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Edwards affair: Was media part of a 'conspiracy of silence'?

  • Story Highlights
  • John Edwards admitted Friday that he had an affair in 2006
  • Tabloids, blogs had been covering the affair for months
  • Mainstream media didn't cover story because rumors weren't independently verified
  • Edwards says he is not father of ex-mistress's child
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(CNN) -- Rumors about John Edwards' love affair had been circulating for months, but it wasn't until the former Democratic presidential candidate admitted to the affair that national news organizations jumped on the story.

Rielle Hunter has said she will not participate in a paternity test.

John Edwards admitted Friday that he had an affair with Rielle Hunter in 2006.

After the National Enquirer reported catching Edwards making a late-night visit to see his ex-mistress last month, the blogosphere exploded, asking why the mainstream media was not reporting the story.

Was it because of a condescending attitude toward a tabloid's reporting? Bias toward a Democratic candidate? Or sympathy toward Elizabeth Edwards, who is battling an incurable form of cancer?

David Carr, a columnist for The New York Times, said many news organizations "tend to pick up stories from the National Enquirer with tongs."

"They have been very right about some things ... but there's been some misses too, so it's a little scary to follow on those stories," he said Sunday on CNN's Reliable Sources.

"It's also a little scary for big outfits to step up on a story like this. Sex may sell, but it can really hurt your relationship with readers," he added.

Enquirer editor David Perel said his organization feels a "big sense of vindication" now that Edwards has admitted to the affair.

In an interview Friday with ABC, Edwards confessed to having an affair with Rielle Hunter, but he denied the Enquirer's claim that he fathered her child. He also said he told his family about the "liaison" in 2006. Video Watch more on Rielle Hunter »

The former vice presidential candidate was first confronted about the allegations after the Enquirer reported the affair in October.

"The story is false, it's completely untrue, it's ridiculous," he said.

Edwards on Friday said he used the fact that the Enquirer story "contained many falsities" to deny it. "But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough," he said in a statement.

Asked by CNN's Howard Kurtz if sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards played any part in an apparent reluctance to report the story, ABC correspondent Kate Snow said no.

"We at ABC were working on this story, and if we had had any proof and any verifiable facts, we certainly would have gone with the story," she said. "It was just a matter of, we're not going to put something on the air until we know that it's true."

On this particular story, most major news networks took the stance that the rumors of an affair were not newsworthy. iReport.com: Your thoughts on the Edwards scandal

Brian Ross, ABC's chief investigative correspondent, said his investigative team was pushing hard following the money trail, looking at such things as who paid for Hunter's fancy California home and the use of campaign funds.

He said that even without Edwards' admission, ABC probably would have been able to run a story about the issue this week. Video Watch what's next for Edwards »

"We were able to prove, I think with satisfaction to our bosses, that there was money being paid to Rielle Hunter," Ross said.

"This began to be, for us, an aspect of something we could report -- some hard facts."

Edwards has denied giving any money to Hunter. Fred Baron, the finance chairman for the Edwards presidential campaign, said he paid to help Hunter move out of the former North Carolina senator's home state and did not tell Edwards about the assistance.

As Ross worked on the money angle, his colleague Bob Woodruff landed an interview with Edwards.

With Edwards' on-camera admission, the story changed from a rumored affair to a former presidential candidate caught in a lie. Video Watch more on Edwards' admission »

"Until he called -- and it's on the record that he called us on Friday and said, 'I want to talk.' You know, that's what broke the story. He was willing to admit that he had been lying," Snow said.

Kurtz said news organizations were clinging to a very important standard: Don't run allegations that you can't prove.

"But it became a ludicrous situation ... almost became a conspiracy of silence by the media. And Edwards, meanwhile, would not give interviews, was not acting like a man who didn't have something to hide.

"I think at that point we should have -- earlier than we did -- told readers and viewers what we knew and we didn't know," he said.

In the ABC interview, Edwards also acknowledged meeting with Hunter at a hotel in Beverly Hills, California, at the request of a friend of hers last month.

He said a blurry photograph published by the Enquirer that purportedly showed him holding Hunter's child inside the hotel room could not be authentic, since the baby was not present at their meeting.

He also said he is "truly hopeful" that a paternity test will be done to squelch the rumors that he fathered the child.

A former Edwards campaign aide, Andrew Young, has publicly said the child is his.

Speaking through her lawyer Saturday, Hunter said she would not participate in any sort of DNA testing.

Edwards said Friday he "will have nothing more to say" about the allegations. But with questions still looming about the identity of the child's father and the Enquirer standing by its reporting, the blogosphere will probably keep this story alive.

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"I was taught when I was a young reporter that it's news when we say it is. I think that's still true -- it's news when 'we' say it is. It's just who 'we' is has changed," Carr said.

"Members of the public, people with modems, people with cell phones are now producers, editors. They can push and push and push on a story until it ends up being acknowledged by everyone."

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