COMMENTS: Journalism Judgment 101

Were the network nightly newscasts correct to withhold reporting on The National Enquirer's scoop until John Edwards himself decided to invite the networks in? Tyndall Report says yes. Once Edwards had withdrawn from campaign contention, there was no public policy reason to publish details of his private life, even if he could be proven to be lying about them.

Once his hat was no longer in the ring, his newsworthiness consisted merely of his celebrity. Thus he was part of the beat for extra--which ran soundbites from Rielle Hunter--or The National Enquirer but not for the nightly newscasts, whose political stories should pass the threshold test of consequence for the body politic. It was entirely appropriate that network reporters like Brian Ross at ABC should do background digging on the veracity of the Enquirer's reporting and on possible payments, as Ross evidently did, so that if the story were to break such details could be included.

When Edwards himself decided to make an on-the-record statement confessing his previous lies, his expectation of privacy disappeared and the story crossed the threshold of public interest--but only barely. CBS' Jeff Greenfield found himself astonished that "a major Presidential candidate would have risked his entire campaign and perhaps his party's hopes for the White House by running with a threat of scandal hanging over his head." Greenfield's justification for covering the Edwards' confession--as a form of post mortem on the flaws in his candidacy--is the strongest framing for making it newsworthy. Yet even then, a fling that ended even before the candidacy started, if Edwards' timeline is candid, is not much of a "threat of scandal."


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