Media leery of reprinting tabloid expose

In the wake of a National Enquirer alleging evidence of former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) of marital infidelity, which he has previously denied, conservative commentators, bloggers, and columnists have expressed outrage that the mainstream press has not yet picked up the story en masse.

In the wake of a National Enquirer alleging evidence of former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) of marital infidelity, which he has previously denied, conservative commentators, bloggers, and columnists have expressed outrage that the mainstream press has not yet picked up the story en masse.

However, the mainstream media's response to the tabloid report is considerably more complicated. A few newspapers have disclosed that they are investigating the incident on their own, while bloggers at traditional publications have mentioned the incident in their own columns, thereby - intentionally or not - giving the allegations credibility.

Los Angeles Times blog editor Tony Pierce told staffers on July 24, in an e-mail reprinted on the LAObserved blog and Slate, to hold off discussing the Enquirer's claims because the tabloid was the only source on the matter. Unfortunately for Pierce, LA Times opinion blogger Amina Khan already mentioned the allegations on July 23. The next day, Times executive editor Meredith Artley told staffers that newspaper reporters were investigating the incident, which reportedly occurred at a Los Angeles hotel.

Meanwhile, Dallas Morning News opinion blogger Rod Dreher mentioned Pierce's memo - and the controversy that followed - in a July 25 post on his newspaper's Web site. Three days later, Dreher's colleague, religion blogger Jeffrey Weiss chided the press for mentioning the scandal without independent verification.

"If the Enquirer or Fox have those kinds of goods on Edwards, they have not seen fit to share them with the public. Until they do so, I'm going to hold my finger in the dike and refuse to post the links," he wrote on his blog. "Yeah that sounds sanctimonious. And other MSM blogs - including, I'm sad to note, one found elsewhere on dallasnews.com - are uncritically posting about and linking to this story. So be it."

Other mainstream publications put the word out that they are not ignoring the Enquirer report. Dan Barkin, senior editor at the Raleigh News & Observer said in press reports that his newspaper is investigating the allegations, emphasizing that the story has a local angle. "[Edwards] remains a very newsworthy guy because of who he's been in this state and where we are," he told Portfolio. Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman told readers during an online chat that his newspaper is also investigating the allegations, waiting to see photographs the Enquirer has promised to produce. He tempered expectations by adding, "Don't expect to see wall-to-wall coverage."

While some journalists are likely influenced by the allegations' "ick factor" - a politician allegedly carrying on an extramarital affair while his wife battles cancer - others are using blogs as a way to create public discussion outside of traditional coverage in the news pages, says Judy Muller, associate journalism professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communications and a former broadcast correspondent.

"It's a story where you have no witnesses [other than] the National Enquirer's reporter coming forward. You have no verification... No responsible newspaper or broadcast outlet would air such a story," she says. "The difference today is that we have blogs, so even mainstream outlets can feed things into their blogs and have interaction with readers and say, 'We didn't print it or air it, but on our blogs this is a matter of conversation.' That is a... sneakier way of trying to get at this."

Edwards did not deny the allegations outright, but told media gathered at a July 25 antipoverty event in Los Angeles that he does not comment on tabloid reports.

"I don't talk about these tabloids," he said, according to media reports. "Tabloid trash is full of lies. I'm here to talk about helping people."

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