The wrong bag gets punched

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?

7 Responses to “The wrong bag gets punched”

  1. Walter Abbott Says:

    Very good point, Dan. If I were you, I would call up Christensen and ask him that very question and then tell us what he said.

  2. Bob Says:

    Might be that Rob is non-partisan and a good reporter, but the bottom line here is that the entire N&O crew got beat badly on this story. A story in their own back yard and that adds to the belief that the N&O either did not look hard enough or just wanted the bad news to go away. Any of us working at the N&O at the time know the head people kept pushing Edwards stories to help circulation.

  3. Locomotive Breath Says:

    “The Enquirer was also willing to spend big money in pursuit of the story. It had a lengthy paparazzi-style stakeout in Chapel Hill to get a photograph of the pregnant Hunter. They waited days for her to leave her gated community to visit a doctor’s office.”

    Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner. I guess it was just too hard for the N&O to keep an eye on Edwards in Chapel Hill ’cause it’s so far away from Raleigh. They just didn’t want to know.

  4. InTheArena Says:

    G.D., I too have friends who voted for Obama. They’re nice people, and I also find myself deferring to their erroneous thinking. Going any further and overreaching into underlying motivation is always a dubious effort, best left to anonymous web bloggers (and isolated sociopaths, but its not that important).

    Bias is a relative vantage point. I believe for a good many in Carrboro, it is an honest and accurate belief that the N&O is a conservative rag, pandering to the Palinites among us.

    From the vantage of myself and many others in this right-of-center nation, McClatchy is a liberal California Corporation, promoting it’s social and political agenda via its various mouthpieces such as the N&O. Perhaps Mr. Christianson is nothing more than an unsuspecting rube, but I give him more credit than that. He knows who paid for the band, and he fiddles to the pleasure of his owners. The N&O had a vested interest in the success of John Edwards just as it did in the guilt of the Duke Lacrosse players. I don’t doubt the accuracy of Mr. Christianson’s character, but I would suggest that he minimizes his abilities because, as Bonnie Raitt says, he’s “been at the fair too long.”

    BTW, glad to see you read the comments section. Agree of disagree, that’s where a good deal of the dialogue, substantive and ridiculous, occurs in Wake County. A real journalistic Cirque de Sol.

  5. Locomotive Breath Says:

    Looks like the N&O is all set to get scooped. AGAIN.

    I guess the National Enquirer is “The New Reliable”.

  6. InTheArena Says:

    Loco, are you the same loco of John in Carolina fame, or is that a different John? And what happened to John by the way? Did he follow Deborah? I have so many questions, and no good way to get the answers that are so important to me.

  7. Locomotive Breath Says:

    Yep - same Loco.

    I met J in C face to face once or twice. Nice guy. I think “life happened” and he found out that blogging was not that high of a priority.