Raleigh News & Observer executive editor John Drescher's two most recent columns (here and here) have offered excuses for what journalists and many N&O readers know was the N&O bungled coverage of the Edwards scandal, a major political story much of which played out on the N&O's doorstep.
As late as Aug. 3 the N&O's public editor Ted Vaden praised what he termed the N&O's "restraint" and "refusal" to chase "salacious details" such as Rielle Hunter's child's birth certificate. He quoted Drescher: "I don't view the National Enquirer as a credible source of news."
Then came Aug. 8, the day Edwards admitted on ABC's Nightline to an affair with Rielle Hunter and, as the National Enquirer reported July 22, their Beverly Hilton tryst the night of July 21.
Edwards' disclosures were soon followed by Drescher's disclosures the N&O's coverage had actually been "aggressive" but made difficult by Edwards' refusal to help the N&O.
Now let's look at what the N&O was reporting the morning of Aug. 8.
In a page one story, “Tabloid photo offers no clarity,” which carried N&O reporter Lorenzo Perez’s byline, readers were told:
… Two weeks after it ran an anonymously sourced story asserting that its reporters caught Edwards visiting a former campaign worker and the baby he fathered with her, the Enquirer posted the photo on its Web site to bolster its reporting of the story. … (emphasis added)The N&O was just plain wrong when it said the Enquirer's July 22 story was "anonymously sourced."
Two Enquirer reporters – Alan Butterfield and Alexander Hitchen – were named in the Enquirer story which included detailed accounts of what they saw and did at the Beverly Hilton the night of July 21/22. Afterward, the reporters swore out criminal complaints alleging hotel security had roughed them up.
By Aug. 8 Butterfield and Hitchen had been interviewed many times by news organizations. They stood by everything they’d said in their July 22 report.
Up to the time of the N&O's Aug. 8 "anonymously sourced" claim not John Edwards, Rielle Hunter, Bob McGovern, who the NE reported drove Hunter to the Beverly Hilton nor any hotel staff member had disputed anything Butterfield and Hitchen reported, unless you count Edwards’ “tabloid trash” remark July 23 in Houston.
The N&O claims to fact-check everything that appears in its news columns under its reporters' bylines.
If that's the case, how did the N&O blunder by declaring the Enquirer's story was “anonymously sourced ” more than two weeks after it was published and just hours before Edwards’ Nightline appearance?
Perez was supposed to get his story right in the first place.
The editor who assigned him to the story was supposed to fact-check it.
At the N&O copy, layout, and headline editors are responsible for fact-checking stories they work on.
When a story's being considered for the front page, the N&O's front page editor, Stever Merelman, or his designee editor gets involved.
Also, one or more of the N&O three senior editors and Drescher himself are almost always involved with selecting and fact-checking front page stories.
It's hard to understand how a reporter and a group of editors could report on Aug. 8 on the N&O's front page that the Enquirer's story was "anonymously sourced."
Wasn't anyone minding the newsroom?