Monday, August 18, 2008


By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—What is important about the John Edwards story…about which we have not heard the end… is not the scandal nor the former presidential candidate lying about it. It’s how the mainstream media sought to protect Edwards by putting a gag on the story—which actually succeeded long after disclosures first came out in 2006…the gag lasting effectively until earlier this month. It goes to the heart of what many Americans are only now beginning to see: Mainstream” media are as biased for liberalism as conservatives say.

Two journalistic liberals now attest to the fact. Howard Kurtz, media critic for The Washington Post last week blasted his mainline journalistic colleagues for trying to snuff out the truth because Edwards is a fellow liberal. He wrote, “the widespread allegations…were an open secret that was debated in every newsroom and reported by almost none.” He was joined by Clark Hoyt, ombudsman for The New York Times whose job is to determine how impartial his newspaper is. He wrote, “The John Edwards `love child’ story finally made the national news media and made the front page of yesterday’s Times. For weeks, Jay Leno joked about it, the internet was abuzz and readers wondered why The Times and most of the mainstream media seemed to be studiously ignoring a story of sex and betrayal involving a former Democratic presidential candidate who remains prominent on the political stage.”

Hoyt harshly condemned his employer: “Before Edwards’ admission, The Times never made a serious effort to investigate the story, even as [The National Enquirer] wrote one sensational report after another.”

What were the ostensible excuses given for this mainstream attempted gag on the news? There were four. One: Edwards is now a private citizen and is not running for public office. Answer: This doesn’t wash. Edwards was on a short-list for the vice presidential nomination and on a very-very short list for attorney general of the United States in an Obama administration.

Two: a private sexual affair should remain private especially if one is not in government. Answer: But when one intends to be in government, the threat of blackmail is particularly important. Why? Undisclosed sexual peccadilloes leave public officials open to all kinds of “payments” that can direly affect public policy through commission or lack of commission of acts that can affect the nation. Alexander Hamilton bravely faced up to such blackmail when as treasury secretary he divulged the full nature of a sex scandal where he was being importuned to finagle with treasury policy to keep his actions hushed. He blew the lid off and ended his career accordingly.

Three: disclosure of marital infidelity would be a heartless act in view of Elizabeth Edwards’ wife who is suffering from cancer. Answer: Edwards and his wife campaigned as a team, he regularly attesting to the importance his marriage had in his life, Later, as it turned out, Elizabeth Edwards, a lawyer, had known of the infidelity when it was first committed, in 2006, and agreed to let the campaign be started knowing of its likely affect on Edwards with the possibility of future blackmail were he to be elected—a shocking denial of responsibility by two officers of the court who placed Edwards’ election foremost no matter what might be divulged later.

Four, and most often cited: The National Enquirer is a sleazy supermarket tabloid which freely admits it pays its informants for tips, a practice shunned by mainstream press. Furthermore it stumbled once, having to retract a story on Elizabeth Smart when it admitted two informants had provided false information. Answer: It’s lurid and not everybody’s cup of tea (certainly not mine). But the paper has been right on the money many other times, beginning with the Gary Hart-Donna Rice story, important elements of the O. J. Simpson story such as Simpson’s writing the sensational book If I Did It laying out how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend supposedly in theory; also the details of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky story; the deal Hillary’s brother cut to get a presidential pardon for a client from Bill Clinton in return for a $400,000 fee. Furthermore The Enquirer was the first to break the Rush Limbaugh story where the conservative talk show host acknowledged dependency on painkillers which triggered Florida authorities to probe his drug use—a story the liberal mainstream media jumped on with exultant glee.

The mainstream media then is left with no responsible answer except that they protected Edwards because they agreed with him on major issues and feared his involvement in scandal would jeopardize the campaign of their favorite, Barack Obama, to be elected president.

Mainstream’s Move to the Center.

