It galls me to be writing about John Edwards's "liaison," or whatever the hell he calls it, because, frankly, I don't really care that he was messing around.

What does outrage me is the sleazy way he, his supporters and public relations hacks tried to deceive. Their lying, their word-parsing, and, finally, the predictable attempts to minimize the coverage when they were cornered, left many of us doubting anything Edwards says.

After all their attempts at deflection, after their failed efforts to obscure, they didn't finally come clean, they came dirty.

Of late, a refuge for scoundrels is the "Friday Night Dump.” That's where they try and minimize the embarrassment of getting caught by making their reluctant admissions of guilt when almost everyone is distracted by the weekend's pursuit of pleasure.

In this case this was a "Friday NightLINE Dump.” This one just happened to be on the air at the very same time when anybody watching television was tuned to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

What an amazing coincidence! And now some of the Edwards people are reported unhappy that ABC News had the audacity to publicize the forced confession ahead of time. So the oh-so-clever Edwards handlers were not clever enough. Not only were they devious, they were inept.

Thanks to this feckless attempt to manipulate public disclosure, it's hard to believe anything John Edwards has to say about this. Now, for instance, we hear him agree to take a DNA test to prove he did not father the child born to the woman to whom he says he was making non-love. But — drat! — the mother says she's not willing to participate. Wowee-zowee! What a surprise!

And, some of us, by now, may be a teensy-weensy bit skeptical when Edwards insists he knew nothing about his fat-cat friend, shelling out millions to the girlfriend as well as a former aide who has conveniently stepped up to claim daddyhood.

We could go on and on. The point is that thanks to the clumsy deceptions at every turn, Team Edwards has obliterated any instinct that many might have to give their guy the benefit of the doubt. I'm not even sure I can believe that his name really is John Edwards.

About the only sympathy anyone feels is for Elizabeth Edwards. Thanks to the cynical and incompetent tactics of his advisers, we now share what should have been her private disgust.

When will these political operators and media manipulators ever learn? Apparently, the answer is never.


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.