Game-Changer: Why Did Reporters Keep Silent About Edwards?

Why did Game Change authors, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann keep quiet on one of the 2008 campaign’s juiciest stories–only to spill the beans eighteen months later?

More importantly, why did they tell their readers about the John Edwards scandal only after it became personally profitable to do so?

Political reporters Halperin and Heilemann signed their book deal in June 2008, reportedly for a “mid- to high- six-figure sum.”co-authors of the ubiquitous political tell-all, Game Change. Sprinkled amongst this cornucopia of unsourced gossip, rumor, whispers and innuendo are nuggets of hard news, particularly about former 2008 Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards.

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Of particular interest was the following passage, from the excerpt published by Heilemann’s employer, New York :


The details in the article around Young’s involvement were as squirrelly as could be. The Enquirer reported that Hunter was living in a rented house near the home of Young, his wife, and his children in Governors Club, a gated community in Chapel Hill. When an Enquirer reporter confronted Young face to face, he first denied his identity and knowing Hunter–this despite the fact that the car she was driving was registered in his name–before announcing the next day through his attorney that he was the sire of the unborn baby. Drawing out the obvious implication, the story noted, “Some insiders wonder whether Young’s paternity claim is simply a cover-up to protect his longtime pal Edwards.”

The new Enquirer piece rocked the campaign to its core. Crazy as it sounded, the idea that Young was taking the fall for John had the deafening ring of truth. An attorney in his forties, Young had a history of run-ins with the law and a rumored alcohol problem.

No doubt about it: these are eye-opening revelations. But did these “squirrelly details” and “crazy” ideas set off any alarm bells for the politically-connected reporters? Did they share any of these impressions with the readers of Time Magazine or New York? How did the authors react at the time?

In a word: silence. Not a word from either Mark Halperin or John Heilemann. Actually, nothing until John Edwards gave them and the rest of the MSM permission to write about the affair eight months later–when he “confessed” to what had been obvious to everybody on August 8, 2008, on ABC’s Nightline.

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Game Change describes the mainstream media’s reaction to the National Enquirer‘s Edwards story that appeared in October 2007.

Out of view, the Edwards campaign was in damage-control mode, going into overdrive to dissuade the mainstream media from picking up the story, denouncing it as tabloid trash. Their efforts at containing the fallout were remarkably successful. The Enquirer’s exposé gained zero traction in the traditional press and almost none in the blogosphere.

Halperin and Heilemann were both partly responsible for the exposé gaining “zero traction in the traditional press”, both then and for months afterwards. At a time when a prominent Democrat presidential candidate was engaged in “self-destructive behavior”, these reporters used their national platforms to ensure their readers knew nothing of it.

In effect, they allowed the Edwards campaign to dictate what they wrote. Heilemann wrote in November 2007 of “riding with Edwards in his rented white minivan on the road to Hanover (IA) for a forum at Dartmouth.” So he had access to the candidate. Why didn’t he ask him about the scandal? Or did Heilemann ask–and choose not to inform his readers? Was he afraid of losing his access, the lifeblood of political reporting?

We searched both the archives of Time and New York magazine, but found nothing either had written on the scandal when Americans were looking for news of the affair (“Rielle Hunter” was the No. 1 search term on Google for parts of twelve days in December 2007) and starting the process of choosing a presidential candidate for the Democrats. And Edwards, who had been Sen. John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, was one of the front-runners.

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But, now that it no longer matters, neither reporter has a problem picking over the carcass of the story for publicity and profit. Halperin, speaking on Good Morning America, said:

In fact, in the case of John Edwards and some of the other stories we wrote about in the book, even though reporters had an inkling, even though a lot of insiders had inklings, a lot of that stuff stayed secret, didn’t impact the campaign.

Both reporters participated in the media blackout of the scandal, helping ensure that it didn’t “impact the campaign”. Neither reporter alerted readers of this potential “Game Change.”

So why now? Why sit on information which could have made a difference to voters had they known about it during the campaign? Why is that same information now grist for Game Change‘s publicity tour?

MRC’s Scott Whitlock on Halperin and Heilemann’s GMA appearance:

Stephanopoulos failed to ask the obvious question, why reveal damaging information now, when John Edwards’ career is over, but not when it would be politically damaging to the Democrat?

Was it ideological bias that kept Mark Halperin and John Heilemann silent while Americans were searching for the very information the authors were keeping under wraps? Or was it fear of losing access, indifference to readers or a desire to maximize future earnings?

Only the authors know the answer to these questions.

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