Cracker Jacks Prizes

According to The Washington Post, “The executive editor of the National Enquirer says he plans to enter his paper’s work on the John Edwards scandal for a Pulitzer Prize. Don’t laugh.”

I’m not laughing. The Pulitzer Prize, like the Nobel Prize, has long been devalued by its undeserving recipients – Walter Duranty is the most (in)famous example, but the Pulitzer’s woes don’t end with him. In any event, one has to seriously wonder which of them, the National Enquirer or the Pulitzer Prize, would profit most by their association.

“It’s clear we should be a contender for this,” Barry Levine said by phone Thursday, hours after the former presidential candidate admitted what the paper had been reporting all along: that he is the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby. “The National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, was able to publish this reporting.” While the staff never doubted its reports that Edwards had fathered a daughter with his former campaign videographer, Levine said, “there is vindication, finally. Mr. Edwards kept the story alive much longer than it needed to be kept alive with his denials. He has only himself to blame.” While the Enquirer stories may or may not be prize-winning material – the paper’s most significant disclosures came in 2007 and 2008, and this year’s Pulitzers will honor material published in 2009 – there is no question that the tabloid scooped the rest of the media world. When the Enquirer first reported in 2007 that Edwards had had an affair with Hunter, the former North Carolina senator dismissed the account as tabloid trash. The rest of the media, having no independent proof, steered clear of the story, even as Edwards, aided by his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth, was mounting an aggressive campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

That “we’re not reporting the story because ‘we have no independent proof'” excuse was always the purest bullshit. First, because rumors and lies without any backing whatsoever are regularly printed and broadcast against other politicians of a different stripe (see the week following Sarah Palin’s nomination for Vice President); and second, because if the press feels that they don’t have any proof, they’re supposed to send reporters out to find that proof, not just sit on their butts and complain that they can’t find any supporting evidence in their shirt pockets or desk drawers. The only reason for not looking for proof was that the MSM didn’t want to find it.

In August 2008, after being knocked out of the campaign, Edwards admitted to ABC’s “Nightline” that he had been lying about the affair. But he didn’t come entirely clean. Asked about the Enquirer cover that showed him with the baby during a late-night visit to a Beverly Hills hotel, Edwards denied paternity, saying: “Published in a supermarket tabloid. That is absolutely not true. … I know that it’s not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events.” He claimed he wasn’t sure if the man in the blurry photo was him. Edwards acknowledged that Frances Quinn Hunter is in fact his child in a statement first aired Thursday by NBC’s Lisa Myers. Once again, the Enquirer had been proved right. Edwards’s second admission was most likely forced by ABC’s plans to air an interview next week with a former aide, Andrew Young, who originally claimed paternity in the case but is about to recant in a forthcoming book. In an excerpt released by the network, Young says Edwards told him: “Get a doctor to fake the DNA results.” Levine faulted the mainstream media’s handling of the story, saying that even after Edwards’s partial admission on ABC, news outlets “still didn’t dig into it to a great degree, the fact that he had fathered this child. The larger issue involving the love child was the cover-up.”

The cover-up frequently causes more problems than the original offense (see Nixon and Clinton, among others) – although the cover-up is certainly easier when it’s abetted by a deaf, dumb, and blind press.

… While the Enquirer specializes in celebrity gossip, it has landed a series of exclusives that the rest of the press has wound up chasing. These range from its reporting on the O.J. Simpson case in the 1990s, to its 2001 disclosure that Jesse Jackson had fathered an out-of-wedlock child, to its 2003 report that Florida authorities were looking into prescription drug abuse by Rush Limbaugh. … [Levine] added that “at the end of the day, it’s great to see he’s taking responsibility for this child, Frances Quinn. She needs to know who her father is.” That’s right: a supermarket tabloid editor is now lecturing a former vice-presidential nominee on matters of morality.

The National Enquirer has more right to lecture on morality than Jesse Jackson. Or The Washington Post.

As for the Pulitzer, Levine had better hurry: The deadline is Feb. 1.

Isn’t that the same deadline as the Nobel Prize? They might as well try for that one, too.

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