Sex, lies, videotape

There was always something fishy about the champion of the poor who appeared on the cover of GQ

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The Gazette, Wednesday, August 13, 2008

John Edwards had a new excuse for fooling around on his wife - the campaign made him do it. If only Bill Clinton had thought of that.

In his remarkable interview with ABC's Nightline, Edwards blamed the rarefied air of his presidential campaign, "which leads you to believe you can do whatever you want, you're invincible and there'll be no consequences."

As a result of this "self-focus" and "narcissism," he acknowledged an affair with a staffer named Rielle Hunter, who had been hired to shoot videos for his campaign website. His political action committee paid her $114,000 over several months, the first contract her newly incorporated company had ever received. This gives a whole new meaning to sex, lies and videotape.

In a previous life, she was named Lisa Druck, and dated writer Jay McInerney, who put her in one of his novels about New York cokeheads in the 1980s.

There's more. Hunter had a baby six months ago, and the National Enquirer says Edwards is the father. But Edwards's former finance chairman, Andy Young, claims paternity, and Edwards himself says the timeline of the baby's birth eliminates him from the list of suspects. By the time Rielle conceived, she had left the campaign and he had terminated the relationship, which was carried on while his wife's cancer was in remission.

Edwards is quite happy to take a DNA test, but Hunter won't, saying through her lawyer she wants to protect her privacy, and her child's.

It turns out that Hunter was also paid $15,000 a month by Edwards's finance chairperson to relocate with Young, his wife and three children, to California from Edwards's hometown of Chapel Hill, N.C., where the baby was born. The Edwards finance official, Fred Baron, says the money was paid from his own bank account, not from the campaign's. And he didn't tell Edwards about it. So it wasn't hush money, and it wasn't a diverson of campaign funds, which could be a federal offence in the United States.

Just to be clear, Edwards said, "if someone was being paid, it wasn't being paid by me." Which, in the pantheon of parsing, is right up there with "I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

Just last month, the Enquirer trapped Edwards in the men's room of a Los Angeles hotel, where he had gone to meet Hunter, apparently at her request. This is an appropriate ending, since they had first met in the bar of a New York hotel. From New York to L.A.

You couldn't make any of this up, and there was a sense that the Enquirer did when it first broke the "Edwards love child" story last fall. The mainstream media ignored it because it was the National Enquirer, with a supermarket-tabloid reputation for Elvis sightings and Martian landings. But it's hard to ignore tabloid sex exposÚs. Ask Bill Clinton about Gennifer Flowers. And that was in the 1992 campaign, before the Internet, before YouTube, where Hunter's web videos are currently running.

Does any of this matter? After all, Edwards dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last January. He wasn't running for anything. But he had been considered among the possible running mates for Barack Obama, whom he endorsed in May at a critical moment of the campaign - just when Hillary Clinton was coming off another big win in her late surge for the nomination.

You'd think that Edwards, having run previously with John Kerry in 2004, would have been fully vetted. But that was before he met Rielle Hunter in 2006. Well, if he wasn't vetted before, he is now, not only not considered for the ticket, but not even for a speaking role at the convention.

Which raises another question: How does someone like Rielle Hunter get in the same room as a serious presidential candidate, let alone get to sit beside him on his private campaign jet? Yet there he is, in a relaxed moment aboard his plane, telling her: "I have come to the personal conclusion that I actually want the country to see who I really am."

Maybe he's right about it being about the campaign, since his campaign was clearly about him. Perhaps there was something inauthentic about a champion of the working poor, the people without health-care coverage, who also appears on the cover of GQ.

But look at it this way - at least he didn't put his wife through the humiliation of a news conference where she had to publicly stand by her man. He just went on television instead. After the fall, comes the interview. The redemption comes later.

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