In his Sunday column, "Sometimes, There's News in the Gutter,"Public Editor Clark Hoyt takes his paper, and the media at large, to task for not treating the John Edwards affair story more seriously before Edwardsadmitted to it on ABC's Nightline August 8. Top Times editors gave Hoyt two excuses for not covering allegations of the Edwards' affair: 1)they wereanonymously sourced and 2) Edwards was not in contention as Obama's running mate and thus out of the news. Yet both excuses are refuted by the Times' own reporting.
Saturday's front page featured a Katharine Seelye story on former Democratic Sen. Edwards' public confession of a 2006 affair with campaign filmmaker Rielle Hunter. That admission was prodded by a July 22 National Enquirer story about Edwards' late-night, Keystone Cops-attempt to escape photographers at a Beverly Hills hotel where he was meeting Hunter in secret.
Hoyt denies liberal bias played a role in the paper's omission, even though the Times ran anonymous allegations about a John McCain affair on the front page in February:
I do not think liberal bias had anything to do with it. But I think The Times - like The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, major networks and wire services - was far too squeamish about tackling the story. The Times did not want to regurgitate the Enquirer's reporting without verifying it, which is responsible. But The Times did not try to verify it, beyond a few perfunctory efforts, which I think was wrong. Until the ABC report, only one mainstream news organization, McClatchy newspapers, seemed to be making headway with the story.
Hoyt forwarded excuses from the Times for not running with (or even checking out) the Edwards' affair story:
Times editors said that when the first Enquirer story appeared [in October 2007] and they could not verify it after fairly cursory inquiries, they left it alone. "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.
"Edwards isn't a player at the moment," said Richard Stevenson, who directs the newspaper's campaign coverage. "There are a lot of big issues facing the country. The two candidates are compelling figures, and we have finite resources." He said he agreed that Edwards was "fair game for journalism of this sort, but this hasn't seemed to me to be a high priority for us at this moment." I spoke with Stevenson and Keller last week before Edwards's ABC interview.
But those two excuses don't match the Times' record of reporting. On February 21, the Times blared rumors of a John McCain affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman on its front page - rumors by two anonymous former staffers. Bill Keller may be too proud to run with a tabloid's anonymous story, but he's more than happy for his paper to do it itself.
As for Edwards not being in the game as a potential running mate for Obama, tell that to Times reports Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny, who featured Edwards as one of 11 possible Democratic choices on its "Potential Running Mates" online page posted July 7, just two weeks before the Enquirer's bombshell on Edwards. The section on Edwards wasremoved sometime before August 7 (the affair story broke August 8).