All the same, the Edwards matter has shown a gradual move of some mainstream outlets to the center from the ultra-left. Several events are responsible for it: the great drops in newspaper circulation and TV viewing of broadcast networks and the competition of other outlets including cable TV and the internet. Not long ago all U.S. political thought was seemingly orchestrated by the mainstream including the major national newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and the major broadcast entities, NBC, CBS and ABC as well as the major newsmagazines Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

That was a formidable bloc of solidly liberal opining which were responsible for a culture of pretty boy candidates including the near deification of a very ordinary but attractive young president, John F. Kennedy into a national icon. Kennedy’s 1000 days in office produced the Bay of Pigs which led to Nikita Khrushchev’s view that JFK was a callow, immature leader whereupon he ordered the Berlin Wall to be raised. Kennedy told James Reston of The New York Times that Khrushchev’s slighting view of him would mean the U.S. would have to win the Vietnam war, meaning a significant troop buildup. Khrushchev’s bad impression of Kennedy led to the Cuban Missile crisis where Kennedy convinced our media he had stood up firmly to the Russian while privately he and his brother Bobby pacified the USSR by pulling U.S. missiles out of Turkey.

The only saving grace was his tax cut, forced on him by Douglas Dillon and Walter Heller which helped the rich, bringing the top income rate down from 91% to 65% and which spurred the economy. It’s a tribute to Old Media cosmetology that Kennedy’s luster still endures for bright tokens such as the Peace Cops and the partial test ban treaty (which the Soviets cheated on) despite more than 40 years of revisionist scholarly research that verifies his as a mediocre presidency.

However, since the JFK romance with the media, three earthquakes changed the mass communications. First was the introduction of cable TV, the second the repeal of the “Fairness Doctrine” that liberated talk radio which spawned Rush Limbaugh and his imitators who tapped a hitherto unperceived market of angry conservative males producing huge profits for AM radio which hitherto had been near financial death; and the third the birth of the Internet which gave ordinary Americans access to unregulated and uncensored opinion and information. All three radically transformed U. S. media from a largely controlled opinion enterprise to a liberation of right-wing (and left-wing) thought.

Aftershocks followed immediately. Neo-con Press baron Rupert Murdoch began to buy newspapers and television stations all over the country. The New York Post once an icon of the left turned overnight to the right. Murdoch’s purchase of Fox News gave conservatives control of a major television arm. His winning control of The Wall Street Journal changed a solidly economic conservative (albeit dull) newspaper with a lucid editorial support of supply-side economics into a more readable, politically conservative (albeit neo-con) newspaper (last week a splendid feature focused on the agony suffered by women who undergo abortion).

Not that the old-guard liberal media establishment didn’t put up a fight for the gag order on Edwards news. The editor of the Los Angeles Times, the major daily owned by the Chicago Tribune, issued an order to his reporters who write on the paper’s blog: “I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notice.” Bob Schieffer of CBS News, aging watchman at the drawbridge protecting against anti-liberal news, sniffed on Don Imus: “I believe this is a story we will be avoiding because it appears to me that there’s absolutely nothing to it…This seems to be just sort of a staple of modern campaigns, that you get through at least one love child which turns out not to be a love child. And I think we can all do better that this one.”

The arch-purveyor of proper liberal news interpretation on TV is Jim Lehrer (a surname he pronounces “Jim Lah-rah” in fashionable eastern intonation, despite his Wichita, Kansas and San Antonio upbringing) of the “Jim Lehrer NewsHour” on PBS. He pronounced himself appalled that the scandal detracted from the real import of the news concerning health care and energy.

But notwithstanding CBS and the LA Times, the seismographs are still rattling with the earthquake-like changes. The Washington Post has now begun to move center-ward. In the past, the Graham family coterie and its employees had not only been liberals but Philip Graham played a powerful broker’s role in Democratic party counsels; Kay Graham, his widow, became a popular liberal duenna in Washington, D. C. society and her faithful employee, Ben Bradlee became a JFK insider, bursting into print with Kennedy scoops (such as the naming of Robert Kennedy as attorney general) in recompense for which Bradlee kept mum about JFK’s sexual escapades. They were all—the Grahams and the Bradlees with Ben’s many wives including the last, Sally Quinn—were kingmakers of Georgetown society. Now the Grahams are dead, Bradlee at age 87 is long retired and Kay Graham’s granddaughter is the paper’s publisher. The new Kay in town, Kay Weymouth, is a far different breed of cat than Kay Graham. Harvard and Oxford-trained, she is a lawyer and accountant by training and deeply worried about the Post’s falling revenue.

