Monday, August 4, 2008

John Edwards

In recent days, the Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina has been criticized for "ignoring" a story that has surfaced alleging that John Edwards fathered an illegitimate child with a former employee. The "source" of the original claim was an article in the National Enquirer that cited anonymous sources only.

The only two stories the News & Observer ran were about Edwards' refusal to speak to reporters recently in Washington, D.C., and another about the fact that there is noth father listed on the birth certificate for the baby in question. This is discussed in a column by the paper's ombudsman . The paper's executive editor is quoted as saying: "I don't view the National Enquirer as a credible source of news."

This "story" has me so upset that it's hard

to come up with a response that doesn't involve a lot of cursing and sputtering about the sheer stupidity and gullibility of anyone who believes that a single word in the Enquirer is worth even a second of real journalists' time. Readers, and apparently those on the "blogosphere" have been critical of the paper's refusal (and the "refusal" of other media outlets) to pay as much attention to the story as it would to, say, the Larry Craig Scandal.

Here's the difference. Larry Craig was arrested. There are public records to prove that he was arrested. The sources are on record with real news sources. Larry Craig gave a press conference and "resigned" in the wake of the scandal. Whether or not he actually did the things he is accused of and whether or not he meant those gestures as a sexual proposition is up for question, but the fact that he was arrested? Is NOT. The fact that he was arrested for propositioning a male police officer when he is known for anti-gay stances? Not up for question.

The John Edwards story is something that was printed in a TABLOID. The National Enquirer has been the target of libel suits by several public figures, is known for paying sources for information, and many of its stories have been proven to be false. It is not a newspaper, its stories are not legitimate news and its employees are not journalists.

It is NOT a reliable source for news, and ANYONE who thinks the real media should be covering anything that appears in the Enquirer doesn't know enough about journalism to understand that, and no real newspaper should be bowing to pressure from people who believe that any other media outlet should waste their time reporting on Enquirer stories. I don't know if I should be angry or scared by the fact that people who would consider the Enquirer to be a reliable source of news are allowed to vote. Real journalists are entirely correct for ignoring anything that appears in a tabloid rag and until reliable information surfaces in a respectable media outlet, I would be sorely disappointed in any newspaper that bows to reader pressure to cover the story unless something surfaces to indicate this is in anyway reliable.

Should the media be paying some attention to this? Probably. Reporters should always be keeping their eyes and ears open. Should they be jumping at the chance to cover the "scandal" just because the Enquirer wrote a story? NO. Should they assume that John Edwards' refusal to answer questions comes from anything other than annoyance at the fact that anyone would consider the Enquirer to be a real news source? Hard to say. When a source refuses to answer questions, it generally makes my reporter sense tingle, but I don't blame Edwards in this case.

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