General in an Obama Administration (second item). John Edwards isn’t exactly a John Doe.

Keller’s own staff isn’t buying his weak, inconsistent explanation about the newsworthiness of L’ Affaire Edwards, either. Gail Collins writes:

When it comes to politicians and sex, our expectations are not all that great. Human nature being what it is, there will continue to be adultery no matter how many instructive scandals they’re exposed to. But you really would think that by now they’d know how to make a decent public confession.

Yet there was John Edwards, ignoring the many, many previous examples of why it is so important to admit the truth quickly and keep it simple. Unable to deny any longer that he had had an affair with a campaign worker, he insisted on parsing. It was all a mistake. If she was paid off, it wasn’t my money. And, in what may be a new high in the annals of weaseldom: my wife’s cancer was in remission.

And noting that “nobody’s ever had sex with that woman until, suddenly, they have,” the next day, Maureen Dowd opines that Edwards’ navel-gazing confession (“auto-psychoanalysis by the perp”) was “creepy”:

Even in confessing to preening, Edwards was preening. His diagnosis of narcissism was weirdly narcissistic, or was it self-narcissistic? …

The creepiest part of his creepy confession was when he stressed to Woodruff that he cheated on Elizabeth in 2006 when her cancer was in remission. His infidelity was oncologically correct. …

[T]he Breck Girl wants a gold star for the fact that he sent his marriage into remission when his wife was in remission. That’s special. 

For his part, The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson is willing to cut Edwards some slack for being “man enough” to do his mea culpa interview with “Nightline” alone, without “the betrayed and humiliated spouse there, too, grimly demonstrating support if not forgiveness.”

However, both Robinson and Collins wonder that Edwards wasn’t wondering where the money was coming from for Hunter to support herself and the five-month old girl that might be his (as of this writing, she refuses to allow a paternity test):

Robinson: “Was she threatening to tell all? Given that Hunter was a struggling single mother with a sensational story to sell, wouldn’t Edwards have been the least bit curious about her financial circumstances?”

Collins: For a man bent on clearing things up, Edwards seemed strangely incurious during his interview on “Nightline” on ABC. He had no idea why his national finance chairman has been funneling payments to his ex-mistress, and he was apparently never tempted to pick up the phone to ask.  

And they’re not the only ones curious about this curious aspect of the illicit liaison. Which means, this story has legs:

† Did the money to relocate and support Hunter during her pregnancy come from campaign coffers?

† What did Edwards know about payments to Hunter, and when did he find out about them?

† Once Edwards advisor Andrew Young – himself a married man with children – stepped forward to claim paternity, why didn’t he sign a “Declaration of Paternity” to correct the baby’s birth certificate and add his name in the blank space where the father’s name is recorded?

Look for the MSM to play catch-up now. And not only because it’s a hot story. On July 26th Slate political analyst Mickey Kaus asked “Does Obama Want Edwards Gone?,” suggesting –  coyly – that some Obama oppo researcher may have goosed the MSM into action. 

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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