Friday, August 08, 2008

Charlotte Observer & the Edwards-Hunter story

At the Columbia Journalism Review's Clint Hendler has a very good, link-rich account of the Charlotte Observer's efforts to report on the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter affair story.

Handler begins - - -

For the Charlotte Observer, it began in October, when the National Enquirer published an article suggesting that presidential candidate--and former North Carolina senator--John Edwards was having an affair.

The Enquirer's story purported to quote crush emails the woman-in-question, Rielle Hunter, had sent to friends. But otherwise the piece was thin. And the tabloid, while enjoying a quiet reputation for being libel-proof, doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the hearts of editors and readers.

Still, the McClatchy-owned Observer, the largest paper in Edwards's home state, sent Lisa Zagaroli, its Washington reporter, up to New York to make contacts and check around.

"I looked at it as a news tip," says Rick Thames, the Observer's editor. "I wasn't put off by it being in the National Enquirer. I was worried it if it was true."

Thames felt Zagaroli was making progress. But then Andrew Young, an Edwards campaign aide, stepped forward to claim that he, not his boss, had impregnated Hunter. In Thames eyes, "the story cooled."

But on July 22nd, the National Enquirer published a luridly written tale asserting that Edwards had joined Hunter and her now some-months-old baby behind closed doors in the Beverly Hills Hilton. After said meeting, the Enquirer reporters wrote that Edwards led them on a Keystone Kops style chase through the stairways, basements, and bathrooms of the hotel.

That ratcheted things up in North Carolina. On July 24, Jim Morrill, a veteran political reporter at the paper, posted an item on his blog linking the Enquirer's account. Morrill called the Hilton to confirm, as best he could, the substance of the story. But they weren't talking. Neither were his Edwards contacts. ...

The rest of the story's here.

I think Hendler's account underplays some of the work the Observer has done on the story, especially lately.

Observer reporter Mark Johnson's story I linked to here gets my vote for the best MSM reporting on the story to date.

Until Johnson's story yesterday, those few MSM news outlets that mentioned the story relied almost entirely on rewrites of the July 22 National Enquirer story. There's nothing wrong with that if you acknowledge the other paper, which the accounts I read did. But they didn't advance the story.

Johnson, by getting leading Democratic party strategists to talk on the record, advanced the story.


Steven said...

How about any newspapeer sending someone to the Beverly Hills Hilton to ask if he was there?

How about reporting on the police report that says a "political Figure" was involved

When will any organization do some journalism 101 here?