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ABC Fawns Over Elizabeth Edwards as an 'Adored,' 'Passionate' 'Heroine,' Downplays Negative Portrayal

On Friday's Good Morning America, Claire Shipman gushed over Elizabeth Edwards as a "smart, passionate, sometimes fierce woman with many different sides to her personality." She lauded the wife of John Edwards as a complex "heroine" who is "increasingly hard to define." At the same time, Shipman downplayed the negative portrayal of Mrs. Edwards in a new campaign book.

Recounting the story of the spouse to a cheating politician, Shipman began, "It's a long journey from the adored, everywoman next door who captivated Washington on her arrival." The journalist did mention the highly negative characterization of Elizabeth Edwards in the book Game Change, a recounting of the 2008 campaign.

However, she assured viewers that staffers say "this was a one-dimensional portrait." GMA co-host George Stephanopoulos, who himself is a former Democratic campaign operative, quickly agreed: "And we're all a lot more complicated than that."

Shipman recounted details from the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin: "Elizabeth Edwards would often call her husband a 'hick' and his parents, 'rednecks,' the authors write. And she let John know that she viewed him as her intellectual inferior. The fighting was constant." However, the GMA reporter, again, came to Edwards' defense: "The behavior, completely natural for her at that moment."

ABC then featured this clip from Gail Sheehy:

GAIL SHEEHY (Author and political psychologist): It was a terrible internal conflict in somebody in Elizabeth Edwards' position. She hates her husband for what he's doing for her. And she desperately needs him because she's dying. Behind anger and denial that consuming is usually fear. And fear devouring fear. I mean, Elizabeth Edwards is concerned dying alone.

A transcript of the January 22 segment, which aired at 8:07am EST, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to turn now to Elizabeth Edwards. She's the wife and mother at the middle of a huge political storm this morning. What role has she really played in all of this? We've learned a lot more about her in recent days. She's a smart, passionate, sometimes fierce woman with many different sides to her personality. Claire Shipman joins us live now from Washington. Claire?

CLAIRE SHIPMAN: Good morning, George. I think what the public is learning about Elizabeth Edwards is the truth about all of us. We are complicated, not easy to categorize. Imagine for Elizabeth Edwards, learning that the cancer that she thought was gone, but was only dormant, is back. And at the same time, there had been an insidious assault on her marriage going on. This new side we're seeing of her is that of a strong, smart woman who is very angry. It's the sort of melodramatic, harrowing, almost tragic tale, that even a publisher of fiction would reject as simply implausible. And the heroine, increasingly hard to define. Elizabeth Edwards has gone from victim, to saint, to saint, to an angry, sometimes biting wife.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS [on Oprah] : Angry and hurt. A lot of self-doubt of who I was. What I meant to him. You know, all of those things that I think women in my position go through.

SHIPMAN: It's a long journey from the adored, every woman next door who captivated Washington on her arrival.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS [talking to a voter in a restaurant]: I've been a waitress. I love the waitress.

SHIPMAN: The close couple bound by an earlier tragedy. The loss of their teenage son, Wade, in a car crash.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS: I describe it as, sort of, this, BC/AD moment. Everything exists before that time and after that time.

SHIPMAN: But, buoyed by their daughter and two more children late in life, their resilient family charmed the nation on the Kerry ticket. And then, just after the 2004 loss, a devastating discovery, breast cancer. And when it came back years later, they still seemed rock-solid.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS: I'm immensely proud of John's campaign.

SHIPMAN: But behind the scenes, Elizabeth was dealing with the slow leakage of ugly truth.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS: What John has said is this woman spotted him in the hotel. And said to him, "You are so hot." I can't deliver it, because I don't know how to deliver such a line as that.

OPRAH WINFREY: I think she probably said it a little differently than that.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS: You think so?

SHIPMAN: In the new book Game Change, about the 2008 campaign, the authors paint a picture of a woman in utter frenzied and angry despair as she learned her husband may have fathered a child with another woman. Elizabeth Edwards would often call her husband a "hick" and his parents, "rednecks," the authors write. And she let John know that she viewed him as her intellectual inferior. The fighting was constant. Staffers say they often felt like battered spouses. Even as Elizabeth Edwards looked for proof her husband was telling the truth that he wasn't the father. The behavior, completely natural for her at that moment.

GAIL SHEEHY (Author and political psychologist): It was a terrible internal conflict in somebody in Elizabeth Edwards' position. She hates her husband for what he's doing for her. And she desperately needs him because she's dying. Behind anger and denial that consuming is usually fear. And fear devouring fear. I mean, Elizabeth Edwards is concerned dying alone.

SHIPMAN: The current chapter of the story seems like a search for closure. John Edwards finally stating the obvious: The baby is his.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS: John feels relieved that this is behind him. I'm pretty sure our whole family feels relieved.

SHEEHY: I think they are both fatally damaged emotionally about this. Who wouldn't be? And it's going to go on. This story and this torture will go on and on and on.

SHIPMAN: Indeed, Edwards has talked openly about her struggle to and desire to forgive.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS: This is a really good man. You know? Really- did a very bad thing. I have a husband who adores me, who is unbelievable with my children, who has provided for us in ways we never could have imagined. And who has, in times when I've been in enormous pain, with the death of Wade or with the cancer, has been by my side.

SHIPMAN: The final chapter, we'll be waiting. And, George, right now, the couple are reportedly living apart in North Carolina. But Elizabeth Edwards suggested yesterday that maybe the public would let them focus on their marriage in peace.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll see. Claire, I was struck by what Gail Sheehy said in your piece, they're both fatally damaged. But, Elizabeth Edwards has a defender in the Washington Post this morning, one of her former staffers, Jennifer Palmieri draws quite a different conclusion. She says that when she spoke with her this week, "I felt for the first time in three years, the old Elizabeth seemed to be back. She was grounded, funny, maybe even happy."

SHIPMAN: I think that's right. You know, I was struck by that piece, too. She said, George, "Elizabeth would be the first to tell you, she's opinionated, unyielding, blunt, unwilling to suffer fools, St. Elizabeth, she is not. But she is that kind of drop everything to be there for you girlfriend." One of the warmest people she knows. I think what the staffers say is, look, this was a one-dimensional portrait in that book, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're all a lot more complicated than that. Claire Shipman, thank you very much.

-Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center.