The Thing That Cannot Be Spoken

On Tuesday night, David Letterman devoted his Top 10 list to signs that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Read: Sally Yates testimony Michelle Obama says she is managing 'low-grade depression' MORE has become overconfident.

Most were pretty conventional, like “Asked guy at Staples, ‘Which chair will work in an oval-shaped office?’”

But then Letterman got to the No. 1 Obama overconfidence indicator: “Been cruising for chicks with John Edwards.”

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At that point, millions of viewers who get their news from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the broadcast networks and the cable news outlets all had the same reaction:

What? Is there something we don’t know about John Edwards? You mean the family man, former senator, vice presidential candidate, and possible major player in an Obama administration?

Well, yes, that John Edwards. And yes, there is something they don’t know: a story, first published in the National Enquirer, alleging that he has had an affair and a “love child.”

But none of the big news organizations have reported a thing. Which means that the Edwards affair has now become as much a media story as a news story.

Everybody in the political world knows about it. And yet all the major news outlets have stayed away from it. It’s the Thing That Cannot Be Spoken in respectable media circles.

Fortunately, that does not include the Internet, and now late-night television. And — need I add? — the British press.

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After my column on the Edwards matter appeared here last week, I got a call from a reporter at the Times of London.

She was writing about both Edwards’s alleged actions and the press (non) reaction. When the Times story came out, it came out in true British style — in an article headlined “Sleaze Scuppers Democrat Golden Boy.”

Here, when press people talk about the story, it’s clear that Edwards’s situation — especially as it affects wife Elizabeth — arouses some very intense feelings.

On the Washington Post-owned website Slate, for instance, there was a virtual free-for-all about the story this week, with some staffers arguing passionately that it is legitimate news.

But elsewhere — silence.

To be fair, some of that is due to what I think has been a major mistake by the Enquirer.

Its story last week described a confrontation between Edwards and its reporters and photographers at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

Edwards is said to have tried to escape questions by ducking into a men’s room.

Yet the Enquirer has published no photos of this rather remarkable scene.

The tabloid had a big staff covering every angle (and every exit) at the hotel that evening. It is simply not possible to believe that the scene was not richly documented in photographs, and perhaps video.

Yet the Enquirer holds the pictures back.

If the photos were published, journalists would have a much harder time ignoring the story.

But so far, there are no pictures — and no story, in the view of many top editors.

Meanwhile, Edwards is maintaining his public schedule, dismissing the story as “tabloid trash” or refusing to comment at all.

It’s a response he couldn’t possibly get away with were the story the subject of big-media coverage.

But at least for the moment, Edwards is benefiting from the press’s strong aversion to the story.

How long will that last?

Maybe a little longer. But not forever. At this point, there aren’t enough nervous editors in the world to put the Edwards story back in the bottle.

York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week.
E-mail: byork@nationalreview.com