Archive for February, 2010

The wrong bag gets punched

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Occasionally, I read something in the newspaper that leaves me wondering why it was even published. Sunday was one of those days, when I read a story in the News & Observer headlined, “For tabloids, Edwards saga was tailor-made.”

The article was a first-person account by political columnist Rob Christensen of the difficulty he and his colleagues faced in confirming the particulars of the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter scandal. It’s not a mea culpa, exactly, nor does it truly pull back the curtain on the reporting process. What’s more, I don’t get the timing: Why does the N&O offer, in February 2010, a quasi-explanation of how it got beat by the National Enquirer in 2008?

The unintended result of the piece is to offer up Christensen as a punching bag to a certain segment of readers. Lots of them availed themselves of the opportunity. The article has sparked a healthy number of comments, almost all of which pile scorn on the paper in general and Christensen in particular. OK, the Edwards saga wasn’t the N&O’s finest moment, but Christensen deserves better than this. I’ve known Rob for a long time, and call him a friend. He’s a fine reporter, scrupulously fair and nonpartisan, well-mannered in a profession where social grace is rare, generous in his judgments of others, and a guy more interested in understanding issues than adding a scalp to his belt. (Again, a rare quality in the news business.)

In short, the notion that Christensen was in the tank for Edwards is absurdly, totally wrong. But as I read his piece Sunday, I realized there is something conspicuously missing from the article. What do you notice, for instance, about this passage:

As early as 2003, I asked Edwards about a rumored affair from his days as a big-time trial lawyer. Edwards denied it. His campaign spokeswoman called my boss to complain that in all of the years of working in the Clinton White House she had never heard such off-base questions. One of his chief political advisers threw me out of his office the next day.

Or this one:

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer pursued the story from the beginning, sending reporters to New Jersey and California to follow leads. But the story was a dead end because no one was talking, and Edwards and his staff were denying everything.

I’ll tell you what I notice: None of Edwards’ staffers and advisers — who either knew their boss was philandering or strongly suspected it — is named. That’s a mistake. Whoever those people are, they aided or tolerated a coverup. Why do they now get the courtesy of anonymity?