Kay Weymouth has to face competition from The Washington Times which has only a fourth of the Post’s circulation but has a bottomless coffer of money from its owner Sun Myung Moon who has spent $2 billion on the paper so far and has announced he will spend as many future billions as is needed to keep the paper competitive. So Kay Weymouth made the decision to turn the direction of The Post rightward, if it only means going from ultra-fashionable left to the center. When Murdoch fired his centrist Wall Street Journal editor, Marcus Brauchli because he was not knee-jerk rightwing enough, Weymouth snapped him up and put him in as editor of The Post.

Quickly the newspaper moved under Brauchli from being a predictable critic of George W. Bush to supporting the Iraq War, opposing a timetable for troop withdrawal, endorsing Bush’s CAFTA [the Central America Free Trade pact] and boosting the partial privatization of Social Security. Then one of its key political reporters, Dana Milbank began making fun of Barack Obama’s messianic fetish—an astounding development at the paper. Now Howie Kurtz, Post media critic is finding fault with his colleagues for not moving more aggressively on the John Edwards story (the Post was asking questions of Edwards quite early in the game).

It’s too early to tell whether the other Post properties—Newsweek and the Post/ Newsweek TV stations—may follow the center-ward trek directed by Kay Weymouth but last week reporter Jonathan Darman led off with what may be a change in direction. Newsweek has been a reliable mum’s-the-word protector of liberal secrets in the past but Darman wrote an exclusive with our only personal character sketch of Rielle Hunter who was involved with John Edwards. It so happened Darman was on a small plane with the two of them when Hunter was ostensibly running a film crew that was taping Edwards.

Darman: “The first time I laid eyes of Rielle Hunter I could tell she was a story. She had frizzy blond hair with dark roots, wore bright nail polish and moved like someone who knew how to work a room…Her speech was peppered with New Age jargon---human beings were being dragged down by `blockages’ from their actual potential. History was the story of souls entering and escaping our field of consciousness…Her latest project was John Edwards. Edwards, she said [to Darman], was an old soul who had barely tapped into any of his potential…[H]e had the power to be a `transformational leader’ on par with Gandhi and Martin Luther King. `He has the power to change the world!’ she said.”

Well, Rielle Hunter nee Lisa Druck certainly changed Edwards’ world and probably did all of us a good turn by doing it.

The On-Going Campaign.

Latest compilation of electoral votes from Votes from Abroad, a nonpartisan group, has Obama at 289 and McCain at 249. Needed to elect: 270. The tally shows an ever-so-slight tipping, almost imperceptible, to McCain. Realclearpolitics lists the close fight in key tossup states. Colorado, Obama 47.3, McCain 45.7. Virginia, Obama and McCain tied at 46.7. Missouri, Obama 45.6, McCain 47.3. Ohio, Obama 46.6, McCain 45.5; Florida, Obama 45.8, McCain 47.0.

One interesting poll not pertaining to the horserace but to attitudes was taken by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and released last week. Obama may be the fresh face the world’s been crying for but 48% said they’re hearing too much about him while just 26% said the same about McCain. Two-thirds of Republicans and half of independents say they’re heard too much about Obama along with a third of the Democrats, a very significant number. At the same time, nearly four in 10 said they’ve been hearing too little about McCain—about four times the number who said the same thing about Obama. About half the Republicans, four in 10 independents and even a quarter of Democrats said they’ve not heard enough about the GOP candidate.


  1. One slight correction to an interesting observation about the Washington Post. Their editorial page has always backed the Iraq War, not just recently.

  2. I don't remember anything critical of the reportage at the Chicago Tribune before it shed its ombudsman.