The sad end of John Edwards’ political career takes out one of the most dynamic, articulate Democratic leaders and sends him prematurely to the ash heap of history, along with Gary Hart and various others, known and unknown, who could have, but didn’t. Edwards’ eloquent commitment to the poor and disenfranchised fell just short of what was necessary in his scrutinized life. It is a tragedy for more than just the already-injured Elizabeth – the whole country will be worse off by not having his enormous talent around in the Obama administration and after.
For this, we have to thank the National Enquirer, the supermarket rag usually too busy with the comings-and-goings (and babies and weight problems) of Hollywood stars to be too concerned with those who really have something to do with the ways of the world. This is the New Media, we are told (although there is nothing new about it); loosed from the namby-pamby rules of the Old Media, printing rumors in the hopes that it becomes true. Sure enough, in the case of the sloppy Edwards (really, do you think you could have found somewhere a little more discrete than the Beverly Hills Hilton?), the blind squirrel got a nut, putting the Enquirer’s known batting average at something like .059.
But there are Lessons To Be Learned here, and not just by Edwards. The MSM, it is said, smugly ignored the Enquirer’s ambush reporting, supposedly protecting the Democrat by hiding behind ridiculously obsolete concepts like verification and credible sources. Except that the MSM didn’t ignore the story – their slower-but-surer methods eventually closed in and actually resulted in Edwards’ confession. Never mind: this is the "end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism," writes Tim Rutten in the L.A. Times, also crediting the "bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion." Oh, and don’t forget the GOP's nationwide network of radio wing-nuts and Fox Noise, who squawked about the story for weeks. Ooops, looks like he did.
Well, alrighty then. Cheap tabloids toss out some rumors, conduct some ambush "journalism" in a hotel somewhere and publish their results. If it makes a Democrat look bad, the RNC will put it out in their talking points for their too-willing messengers to drive the story for weeks, forcing the issue onto the guilt-ridden MSM for belated discussion and denouement. Sure – that might work, if I'd rather have my rumors and innuendo untested by facts and quality. Then you could just give it to me raw and I’ll believe what I want to believe. Like music, the news would become fractured into niche markets, giving people what they want. Forget what we need to know, you elitist MSM smarty-pants. Just tell me pretty lies.
Well, now that the torch has been passed, let’s play a little catch-up and see what we might find in the newly-Pulitzer-worthy Enquirer. Hello? What’s this? It seems the Enquirer reported back in 2005 that the right-wing’s own darling, Junior Bush, lept off the wagon with both feet and helped himself to a couple of snoots to sooth his self-imposed pain during his mishandling of the Katrina disaster. "‘When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot,’ said one insider. ‘He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back. The First Lady was shocked and shouted: ‘Stop George!’" I love that quote: "Stop, George!" Many of us have been screaming that at him for eight years.
Anyway, I don’t remember the MSM getting all fired up and doing anything at all about that one. If they were protecting a Democrat by ignoring the Edwards story, don’t you think they’d go after the important story of an admittedly alcoholic president going off on a bender or two? But, no. They ignored it because it was the Enquirer. Regardless of the obvious entertainment value of the Bush story (did Laura throw a lamp at him? did he start talking to the pictures on the wall, like Nixon, the last Drunk President?), it seems like a good guideline to me.
I don't want my news cheap, sloppy and half-baked. And I certainly don't think the national discussion should be poisoned by tabloid stories, blown up through the right-wing echo chamber, and served up as anything other than the self-serving, selective efforts at personal destruction that they are. The right-wing messengers couldn't care less whether the Edwards story or any of the other garbage they throw out there is true -- just whether it will effectively destroy an effective politician who will make it harder for them to pull the wool over people's eyes.
This is Edwards' real failure -- that he gave them something like this to blunt his career and his message. In this, he becomes his own worst enemy and, unfortunately, at least for now, one of ours.