John Edwards’ ludicrous denials of an extramarital affair crumbled on Friday when ABC News applied enough pressure to get Edwards to agree to an interview – and an admission – finally giving the story first reported in the National Enquirer legitimacy in the eyes of the mainstream media.
The flood gates opened early Friday afternoon when Brian Ross and producer Rhonda Schwartz posted a story on ABCNews.com stating that Edwards had admitted to an affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer who was paid in excess of $100,000 by the Edwards campaign to make a few short web videos.
The Enquirer reported last week that Hunter told a friend that Edwards was the father of her 5 ½ month old child. Edwards continues to insist that he is not the father, though he has not taken a paternity test.
The ABC News story was picked up by the cable news networks and the endless media loop began.
Even as his continued denials became untenable, Edwards attempted to control (and futilely limit) the media exposure.
Ross and his producers at ABC News had been insistently dogging Edwards for some time, uncovering the money trail from an Edwards’ campaign contributor, Fred Baron, to Hunter, who was installed in a $3 million house in Santa Barbara, Calif.
But Edwards insisted that the interview be exclusive to ABC’s late-night news program Nightline and that Bob Woodruff, not Ross, conduct the interview.
ABC News confirmed that Edwards asked for Woodruff, who is not a Nightline anchor. (Woodruff covered Edwards during the 2004 presidential campaign when the former North Carolina senator was a Democratic presidential contender and then John Kerry’s running mate.)
The Nightline interview, Woodruff explained at the top of the program yesterday, was conducted early Friday afternoon at Edwards’ home in Chapel Hill, N.C. “There were no restrictions on what we could ask,” he said, “but he gave me a limited amount of time.”
Woodruff did not press Edwards on the bizarre tale involving former Edwards’ campaign aide Andrew Young, who has claimed paternity of Hunter’s baby. Edwards denied knowing anything about Young’s involvement with Hunter. But Woodruff did extract a concession on the paternity issue, with Edwards saying he would be “happy to participate” in a paternity test.
Edwards had hoped to control the news cycle by making his admission late on a Friday night when the country was watching the Olympics and the long weekend yawned ahead.
According to multiple sources, Edwards was apoplectic that ABC News broke the story on its website and began promoting it early on Friday, giving the rest of the media a chance to play catch-up and cite ABC News’ report. (Representatives for Edwards did not return a call or e-mail for comment.)
Edwards subsequently made solicitous calls to multiple reporters including CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, who also talked to a distraught Elizabeth Edwards.
According to ABC News spokeswoman Natalie Raabe, it was agreed that “promotion of the interview could begin immediately after it was completed.” Additionally, she said, “quotations” could be used on Friday’s World News where Edwards’ words, not footage from the interview, were used via an on-screen graphic in a report fronted by Ross.