How the John Edwards affair became news

How exactly certain scandals come to light when they do is often an interesting tale. The former editor of the National Enquirer explains how his investigative team put together the story of John Edwards’ affair. The tale involves the use of technology and a profiler who provided insights into how to trap Edwards in his lies:

I knew there was no viable scenario for Edwards to confess to the Enquirer. I faced the bitter realization that another news organization would reap the benefits of our team’s hard work and get the confession, but I also knew that ultimately that confession would validate the Enquirer‘s earlier story as well as the new one.

Behind the scenes we exerted pressure on Edwards, sending word though mutual contacts that we had photographed him throughout the night. We provided a few details about his movements to prove this was no bluff.

For 18 days we played this game, and as the standoff continued the Enquirer published a photograph of Edwards with the baby inside a room at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

Journalists asked if we had a hidden camera in the room. We never said yes or no. (We still haven’t). We sent word to Edwards privately that there were more photos.

He cracked. Not knowing what else the Enquirer possessed and faced with his world crumbling, Edwards, as the profiler predicted, came forward to partially confess. He knew no one could prove paternity so he admitted the affair but denied being the father of Hunter’s baby, once again taking control of the situation.

Perhaps this story isn’t anything unusual – technology makes information gathering a lot easier. Yet it is somewhat shocking to me that plenty of powerful people, like John Edwards or Tiger Woods, think that they can get away with things in the long run. Sure, the National Enquirer had to spend months tracking down this story but in the end, it was doable and effectively changed the public perception of John Edwards forever. Is there something that happens when people are put in powerful positions that changes their perceptions of what they can and can’t get away with?

Is it even possible for the powerful to get away with things like this any more? How many “scandals” are lurking out there somewhere? It is certainly a far cry from the days of the 1950s and before when sportwriters routinely shied away from reporting on what athletes did away from home and political reporters didn’t talk about everything.

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