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Commentary: Media didn't conspire to protect Edwards

  • Story Highlights
  • Navarrette: Mainstream media didn't jump on allegations of John Edwards' infidelity
  • Cynics say the media held off because Edwards is a liberal, columnist says
  • Navarrette: Media has written about infidelity by politicians of all stripes
  • There are more compelling stories to cover than this one, Navarrette says
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- For several weeks now, a friend -- who happens to be a fellow journalist with a good nose for news -- has been hounding me to be among the first columnists in the country to write about L'Affaire Edwards.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says journalists have devoted plenty of coverage to the extramarital exploits of Democrats.

I admit, my first thought was, "Some friend. ..."

For months, there have been allegations that John Edwards had an extramarital affair. That would be the same former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential hopeful whose wife, Elizabeth, has been fighting a brave and public battle against incurable breast cancer -- a fact that gives the rumored infidelity its "ick" factor.

The story of the alleged affair had been pushed along by a supermarket tabloid. But, until recently, it seemed the mainstream media had been treating it like radioactive material. Only after Edwards, late last week, acknowledged the affair with 42-year-old Rielle Hunter did most major news outlets finally feel comfortable wading into the muck. Now, the best and most respected news organizations in the country are playing catch up with the National Enquirer.

How humiliating.

The cynics out there say that the media was protecting Edwards because, well, they're both "liberal." Some even insist that the Fourth Estate hasn't shown similar restraint when reporting on the extracurricular love lives of prominent Republicans -- the late Rep. Henry Hyde, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker Bob Livingston, et al.

Talk about selective memory. They must have missed the coverage of exploits by Democrats -- former U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, etc.

The conspiracy theorists insist that all the newspapers, magazines, and radio and television networks were in cahoots and protecting the Democratic Party out of a concern that the scandal might bring back Clintonian memories and send squeamish voters into the waiting arms of the GOP.

Yet it didn't take long for supporters of Barack Obama to point out that the infidelity blade cuts both ways. After all, for what it's worth, John McCain's first marriage ended nearly 30 years ago in part because of his alleged marital indiscretions and what the senator from Arizona described in his autobiography as his own "selfishness and immaturity."

While some are convinced that something sinister is at work in the media's failure to cover the Edwards affair, I doubt that what happened here is all that complicated.

It wasn't in my case. I feel bad for Elizabeth Edwards, who has shown more courage and class than her husband seems capable of at the moment. But I don't care one way or another what happens to John Edwards' political career. Nor do I care whether the scandal damages Democratic prospects for retaking the White House.

I wasn't eager to take on the story because, frankly, I didn't find it all that remarkable or noteworthy. Share your thoughts on the Edwards scandal

Sure, Edwards isn't exactly some anonymous private citizen. In fact, he is a prominent Democrat who might well have -- until the scandal broke -- wound up in the Cabinet if Obama were elected president. He's also someone who has said that voters should evaluate candidates' personal character in deciding what kind of leaders they would make.

But nor is Edwards the front-page fodder he was back when the fight for the Democratic nomination was in full swing and he had a faint chance of winning. The fact that Edwards lied repeatedly to reporters and his campaign paid Hunter thousands of dollars made the story a bit more appealing. Yet it wasn't appealing enough to compete with all the other things there are to write about in the world -- including the shaky economy, the Iraq war, Iran's nuclear buildup, Russia's invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia and the Beijing Olympics.

It's a world that is much more fascinating, and frightening, than you might imagine if you're accustomed to getting your news in the checkout line at the supermarket.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About John Edwards (Politician)Elizabeth EdwardsDemocratic Party

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