Court of Public Opinion:
How the National Enquirer beat John Edwards in the biggest trial of his life
NE vs. JE
Clinton resurrectionist and spin doctor, Lanny Davis, wrote a book on resurrecting Bill Clinton, subtitled "Tell it early, Tell it all, Tell it yourself".
That Davis subtitle is an effective blueprint for dealing with public scandal.
John Edwards could've used that book two weeks ago, as his fifteen-minute confession to ABC's Bob Woodruff was debunked almost before it even aired, and may go down in history as the benchmark for insincere attempts at avoiding consequences of one's actions.
"What a strange and insincere admission," mused some.
"The timeline's doesn't match known events," said others.
Still others claimed Edwards had injected Botox into his face to prevent him from telegraphing true emotion that could be analyzed by experts.
[Background information: access over 100 DBKP stories on the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter affair, scandal and cover-up: John Edwards Love Child Scandal Library.]
John Edwards had been beaten by an opponent that had read his playbook and had analyzed every game he ever played. Not only had the Enquirer set the trap to collect evidence on Edwards, they laid the groundwork for Edwards to paint himself into a corner from which his political career and public image could never escape intact.
Edwards constructed an elaborate cover up, based on classic Prisoner's Dilemma game theoryif everyone kept their mouth shut and denied the facts until the end of time, nothing could be proven, and minimum penalties would accrue.
But there were too many players for Edwards to control, and in the end his website-scrubbing team of political cleanup hitters vastly underestimated both the sheer volume of evidence connecting Edwards to Rielle Hunter, and the sheer flakiness of his girlfriend and her network of yoga-loving, Hollywood wannabes.
But, there were two masterstrokes on the part of the National Enquirer: the first being the strategic underrepresentation of collected evidence; and the second being the blurred presentation of the "spy photo" of "former presidential contender holding his infant daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, at the Beverly Hilton hotel".
The Enquirer resurrected its Edwards Lovechild story on July 21 with eight-month-old stock photography and vague references of confirming sources. Edwards probably knew he'd left some evidence behind. Had he wiped all his fingerprints clean from the inside of the basement restroom door of the Beverly Hills Hilton? He left the restroom under guard with his coat covering his head… was there a telltale watch, freckle or scar? Had Enquirer photographers managed to take his picture in the brief moment before he'd run to the restroom?
Edwards needed more information before he made his next move and he curtailed public appearances, and refused comment other than to decry the "lies told by tabloid trash", a move cited widely by his supporters as a denial.
Then the other shoe fell.
The Enquirer ran the blurry "spy photo" of John Edwards holding the baby. Was it real? Was it fake?
Many Scandal followers cried "fake" in unison at a photo with the potential to be anyone from Bronson Pinchot to Janet Reno cradling, what was not necessarily, a human baby.
But John Edwards' heart had stopped.
He knew the photo was one of him holding the baby at the same hotel--only it had been taken five months earlier. Most likely it had been snapped on March 20, 2008, when Edwards had filmed a late night television appearance for The Tonight Show in California.
Edwards was exposed--or was he?
Was this the best evidence the Enquirer had to offer? Apparently, their July 21 pictures had been useless and this photo… Well, this photo could be anything that John claimed it was.
Maybe this fight wasn't over.
An image professional I consulted was able to quickly approximate the "John Edwards love child" effect using Adobe Photoshop and a three step combination (1. Smart Blur, 2. Pixellate Mosaic, and 3. Sharpen/Unsharpen mask) turning a crystal clear and good photo into a inconclusive 'spy photo'. Watching him repeat the effect in seconds on three separate photos immediately convinced me that the Enquirer was playing possum.
But Edwards' inner circle had either given him bad analysis of the March 20 photos, or he chose to ignore it, relying on his courtroom instincts. Anyone who's ever set up a video camera system can tell you how hard it is to capture a license plate, and Edwards apparently concluded that the Enquirer's photos of him holding Frances Quinn were either poorly lit or somehow corrupted.
And so Edwards laid out his confessional strategy based on the assumption that he had a leak that was not Rielle Hunter, but the Enquirer probably had nothing other than a blurry picture.
There were three important parts to the confession.
1. The affair was over before he announced his run for the 2008 presidency;
2. His wife, Elizabeth, was at peace with the turn of events and had full knowledge of the event during his 2008 campaign; and,
3. He'd admit he had a 'liason' with that woman, but he wouldn't admit a sexual relationship, paternity, or anything that could possibly bite him in the buttocks later in court.
The rest is history.
One of the least-sincere and least-believable confessions in public memory, newsmen everywhere retrieving Rielle Hunter photos that busted the timeline, plus a widespread public revulsion at the realization that, not only had Elizabeth Edwards' illness been exploited for political gain, she had been a willing co-conspirator in the cover-up.
John Edwards has a final chance at redemption, but time is of the essence.
Edwards has to come forth immediately, tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
He must then immediately enter a legitimate private rehabilitation center for either drug abuse or sexual addiction (doesn't matter which). Over time, he can gradually resume public life, maybe even starting a foundation to help deadbeat dads make amends.
Eventually Elizabeth and Rielle can even learn to be family. Would Jack and Emma love to have a little sister?
Let the healing begin.
images: dbkp file; unbossed; National Enquirer